Too Smart for Your Own Good? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a team lead (the youngest, thank you very much) in a fast and fun Silicon Valley startup.

Everything was fine until I was made a lead. The problem: I am just too smart. I know that sounds terrible, but it is true. I actually have an IQ of about 170, and people around me can’t keep up.

I have received feedback that I tend to push my ideas on others—and it’s true, because mine are the best ones. But I can never get anyone else to see my point of view. I am super creative and a fast thinker and I generate ideas quickly. I know I need to inspire others to join me in my vision and I also learn to respect others’ ideas more and create an environment of collaboration.

On team projects in school, I just did everybody else’s work because I couldn’t stand how slow and mediocre people were, but that isn’t going to work here. I am aware that I sound like a big jerk, but I honestly don’t know what to do about it.

Too Smart for My Own Good

Dear Too Smart,

Well, you have come to the right place. My first coaching company was devoted to creative geniuses, so I worked with a lot of people like you. I can feel your pain—not because I am like you, but because I have coached so many who are. I have a couple of ideas that may help you understand your situation and also some behaviors to try on that may help you be more effective, long term. No one wants to work for a big jerk, but everyone wants to work for someone brilliant. The good news about being such a smarty is that you can leverage your considerable intelligence to expand your repertoire of behaviors.

First, you need to understand temperament theory. Temperament theory will help you understand how you are different from others, why it matters, and what you can do about it. Your high intelligence is only part of the problem. In fact, once you understand how you need to modulate your own behavior, it will become a strength to leverage. Here are two different sources for you to go to. Each author uses different language to express the four temperaments.

David Keirsey’s site (he wrote a book called Please Understand Me):

Linda Berens’s site:

You may very well be surrounded by people who are as smart as you but who are driven by different needs and who communicate differently than you do. I would bet money on your being a Rational temperament (Keirsey’s language). The core needs for a Rational are self-control, mastery, and competence. I created this list for a class on temperament:

You might be a Rational if you:

    1. Follow only the rules that make sense
    2. Often feel surrounded by idiots
    3. Have been accused of being cold
    4. Compete mostly with yourself
    5. Have a hard time when people don’t get it
    6. Were on the debate team
    7. Have a regular chess game
    8. Regularly wonder how something isn’t obvious to all
    9. Often think of work as play, when in the right job
    10. Tend to focus on the future

Sound familiar? People with Rational temperament are often seen by others as cold, condescending, unemotional, calculating, elitist, patronizing, and unrealistic.

Once you have a sense of your own temperament, you will understand the needs you are getting met with your ineffective behavior and how you are seen by others. Then you can understand other people’s temperament and how you may have to change your communication style so that they can relate to what you are saying. This will be a lot of work for you, but I guarantee it will change the way you approach everything and everyone—and you will be really happy you did it.

Second, stop being a jerk. You can do it. Exercise more, meditate, breathe, count to infinity, or do whatever you need to do to be more patient. You must understand that it is the job of the leader to adapt to the people they are leading. So, it is your job to meet people where they are, listen to their ideas, and generally evoke the best from them. This is a tall order and it requires a lot of self-regulation. You are young and this requires maturity, but it will keep you from becoming a monster. I recommend that you simply start with asking instead of telling. Listening to your people and repeat back what you hear. Listen more than you talk, stop interrupting people, and, for the love of Pete, stop rolling your eyes. How do I know you are rolling your eyes? I just know—and so does everyone else who has ever worked for someone like you.

There is hope for you. Go forth and use those smarts to expand the ways you are intelligent. There will be no stopping you.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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