Who’s the Smartest Guy in the Room?
Posted by Allison Fine on June 19, 2009
I’ve been wondering about your definition of the Smartest Guy in the Room lately. In fact, I’ve just finished the book by the same name about the rise and implosion of Enron. What an epic story of colossal greed and unethical behavior – and yet, for the brief time (it really was only about five years) when Enron ruled the natural gas trading markets, they were known far and wide as the smartest guys in the room.
Why? What is it about these guys that we think is so admirable, and why do we nonprofits continue to pack our boards with people who bring financial and corporate skills and experience at the expense of work and relationships in the communities that we serve? (This is not supposition or sour grapes on my part – although I’m prone to spouting both – but data from BoardSource.)
Blogger Carlo Cuesta of Creation in Common has written this terrific post about the need for people to stop assuming that “acting like for profits” should be the goal of the nonprofit community. He writes:
This statement [act like a for profit], commonly heard by nonprofits, stinks. It is akin to diagnosing a broken toe by telling the patient she has a fever. All nonprofits must be operationally effective, but this is not what the statement implies. It furthers the perception that if you do not operate with a profit motive you do not understand business. It says: “for-profit expertise trumps nonprofit expertise.” It is one of the greatest barriers to deep collaboration among board and staff members—pitting the knowledgeable business leader against the knowledgeable community worker. Money vs. mission.
Given the demise of GM, the meltdown of AIG and the implosion of the banking sector, the entire real of Smartest Guys as we’ve thought of them, I’m hoping that we can create a new definition of Smartest Guys for for profits and nonprofits that fits a new age of humility and connectedness.
So, here’s my shot at the new definition of Smartest Guys. They are people (you now we’re just using Guys generically here, right?) who are great at:
- Relationship building. Not networking, but building two-way, equal relationships that builds social capital and makes good karma (Tom Watson’s word) go ’round;
- Network weaving. Connecting with large numbers of people and inviting them in to participate in efforts that benefit everyone.
- Credit giving. It’s easy to take credit, but, sadly, harder to give it, particularly when we’ve been taught not to. By generously giving credit, as well as taking it appropriately, leaders reassure their networks that they are interested in all boats rising not just their own.
What would the world look like if we valued these attributes more than financial skills?
This entry was posted on June 19, 2009 at 7:23 am and is filed under Social Media. Tagged: Carlo Cuesta, Enron, Nonprofit Leadership. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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