Do you have to be the smartest guy in the room?

One of the key features of the coronavirus for many journalists has been the White House Briefings on the coronavirus. These briefings were supposed to be an opportunity for America’s federal government lead by its president to update the nation on the efforts against the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, the briefings have not been briefings. Instead, they were opportunities for comedians to gather more material. The most recent one was when the president openly suggested that a possible cure for the virus was to inject bleach into the body. That moment can be found at: [LINK]

Every comedian pounced on this moment and the resulting outcry ensured that future briefings were put on hold. What happened?

The answer is simple. The man in charge had a need to show that he was doing something. This was a man who had come into power by telling the world that he had been given a very special brain. The public looked at the image he had presented of himself and agreed. He was then put into office.

Donald Trump is correct. He has a very special talent, which propelled him from being a successful reality TV star into the oval office. Mr. Trump has an instinctive genius for attracting attention and arousing passions. As one American customer at the Bistrot said, “There is no neutrality on the man.”

While he has a talent for drawing attention to himself, he’s not a medical expert and in a situation where medical expertise is of the most important variety, one has to question why he’s even suggesting any form of medication (and the bigger question being why people believe him). One suggestion is that he genuinely believes that he’s the smartest person in the room.

Unfortunately, being smart or the smartest person in the room isn’t the best thing to be. Some of the most successful people in the world, like Robert Kuok, the founder of the Shangri La Hotel chain, have said that one should always look for people smarter than yourself to do the job. Mr. Kuok, who survived the Japanese Occupation of Southeast Asia to build a fortune of US$12.8 billion (nearly four times that of Donald Trump) is clearly correct. Mr. Kuok, who started out as a sugar trader, has built a large and diverse empire beyond his core competence in commodity trading. How did he do it? The answer was allowing people who knew better than himself to do the job.

While the human brain is capable to thinking of many great things, it has certain limits. One of those key limits is that human beings tend to focus on certain things that they like and are good at and the saying “You can’t be good at everything,” rings true. This is especially true in leading large organisations and even nations, where the person at the top has to deal with a wide variety of issues and he or she simply cannot master every one of them. As such, one of the key skills of leadership is to know when you’re not the smartest person in the room and letting that person take the limelight with your encouragement.

This is seen most clearly in military situations. Mrs. Thatcher in the UK, knew she was not a military expert. So, when the Falklands War broke out, she set the objectives for what she wanted and then allowed the military to get on with the job. Likewise, George Bush Senior, did the same when booting Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. In comparison, the attempts to rescue the hostages in Iran under Jimmy Carter was a total disaster.

The entire professional services industry is based on the principle of getting smart people to do the job. As my favourite liquidator often says, “We’re hired for our knowledge.” Yes, the client or the main businessperson has to make final decisions because only he or she knows the overall business objective, but you as a consultant must provide advice because what you’re selling is the fact that you’re smarter at that particular aspect of the job.

Humility beats intelligence in leadership. Here in Singapore, we are led by highly qualified people (all with excellent credentials). Unfortunately, during this virus, we got so busy celebrating being hailed by the international media as the “Gold Standard” in managing the virus that we forgot about are vast underbelly of migrant workers. Then, there was a scramble when the infections exploded in the dormitories

A wise person does not need to know everything. He or she needs to recognize the fact and then look for the best person to do that aspect of the job. Allowing someone to be the hero is sometimes the most heroic thing to do. Let’s go back to America’s numbers. You have a president who is not a medical doctor prescribing unproven medication from the presidential bully pulpit. According to him, he is doing a fabulous job. At the time of writing, America has 1,160,774 cases, which is more than next six nations combined and in five months the virus has killed roughly ten thousand more than the Vietnam War in 14-years.

 

Tang Li

*Although I’ve been based mainly in Singapore for nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of being able meet people who have crossed borders and cultures. I’ve befriended ministers and ambassadors and worked on projects involving a former head of state. Yet, at the same time, I’ve had the privilege of befriending migrant labourers and former convicts. All of them have a story to tell. All of them add to the fabric of life. I hope to express the stories that inspire us to create life as it should be.

 

 

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17 Responses to “Do you have to be the smartest guy in the room?”

  • Yayacock said it takes a virus:

    Virus is smart.

    4Gs are stupid.

    Short and simple answer

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  • Sovereign Brigade:

    Has your ‘rubbing shoulders with ministers & ambassadors” rubbed into you? Here in TRE, also be prepared to get rubbed when you take center stage. Many experts here, now.

