Monday, June 28, 2021

Effective Leaders Don't Need to be the Smartest Person in the Room

Over the last decade, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing and inspiring leadership and marketing experts. Back in 2017, I was inspired by Kevin Eikenberry, a leadership guru. In 2018, I shared a review of one of his books here on my Blog, and a link to that review is provided at the end of this post. Kevin and I recently had a discussion about leadership, and highlights follow his bio.

Kevin Eikenberry is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group and the Co-Founder of the Remote Leadership Institute. He has spent 30 years helping organizations and leaders from over 40 countries become more effective. has twice named him in the top 100 Leadership and Management Experts in the World. His books include, Remarkable Leadership, From Bud to Boss, and The Long-Distance Leader. His new book is The Long-Distance Teammate. Follow his blog at:; LinkedIn at:; and on Twitter @KevinEikenberry. His company websites are: and

QUESTION: How do you differentiate between management and leadership?
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: Differently than many people! If you Google the difference between them, much of what you will find are lists that frame management as “bad” and leadership as “good.” If you have a job of leading or managing others, both management and leadership are a part of your job. We manage things – plans, budgets, forecasts, logistics, for example, and we lead people – coaching, setting a vision, influencing, creating change, and more. I believe both are important parts of our role – and we must take getting better at both seriously.

QUESTION: Which three leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: There could be a long list. I’ll say Abraham Lincoln because he led from deeply held principles, stuck to them, yet listened to others – including those with different perspectives than his own. Oh, and he preserved a nation. Ronald Reagan, because he set a clear vision, stayed fixed on it, overcame big odds, and in the end, ended the cold war without a shot being fired. And my dad, from whom I first learned about leadership, up close and personally. He was flawed as we all are, yet he was passionate, worked hard, and trusted others (including me) early and often.

QUESTION: How can people without grandiose titles lead others?  
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: I love this question because leadership isn’t a title at all! Leadership is a verb – if you think you are leading and no one is following, you are just taking a walk. The way to lead is to help people create or see a picture of something better and influence, engage, and encourage them to move toward it. Purpose, passion, and belief in others are all far more important than positional power.

TWEET THIS: If you think you are leading and no one is following, you are just taking a walk. ~@KevinEikenberry #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding

QUESTION: What three tips would you give a new manager?
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: I co-wrote a whole book about that titled From Bud to Boss: Secrets to the Successful Transition to Remarkable Leadership, so I suppose I have lots to say here. But if forced to boil it down to three, here we go:
(1) Determine what is expected of you and what you expect of your team.
(2) Listen first and more often.
(3) Remember that trust and relationships are an important part of your job.

QUESTION: On your Blog, you wrote about “The Feedback Sandwich: The Sandwich No One Wants to Eat.” Can you explain this for readers who may be unfamiliar with the analogy?

(Post referenced:

KEVIN EIKENBERRY: Much has been written, and many have been advised to use the feedback sandwich when coaching, which is this: share your negative feedback after giving something positive, and close with something else positive. In other words, have some positive bread to go with the negative feedback. In short, the problem is this: most often, people only advise this when you have negative to deliver, and so, too often, the positive bread is either less specific, unclear or meat to soften the meat in the middle. Is there a time or place where a feedback sandwich could work? Yes. Is it overused and misused? In my experience about 90%+ of the time.

QUESTION: How can a CEO be an effective brand ambassador?
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: Truthfully, every CEO already is a brand ambassador, just like every leader at every level is a role model. People watch leaders (and yes, watch, more than listen) for clues and direction. The question is, are leaders (including CEO’s) role modeling what they want others to follow and believe? The actions, decisions, and words of the CEO in many ways inform the brand daily. So if a CEO wants to be a more effective brand ambassador, they must know what the brand stands for and means, and be intentional each day to model and lead in a way consistent with it.

TWEET THIS: Every CEO already is a brand ambassador, just like every leader at every level is a role model. ~@KevinEikenberry #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #EmployerBranding

QUESTION: To quote Peter Drucker, “There may be born leaders, but there surely are far too few to depend on them. Leadership must be learned.” What does this quote mean to you?

KEVIN EIKENBERRY: I could quibble with the first part of Peter’s statement, but I believe ultimately we are in complete agreement. I believe all leaders are both born and made. There are genetics that make us uniquely ourselves and when we use those unique traits effectively, they can help us lead. And yet, ultimately, leadership is a set of skills (admittedly a large and complex list). Since leadership is about skills, they can be learned. I firmly believe that we were all born with the capability to become effective leaders, but many/most won’t take the serious effort to build the skills to do so successfully.  

QUESTION: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): “Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?
KEVIN EIKENBERRY: If you are the smartest person in the room – and you picked the people in the room - you made a grievous error. Effective leaders have a healthy level of humility, so they don’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Their focus is on defining and coalescing a group of competent, and committed, (and yes smart) people around the vision. Leaders must take their ego out and realize that their job is to focus on the vision and serve the people (which means removing obstacles and barriers – doing the “blocking and tackling”). Not only that, I will take commitment and passion over “smart” every day.

My gratitude to Kevin for sharing his inspiring perspective about leadership and its impact on both the employee experience and overall brand experience.

Post referenced at the beginning: A review of Kevin's book, The Long-Distance Leader:

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

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