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Beyond Intelligence: The Skills and Qualities Highly Intelligent People Need for Career Success

We have all worked with super smart people who are just really hard to work with. Why is it that some of the smartest, most intelligent people I have ever known have also been the most social awkward and lacking in emotional and relational intelligence?

In this article, I will explore the common challenges highly intelligent people often face at work and the pitfalls to avoid when trying to strike a balance between reflection and action.

The Challenge of High Intelligence

The common belief is that raw intelligence is the ultimate asset, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, intellectually gifted people often face subtle challenges that may limit their success. This can be a difficult topic to navigate, as it requires us to reflect on our own biases and preconceived notions about intelligence. However, understanding and addressing these challenges is critical to unlocking the full potential of our brightest minds.

Here are five key struggles that smart people often face in the workplace:

1. Overvaluing their intelligence: Highly intelligent individuals may overemphasize their intellectual abilities and undervalue other skills, such as relationship building and emotional intelligence. This can lead to a lack of teamwork, as they may believe that they are the only ones capable of solving complex problems. However, true success in the workplace requires a combination of skills, including the ability to work well with others and communicate effectively.

2. Attaching self-esteem to intelligence: Smart people often attach a lot of their self-esteem to being intelligent, which can decrease their resilience and lead to avoidance. For example, if they fail to excel on a project or receive critical feedback, they may become discouraged and avoid similar challenges in the future. This can lead to missed opportunities for growth and development.

3. Getting bored easily: Highly intelligent individuals have a natural curiosity and desire for intellectual stimulation. However, this can lead to boredom and disengagement if their work doesn’t challenge them or offer opportunities for growth. This can be difficult for employers to address, as they may struggle to keep their brightest minds engaged and motivated.

4. Seeing in-depth thinking as the solution to every problem: Smart people may view in-depth thinking and reflection as the solution to every problem. While this is a valuable skill, it can lead to analysis paralysis and a lack of action. Sometimes, the best solution is to act quickly and make decisions based on incomplete information. Learning to strike a balance between reflection and action is critical to success in the workplace.

5. Frustration with teamwork: Finally, smart people may struggle with teamwork, as they may find it frustrating to work with people who don’t share their level of intellectual curiosity or work ethic. This can lead to a lack of collaboration and communication, which can hinder the success of the team as a whole. Learning to appreciate the strengths of others and work collaboratively is critical to achieving success in the workplace.

How Highly Intelligent People Can Overcome these Challenges

So, how can we help highly intelligent individuals overcome these challenges and unlock their full potential? Here are a few strategies:

1. Encourage the development of other skills: Encourage highly intelligent individuals to develop other skills, such as emotional intelligence and relationship building. Provide opportunities for them to work on projects that require collaboration and communication, and offer feedback and support to help them develop these skills.

2. Focus on growth mindset: Emphasize the importance of a growth mindset, and encourage individuals to view failure as an opportunity for growth and learning. This can help them develop resilience and avoid avoidance behaviors.

3. Provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation: Provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation, such as challenging projects or opportunities for professional development. This can help keep highly intelligent individuals engaged and motivated.

4. Encourage action: Encourage individuals to strike a balance between reflection and action, and to make decisions based on incomplete information when necessary. This can help them avoid analysis paralysis and move forward with confidence.

5. Foster teamwork: Finally, foster teamwork by emphasizing the importance of collaboration and communication. Encourage individuals to appreciate the strengths of others and work collaboratively to achieve shared goals.

Highly intelligent individuals may face subtle challenges that limit their success in the workplace. By understanding and addressing these challenges, we can help unlock the full potential of our brightest minds. Remember, success in the workplace requires a combination of skills, including intellectual ability, emotional intelligence, and teamwork. By encouraging the development of these skills and fostering a growth mindset, we can help ensure the success of our most talented employees.

Striking a Balance Between Reflection and Action

Striking a balance between reflection and action is crucial for success in the workplace. Here are a few examples of how to achieve this balance:

1. Set clear goals and priorities: Before taking action, it's important to set clear goals and priorities. This will help you determine the best course of action and avoid wasting time on tasks that aren't important. Take some time to reflect on what you want to achieve, and then create a plan of action that will help you reach your goals.

2. Use a decision-making framework: When faced with a complex problem, it can be helpful to use a decision-making framework to guide your thinking. For example, you might use a SWOT analysis to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with a particular decision. This will help you make a more informed decision and avoid analysis paralysis.

3. Emphasize rapid prototyping: Sometimes, the best way to balance reflection and action is to emphasize rapid prototyping. This involves creating a minimum viable product or solution and then testing it in the real world. This approach allows you to learn from your mistakes and iterate quickly, rather than spending too much time on planning and analysis.

4. Get feedback from others: Getting feedback from others can help you strike a balance between reflection and action. This can be especially helpful if you tend to overthink things or struggle with decision-making. Seek out input from colleagues, mentors, or other trusted advisors to help you weigh the pros and cons of different options.

5. Take time to reflect: Finally, it's important to take time to reflect on your actions and decisions. This will help you learn from your mistakes and make better decisions in the future. Set aside time each week to reflect on your progress, and use this time to identify areas for improvement and plan your next steps.

Remember, the key to striking a balance between reflection and action is to be intentional and methodical in your approach. By setting clear goals, using decision-making frameworks, emphasizing rapid prototyping, getting feedback from others, and taking time to reflect, you can make better decisions and achieve greater success in the workplace.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Trying to Strike a Balance

When trying to strike a balance between reflection and action, there are a few common pitfalls to avoid. Here are some examples:

1. Analysis paralysis: One of the most common pitfalls is analysis paralysis, which occurs when you spend too much time analyzing information and not enough time taking action. This can lead to missed opportunities and a lack of progress. To avoid analysis paralysis, try to set deadlines for yourself and stick to them. Also, focus on the most important information and avoid getting bogged down in details.

2. Overreliance on intuition: Another pitfall is overreliance on intuition, which can lead to impulsive decision-making and poor outcomes. While intuition can be helpful, it's important to balance it with data and analysis. Make sure you have enough information to make an informed decision before taking action.

3. Lack of reflection: While taking action is important, it's equally important to take time to reflect on your decisions and actions. Without reflection, it can be difficult to learn from your mistakes and make improvements. Make sure you set aside time to reflect on your progress and identify areas for improvement.

4. Fear of failure: Fear of failure can also be a pitfall when trying to strike a balance between reflection and action. If you're afraid of making mistakes, you may be hesitant to take action. However, it's important to remember that failure is a natural part of the learning process. Embrace the possibility of failure and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

5. Lack of communication: Finally, a lack of communication can also hinder your ability to strike a balance between reflection and action. If you're not communicating effectively with others, you may miss important information or make decisions that don't align with the goals of the team. Make sure you're communicating regularly with colleagues and other stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page.

By avoiding these common pitfalls and staying focused on your goals, you can strike a balance between reflection and action and achieve greater success in the workplace.


Raw intelligence isn't enough for career success. Developing relational skills and emotional intelligence is also essential. Additionally, balancing reflection and action is also essential for success as leaders. The ability to reflect on our decisions and actions allows us to learn from our mistakes and make improvements, while taking action is necessary to achieve our goals and move forward. By avoiding common pitfalls such as analysis paralysis, overreliance on intuition, and fear of failure, and by focusing on clear goals, decision-making frameworks, rapid prototyping, feedback, and reflection, we can strike a balance between reflection and action and achieve greater success in the workplace. As leaders, it is our responsibility to develop and foster these skills in ourselves and our teams, and to create a culture that values both reflection and action as critical components of success.



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