    But I do appreciate your article (sincere remark). Keep it coming with more insights and don’t be like our Govt. “Bor Liao” (No substance)

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    TangFastic… a perpetual one to pick on POTUS…well the Don happens to be POTUS… and many idiots will RUN with whatever he says…good-bad-or UGLY

    And what and who are you TangFastic???…a storyteller with a Tale to tell or chasing your own tail in perpetuity hoping some Idiots will see there is NO TAIL at all just chasing for the sake of CHASING and some will NOTICE the silly action of a Story Teller…

    it will take a while to beat The Man who Con-You…his written stories are NOW CONsidered bestsellers read by Idiots who KNOW him NOT…A Coward-Traitor and Murderer of Unborn to create a society for people who chase their Tail or Tail-less ones…Elites & AristoCraps!!!

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  • patriot of TUMASIK:

    patriot of TUMASIK:
    TangFastic… a perpetual one to pick on POTUS…well the Don happens to be POTUS… and many idiots will RUN with whatever he says…good-bad-or UGLY

    And what and who are you TangFastic???…a storyteller with a Tale to tell or chasing your own tail in perpetuity hoping some Idiots will see there is NO TAIL at all just chasing for the sake of CHASING and some will NOTICE the silly action of a Story Teller…

    it will take a while to beat The Man who Con-You…his written stories are NOW CONsidered bestsellers read by Idiots who KNOW him NOT…A Coward-Traitor and Murderer of Unborn to create a society for people who chase their Tail or Tail-less ones…Elites & AristoCraps!!!

    And… I Notice you have NOTHING bad to say about the IDIOTS we have in Parliament least of ALL Naming them except when you need to show you walk along the Corridors of Power???

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  • Yoda:

    You are based in Singapore. So you are not born and bread in Singapore.
    I hope you are not speaking for Singapore. 20 years, even if true, does not make you a Singaporean!

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  • John Richards:

    Everything you say about Trump can be easily applied to Singapore. Yet you seem fearful of ruffling feathers of the local aristocrats. Are you secretly one of the PAP IB brigade?

    I notice you also steer well clear of the Middle Eastern regimes. Not to mention Malaysia and Indonesia. I wonder why.

    Why not confine your thoughts to Singapore?

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  • You are right:

    John Richards:
    Everything you say about Trump can be easily applied to Singapore. Yet you seem fearful of ruffling feathers of the local aristocrats. Are you secretly one of the PAP IB brigade?

    I notice you also steer well clear of the Middle Eastern regimes. Not to mention Malaysia and Indonesia. I wonder why.

    Why not confine your thoughts to Singapore?

    @JR. You have my vote of confidence. Please stand to be voted in during GE-20. You are no amtk and no banana-soi-kee. You speak with conviction.

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  • Sovereign Brigade:

    Tang Li:
    Here in Singapore, we are led by highly qualified people (all with excellent credentials).

    @ John Richards

    There you have it. The answers above. Like I said, he have to convince a lot of sharp experts here. Looks like “rubbing shoulders with ministers” makes him denser.

    John Richards:
    Everything you say about Trump can be easily applied to Singapore. Yet you seem fearful of ruffling feathers of the local aristocrats. Are you secretly one of the PAP IB brigade?

    I notice you also steer well clear of the Middle Eastern regimes. Not to mention Malaysia and Indonesia. I wonder why.

    Why not confine your thoughts to Singapore?

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  • A tangy taste to it:

    The more cunning a man is, the less he suspects that he will be caught in a simple thing. The more cunning a man is, the simpler the trap he must be caught in.

    — Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1821-1881, Russian writer

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  • Be humble:

    Reality is we cannot be the best for everything.
    Best to be surrounded with people smarter than us and get out of their way.
    let them do their stuff.
    1st principle of Management.

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  • trublu:

    Trump is dumb but not daft?

    Here,we have daft gahmen who are also dumb?

    But,@Richard John is right,TangLi,are you LEE-Tang actually?

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  • Harder Truths:

    “…Here in $ingapore, we are led by highly qualified people (all with excellent credentials)…”

    Ok – I know your agenda. No need to elaborate further.

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  • Soveriegn Sojourner:

    Mr Kuok said to always look for people smarter than yourself. But Singaporeans are too insecure and feel threatened easily. When they feel threatened, they will try of course to remove the threat with unscrupulous means. My personal experience working with people.

    The reason why Spore remained mediocre and true talents won’t offer ideas. The top cannot let you outshine them. “I always must be on top, be the best.”

    Also there are people who ALWAYS must be smartest. They go around telling others:”YOU ARE WRONG.” Always quick to contradict and argue to show their intelligence. Very trying.

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  • oxygen:

    @ Soveriegn Sojourner

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT? I can’t fathom your logic?

    Soveriegn Sojourner: Also there are people who ALWAYS must be smartest. They go around telling others:”YOU ARE WRONG.” Always quick to contradict and argue to show their intelligence. Very trying.

    Why?

    Knowledge is an EXPANDING CIRCLE, the more you learn, the MORE you will discover you don’t know.

    Scholastic track is a tin can, what you see and get of nourishment is ALL INSIDE AND NOTHING ELSE.

