THE BLOG

Aren't I Smart and Aren't They Stupid?

05/29/2014 01:44 pm ET | Updated Jul 29, 2014

As you work your way through my video series and written blogs, you are going to hear about a number of personal flaws that none of us are immune to. In the course of reviewing this material, you may recognize yourself. You may say, "That's me!" or "I do that all the time. I had no idea I was coming across that way."

Some of these bad habits are hard to admit to ourselves, but if you get a little nudge of self-recognition, that's a good start. Even better is to admit it might be a problem. Not many people do this as a rule, but if you're watching this blog series and reading these articles, you may be one of the few. Better still is to take corrective action to mend your ways. These are the gold star people. These are people who are on the fast track toward becoming even better leaders.

The bad habit I'm going to discuss now is another variation on our need to win. It is telling the world how smart we are, how dumb someone else is, or listening to someone else do this. A question I have asked more than 100,000 people is: What percent of all interpersonal communication time is spent on a) someone talking about how smart they are or listening to someone else do that plus b) talking about how stupid someone else is or listening to someone else do that? The answer? Right about 65 percent!

Now here's the real test: How many of you feel more busy and under more pressure than you've felt in your whole lives? Most people answer this question with a resounding "I do!" Not to worry, you are not alone. Most of us feel this way. If I were to give you a productivity enhancement tool that would help you save some time and that would definitely increase your efficiency, would your ears perk up? I bet they would.

Here is the productivity enhancement tool -- REDUCE THAT NUMBER! How much do you learn talking about how smart you are? Nothing. How much do you learn listening to somebody else do that? Zip! How much do you learn talking about how dumb everyone else is or listening to someone else do that? Absolutely zero.

If you can stop yourself in these seemingly minor moments with someone who works closely with you and presumably knows you well -- in other words, when nothing is at stake and you don't have to flex your "I'm a winner" muscles -- you have the skill to stop telling the world how smart you are. And, if you can say, "Excuse me" when the gossip and ego-stroking starts, and get back to your desk, you are well on your way to reducing that number.

Please view my new Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50 Video Blog. The short video in the series Teaching Leaders What to Stop: Aren't I Smart and Aren't They Stupid? accompanies this article. I'll post these blogs once a week for the next 50 weeks. The series will incorporate learnings from my 38 years of experience with top executives, as well as material from my previous research, articles and books, including What Got You Here Won't Get You There, MOJO, Coaching for Leadership, and Succession: Are You Ready?

The blogs will also include material from my exciting new research on engagement and my upcoming book Triggers (to be published by Crown in 2015). Each video will have an accompanying written blog.