A question I had struggled with – How do really smart people fail? I figured given enough intellectual prowess you should excel at anything. My rationale was really smart people are rarely if ever wrong and if really smart people are rarely wrong they should make great leaders, employees and innovators.
I’m personally very analytical when it comes to problem solving. One of my strengths is the ability to discover patterns in data to help find the “right way.” However, this isn’t always an option of even the best approach. I’ve recently re-read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink.” An important lesson and theme in the book has been the ability of humans to leverage the power of the unconscious mind to make snap decisions. If not make immediate snap decisions then at least add color to the analytical data available to the conscious mind.
As a technologist, this has sometimes been a difficult concept for me to embrace. Technologists have process driven methods to problem solving. For example, if a server will not start then we have a set of ordered tasks we use to resolve the issue. This is the 1’s and 0’s of technology challenges. However, most business challenges are analog meaning there’s a whole lot of gray. If I hit the power bottom on a server I can count on the same response across thousands of different servers. This isn’t the case with dealing with humans. Motivating one employee by providing a financial incentive doesn’t mean it will work with a second or third.
Innovation is a similar challenge. A successful technologist can create a solution that meets every technical requirement of the consumer. There is a list of additional factors in the translation to a great product. A leader has to market to the right audience at the right time. This isn’t a binary process.
This represents the difference in being a great technologist and being a great leader. There are intangibles outside of the ability to technically diagnose and resolve an issue versus working with challenges that are human in nature. Technologists have to learn how to leverage analog information and marry it to the technical portions of a challenge to be a successful leader.
Being intelligent is a great jump start, but not the only or even most important factor in being a great leader.