    That is why I find it STUNNING AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE of watching highly-credentialed professionals including hot sh*t MBAs from prestigious universities buying ETFs in this silly investing season of contagion-infected locked down global economy.

    They don’t pause and ask what is the risk/return balance buying into ETFs is actually, of fundamental truths,

    - you are the buyer of your own “investing” until exhaustion collapse (Warren Buffet, Ray Dalio, Stan Druckenmiller not joining and will never join you)

    - you can’t sell to yourself (when the buyers disappear, you are selling to only one party – that is yourself on the buy queue

    - the ETF funds buy first and sell it to your rushing buyer at higher prices, and they front-run you when the market collapse.

    - ETF very low management fees (they collect a lot more by front running your buy and sell transactions – pow chiak one).

    That is why anyone going around flaunting his/her scholastic record is A PRIME SUSPECT of a WALKING STUPID in town – PAPpypolitics aristocrats are good examples.

    WHEN IT COMES TO PERFORMANCE, THEY DISINTEGRATE LIKE THROWN AWAY GARBAGE in rubbish dumps and NOT KNOWING WHY.

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  • Soveriegn Sojourner:

    @ Oxygen

    Because they do it in a confrontational and tactless manner. Last time got a lady classmate just like that. The guys got pissed and told her to shut the fiack up.

    Otherwise I totally agree with you point of sharing knowledge and benefiting from others’ insights.

    I know of very kiasu people with golden mouth “kim chui”. They don’t utter a word, don’t want to share info when asked.

    oxygen:
    @ Soveriegn Sojourner

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH THAT? I can’t fathom your logic?

    Why?

    Knowledge is an EXPANDING CIRCLE, the more you learn, the MORE you will discover you don’t know.

    Scholastic track is a tin can, what you see and get of nourishment is ALL INSIDE AND NOTHING ELSE.

    That is why I find it STUNNING AND INCOMPREHENSIBLE of watching highly-credentialed professionals including hot sh*t MBAs from prestigious universities buying ETFs in this silly investing season of contagion-infected locked down global economy.

    They don’t pause and ask what is the risk/return balance buying into ETFs is actually, of fundamental truths,

    - you are the buyer of your own “investing” until exhaustion collapse (Warren Buffet, Ray Dalio, Stan Druckenmiller not joining and will never join you)

    - you can’t sell to yourself (when the buyers disappear, you are selling to only one party – that is yourself on the buy queue

    - the ETF funds buy first and sell it to your rushing buyer at higher prices, and they front-run you when the market collapse.

    - ETF very low management fees (they collect a lot more by front running your buy and sell transactions – pow chiak one).

    That is why anyone going around flaunting his/her scholastic record is A PRIME SUSPECT of a WALKING STUPID in town – PAPpypolitics aristocrats are good examples.

    WHEN IT COMES TO PERFORMANCE, THEY DISINTEGRATE LIKE THROWN AWAY GARBAGE in rubbish dumps and NOT KNOWING WHY.

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  • trublu:

    Hahaha,a POST PANDEMIC GLOBALISATION ERA?

    I have been saying,or to some nagging,about the so-called globa-LIE-$ation here on TRE.

    WHERE HAVE THE EXPECTED BENEFITS OF GLOBALUSATION GONE TO?
    WHO ATE ENJOYING SUCH *BENEFITS* N WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING THE PRICE OF GREED OF THE RICH N POWERFOOL$ THE LAST 15/20 YEARS?

    World leaders from politicians to businessmen to CENTRAL BANKERS decry SLOWDOWNS OR EVEN NEGATIVE ECONOMIC GROWTHS BUT THE LAST 20 YEARS SAW THE BIGGEST INCREASE IN NMUBER OF BILLIONAIRES from free world to communist?

    Even Sg share of billionaires has incresed?

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  • Sojoürner of Truth:

    America’s hubris may have finally gotten around to biting them in the butt. Covid 19 will be another Sputnik/Pearl Harbor/9/11, moment for them. Trump is the worst person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    When I think of a great leader I automatically think of Martin Luther King jr. because he continued to fight for justice for African Americans/ Blacks in a time where being black was essential considered a “crime”. A prime example of Martin’s great leadership was him leading the March on Washington in August of 1963 this nonviolent protest was met with angry backlash but Martin still continued to march,THIS is what makes a leader great the ability to continue to move on in the face of oppression and backlash.

    Jacinda Ardern displays almost every trait as great leadership qualities on a daily basis. She has surrounded herself with the best and brightest representing a broad coalition of experts from the public and private sectors and she listens to them. Every day here she explains….. truthfully ….whats happening and what needs to happen next then lets the experts explain why. All of this in a context of zero partisanship or politicization. As a corollary to humility, a great leader is adroit at delegating responsibility to experts.

    Finally, bne thing you can say about our very own leaders: their terrible leadership qualities are utterly consistent. Crying on the job, especially in public, is truly inspirational and I didn’t originally vote for them. I will next time….

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