All of us have had that feeling sometime in our lives. When we were teenagers bent on proving our invincibility, being the smartest person in the room was sometimes literally a no-brainer. But as we get older, we often engineer being the smartest person in the room. What’s shocking is that this isn’t necessarily a dummy thing: research tells us that once we are out of school and in the real world, the best educated people are actually the most resistant to learning.
It all comes down to feelings. If you decide that you know all there is to know, it actually feels pretty good. You’re the smartest person in the room, after all! You act with certainty, confidence and control. People find you inspiring: what a leader! The drawback? Your mind is closed to learning. On the other hand, if you accept that you can never know it all, behold – a mind wide open to learning. But also open to insecurity, uncertainty, fear, and general yuckiness: who wants to feel like the least clever person in the room?
So how can you keep your mind open to learning and still have the certainty of a great leader?
First, shrug off feelings. The more you experience that “dummy insecurity”, the less effect it’ll have, because you’ll learn to recognise it as the precursor to great learning. Next, accept that you may not know everything, but neither does anybody else. Hello, level playing field!
Take responsibility for your own lifelong learning. Learning isn’t passive, it isn’t imposed on us, it’s something we do. If you’re not learning, it’s not the book, or the teacher, or the program, or even life, that’s not teaching: it’s you that’s not learning. So never start a book, course, or program without having in mind exactly the questions you want answered. Make sure you get the answers!
And what if one day you find yourself in a room full of people who are way smarter than you? Make the most of it. Without going too starry-eyed, say, “It’s so great to be with you today. I’d love to know: if you were me right now, what question would you ask you?” And when they answer, do the final thing all great learners do: listen.
This will open doors. To the right rooms, and to your mind.