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The Problem With Smart Leaders & The Power Of Dumb Questions

To be a great leader, you don’t need to be more intelligent than your team.

To be a great coach, you don’t need to be more intelligent than your clients.

In fact, ‘intelligence’ can often be a detriment.

As Dave Trott puts it:

“Stupid people think complicated is clever.
But smart people know simple is clever.
Because you have to go beyond complicated to get to simple.”


The Nobel prize winning physicist, Albert Einstein knew the power of the simplicity on the OTHER side of complexity.

It’s why he described the five ascending levels of intellect as: ‘Smart, Intelligent, Brilliant, Genius, Simple.’


In her book, Rookie Smarts, Liz Wiseman explains that we are often at our best when we are doing something for the first time, because we bring a curious, flexible, youthful and mindset. 

Being new, naive, and even clueless can actually be an asset. 

You see, as a rookie you are unencumbered. You have no baggage to weigh you down, no resources to burden you, and no track record to limit your thinking or aspirations. 

Being a rookie is a mindset that can be cultivated. 

In fact, some of the best leaders are ‘perpetual rookies.’

Despite years of experience, they retain their rookie smarts. They think and operate with the mindsets and practices of high-performing rookies.


In his excellent book, Getting Naked, Dan Pink explains why struggling consultants are more concerned about being seen as ‘smart’ than helping their client.

Whereas successful consultants are willing to ask ‘dumb’ and ‘obvious’ questions. 

They readily admit what they don’t know and they are quick to celebrate their mistakes because they don’t need to ‘look’ good.


Here’s how Dave Trott draws the distinction between educated people and smart people:

“Educated people learn answers.
Smart people invent answers.
Educated people satisfy examiners.
Smart people bypass examiners.
Educated people stick to the curriculum.
Smart people go off piste.
Educated people have degrees.
Smart people have achievements.
Educated people fit in.
Smart people stand out.
Educated people look for the right answer.
Smart people look for the exciting answer.”


To be a great leader, you don’t need to be brighter than your team.

In fact, try making it your mission to hire a team who are constantly smarter than you!

To be a great coach, you don’t need to be more intelligent or have more knowledge than your clients.

In fact, your job isn’t to answer your clients’ questions. It’s to help your clients live into better questions. 

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace.
Making the complicated simple … that’s creativity.”

– Charles Mingus (considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians and composers in history)


My clients are leaders and coaches who are the best in the planet at what they do. 

I spent the weekend at our Deep Dive in Estonia, with a group that included an engineer, an actress, a Grammy-winning producer, with a 30 year track-record in the music business, a former director at an international investment bank who has a PhD from Cambridge University, and an entrepreneur who – 30 years ago – created Britain’s first ever woman-owned and run plumbing company. 

I couldn’t possibly be smarter than any of them. 

Fortunately, I don’t have to be. 

You see, at the heart of being a coach to high performers, I get paid to do two things:

  1. To mess with people’s thinking, not to think better than them. 
  2. To say the things to highly successful people that most people would never dare to say. 

This makes my job simple – but not easy! 

Love. Rich


I love sharing resources and books that I love. Please note that the links in this article are my affiliate links. If you prefer not to use my affiliate links you can search for any of these titles directly where ever you purchase your books. 

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