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The smartest management trick is knowing your not smart

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Boris is the wise ol’ CEO of TNW who writes a weekly column on everything about being an entrepreneur in tech — from managing stress to embracing awkwardness. You can get his musings straight to your inbox by signing up for his newsletter!

In most organizations, people who move up in the chain become experts in their fields… but they start acting like they’re experts on everything.

Annoying? Yes. Am I any different? No.

I recently did a management exercise with my team called “Lost at Sea.” You get a list of items you can bring on your lifeboat and then you work together to sort them by order of importance. It’s great fun as each pick tells you a lot about your colleagues and team structure. I’d even recommend doing it with your family and friends!

[Read: The best career advice: Be yourself… and don’t tell jokes?]

During the exercise, I knew which items would actually be most useful, but magnanimously allowed my team to form their own opinions and find what we could all agree on. Sure, our score was a bit lower than if everyone had listened to me, but we did get a few more points coming to a decision quickly.

After the exercise, I was asked what I had learned. My conclusion was obvious: people should listen to me more often!

Then someone in my management team spoke up. “Well yes, but only because you own a boat, so that makes you more knowledgeable about this particular subject than us.”


It was a great reminder and intelligent observation from my co-worker. I’m not smarter than everyone else, but I do have more experience and understanding than others when it comes to certain topics.

I’m in a boat almost every day to be honest, and I’m probably the only person in my team who’s built a raft… then sailed it down a river, lost control, almost died, and ended up being rescued by lifeguards.

If the team-building event had been about development, marketing, or SEO, our score would’ve been terrible if everyone listened to me.

Sometimes, you just have to accept you’re not the smartest person in the room… and that your raft-building skills might need some work.

Can’t get enough of Boris? Check out his older stories here, and sign up for his newsletter here.

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