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When my daughter was 4 years old, she liked stealing my stuff and hiding it.

It was usually my phone, my wallet or my keys that would go missing. After all, they were my daily fixtures and, hence, the best to take if the goal was to make me search.

In the morning, when it was time to leave, I’d inevitably be looking all over the house trying to remember where I’d left the missing item.

“Have you seen my keys?” I’d ask my daughter.

“Nope,” she’d reply without missing a beat or looking up from her breakfast.

So I’d keep searching. In every drawer, under every cushion.

Eventually I’d realize she must’ve taken it. She wouldn’t directly admit it, but inevitably it would turn into either a game of hot/cold or 20 questions until I finally retrieved the item.

I have to admit, it was kind of fun. Sure she was proving adept at lying and stealing, but how could I possibly get mad at her charmingly chubby cheeks and cartoon character commentary.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that she created three main hiding locations. After that, whenever I couldn’t find something of mine and didn’t have time for a game of “find it”, I’d just look in the secret spots and it was usually there.

In the end, it was all hiding in plain sight. I just had to look.

hiding in plain sight

The Smartest Person In The Room

Recently I started working with a leader who feels that she has to be the smartest person in the room.

She hasn’t admitted that to me yet, nor have I suggested it to her, but it is pretty darn easy to ascertain – both through her behavior and other peoples’ reactions to her behavior.

In my experience as a change management consultant and executive coach, I’ve encountered many different leadership personalities. The SPITR syndrome (Smartest Person in the Room) is one of the most challenging to address.

Granted, it’s not as challenging as the narcissist, but I will save that discussion for a different box of cracker jacks.

This leader, let’s call her Susan, she feels a need to continually prove herself to others. She feels a need to be the expert in every subject.

It’s just not doing her any favors.

hiding in plain sight

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

There’s this phenomena called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It was discovered by a professor at Cornell and his sidekick.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect describes how the person who believes they are the smartest in the room about a subject is usually the one with the least expertise on that particular subject.

The reason this happens is that when people learn something and experience initial success with it, they often get to a point where they know just enough about the subject to feel expertly empowered, but not enough to recognize the vast amount they still need to learn.

One of the most dangerous leadership personalities is the one that doesn’t know that they don’t know what they don’t know. Instead they think they know it all. But they don’t.

hidden in plain sight

When You Are Ready To See

What do my daughter, Susan and the Dunning-Kruger Effect have in common?

They all exemplify a pretty important insight into personal growth.

There are things in your life that you can’t see until you’re actually ready to look for them.

The good news is that the answers are usually hiding in plain sight.

All the times my daughter hid my keys, she always put them in a not-so-challenging place to find. It was cute. It was a fun game. It was a memory that brought a smile to my face.

But I wasn’t seeing what I wasn’t ready to look for.

You see, she usually focused on hiding my phone, wallet and keys. Those three things were what I always took with me when I left home.

Her hiding them was a message to me that she didn’t want me to travel so much. In hindsight it’s pretty darn obvious.

But it wasn’t until a global pandemic happened that I was ready to learn.

The truth was hiding in plain sight. I just wasn’t ready to find it. But when the economy shut down and I was forced to stay at home, I was suddenly ready to see the things I wasn’t ready to see before.

I have now reduced my business travel and the relationship with my daughter is better than it’s ever been in her entire life.

The Smartest Susan’s Slippery Slope

I am pretty sure that Susan has no idea she is always acting like she’s the smartest person in the room (and failing at it).

In fact, when I have that discussion with her, I bet she’s going to deny it. Then she will consider it. Then she’ll feel embarrassed by it. Then she’ll change.

The question is, when will she be ready to see it?

I haven’t brought it up with her yet because, honestly, I don’t think she’s ready. There are a few more things we are working on in our coaching relationship to help build up to greater self-awareness.

But that’s the thing about people who fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger Effect. They truly believe they know everything and will dismiss anybody who doesn’t agree.

It’s not that they aren’t open to the truth, it’s just that they aren’t yet ready to see it.

hiding in plain sight

Finding What’s Hiding In Plain Sight

If you think through your life, I’m sure you can come up with moments of clarity when you suddenly saw a different perspective about yourself.

Maybe it was when you realized that trying to make everybody happy never works.

Perhaps it was the moment you acknowledged your Imposter Syndrome.

Or maybe it’s when you recognized what your true strength and calling really is.

Only you know that moment of clarity.

It’s easy to feel shame about it when you’re in the moment. I’ve been there.

It’s easy to feel like you’ve wasted time being someone who isn’t the real you. I’ve been there too.

The reality, though, is that we all have a blind spot around who we are and what we do. It’s not a disease, it’s not a failure, it’s just that life is a never-ending, pot-hole filled path of self-awareness.

If you’re a leader, my advice to you is to always lean in to feedback. Understand your superpower and embrace your kryptonite.

In fact, I have created a leadership assessment that I do for people and companies that is pretty powerful. But you don’t need me to do it, you can do a basic one yourself.

Get feedback from others – the good and the bad – on who you are and how you conduct yourself. And choose to believe the results.

Just remember, the most successful leaders are the ones who are ready to see the things they haven’t been looking for.

They’re always hiding in plain sight.

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    A Somewhat Relevant Quote

    To know yourself you must sacrifice the illusion that you already do.

    Vironika Tugaleva, author, poet, cat lover

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