Posted by: Doug Geiger | 2009/06/16

The smartest person at the table

If you truly want to serve your team and simultaneously be the smartest person at the table ask this question: “If you we wave a magic wand and make this go perfectly; what exactly would success look like in this situation?” Then follow up with, “how will we know we have hit that mark?” and “how can we measure these outcomes?”

When I was growing up I would argue for the sake of arguing. Like my new puppy Dagny, who shreds stuffed animals to refine her instincts; I cut my teeth on critical topics like whether NASCAR was a “real” sport and which Steven Segal movie marked the turning point from awesome to awful, in order to refine my (analytical) instincts. Early in my career I was thrilled to even be invited to important meetings and so my goals were two-fold: 1. Not look stupid and 2. Be clever.

Unfortunately, I have noticed that ethos to be the default in nearly every work group I have come across. Why? Because it takes work and humility to drop what is petty and become excellent and productive. In fact, it feels so good to jockey for attention, approval or power that many people choose this route their whole career and miss out on what it feels like to be part of a high-trust and high-production team.

It took learning humility, hundreds of frustrating meetings and some valuable coaching; but my values have gradually shifted to: 1. Figuring out exactly what the goal is in the present situation, 2. determining how I can I help get us there.

  • Usually, this means toning down or eliminating sarcasm
  • Sometimes, this means choosing not to distract us with a clever insight or anecdote
  • Sometimes, this means not talking
  • Sometimes, this means taking the lead
  • Often, this means looking at the situation through a series of lenses (not just mine!) to be sure we hit the mark

Try it: At your next meeting note how long the meeting goes without a clear set of objectives. Then ask the questions I mentioned above. I’m fairly certain you will find the meeting to be more useful from that point onward. You are now the smartest (and kindest!) person at the table; even though it may have cost you being the cleverest.


  1. Again, you hit the bulls-eye!


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