Igniting Collective Intelligence

In a classroom with executives we reached a level of honest dialog. We were speaking of leadership and someone mentioned meetings. There was a response. “In meetings I cannot get my people to talk. New interns come, and they will talk, but not my regular people.”

Another person responded, “In your meetings, are you as honest and as vulnerable with your people as you are with us right now?

The first person sat quietly. He began to shake his head.

The conversation turned to the expert role. We engaged in a discussion of authority and how the culture puts us into the role of expert. We explored many examples of these social expectations. There are so many and they are so strong, it becomes almost impossible to step out of the mentality and the role of information giver. No matter how ineffective we become, we continue in the expert role.

We also noted that the ego is naturally drawn to the expert role. We like to look smart. It is incredibly gratifying.

Another person raised his hand and said. “I have great meetings because I have learned how to be the dumbest person in the room. I go in to genuinely learn from them. They know it and they respond.”

Another hand went up. “I always was the smartest guy in the room. Then I was given an assignment to lead a group of extraordinary people. Every one of them was smarter than me. It was a crisis. The only role I knew was expert. I equated expert with leader.”

“It was no longer possible for me to be the expert. I have remained in that job for 13 years and I have evolved from expert to leader. I now recognize and accept my dependence on them and I see my job is to facilitate collective learning. I clarify what we have to accomplish and I listen and I create a culture of learning. We function as a collaborative whole. It was not easy for me to get here, it has been a long journey.”

A woman responded, “In our book it talks about growing from novice, to expert, to master. I understand because in my content area that is exactly what happens. I made that journey and some of my people have made that journey. But for me a lightbulb just went off. The three stages also apply to leadership. I am currently a master of content, but now I have to become a master of leadership. I need to go on the same journey he just described.”

Boring meetings are legion. If even a single person is unengaged, it means the collective intelligence is in decline and, we are not leading. Dispensing expertise is sometimes necessary but until we learn to become the “dumbest person in the room,” we have not mastered leadership.


Why do organizations orbit around the power of expertise?

How can leadership be equated with being the dumbest person in the room?

What is the mastery of leadership?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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