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Leadership

As the CEO, I Strive to Be the Dumbest Person in the Room

Being able to only rely on yourself is one of the worst places you can be in business.
As the CEO, I Strive to Be the Dumbest Person in the Room
Image credit: Shutterstock
- Guest Writer
CEO of Capriotti's Sandwich Shop
5 min read

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It may not be something you hear every day, but as the CEO of Capriotti’s, I strive to always be the dumbest person in the room.

Although this may seem counterintuitive, being the dumbest person on your team brings many advantages not only to your personal growth, but also to the development of your company. This method allows you to:

  1. Rely on your whole team, not just yourself.
  2. Listen more than you speak, improving your active listening skills.
  3. Create passion and motivation among your leadership team.

Related: 10 Books Every Leader Should Read to Be Successful

Create trust and rely on your team.

Being able to only rely on yourself is one of the worst places you can be in business. While carefully crafting the Capriotti’s senior leadership team, I made sure to find people from various backgrounds and skill sets -- creating an intellectually diverse group of people around me. This method allows you to rely not only on your own opinions and expertise, but on those of everyone around you. Your colleagues will in turn respect your willingness to learn from them.

For example, I once had a grandiose marketing vision that would have cost the company $105,000 if executed across the franchise system. However, the marketing team was not in agreement. I decided to test it at just one store anyway, at a cost of $10,000, and it turned out the marketing team was right. If I had surrounded myself with people who did not challenge me and said yes to everything I suggested instead of bringing their own expertise to the table, I would be wasting a lot of time and money.

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

Listen more than you speak.

One of the most important factors of the “dumbest person in the room” philosophy is your ability to act more as a student than a teacher. Even though you may have long been out of school, it is vital to never lose your student mindset and to continually grow and develop.

One way I do this is by actively listening to my leadership team. I consider this to be a participative leadership style, and a business philosophy I live by. Even though I am the CEO, my voice does not necessarily need to be the most prominent. If you take a second to step back and engage by listening to your colleagues, you may be surprised by the insight that you gain. The average human speaks at a rate of 100-200 words per minute, whereas we listen at a rate of 400-600 words per minute. Since our thoughts move faster, there’s plenty of room for your mind to wander if you are not fully engaged in active listening and understanding. These experiences can often be humbling, and encourage me to fully consider everyone’s ideas at the company.

We have a franchisee on the East Coast who is a self-proclaimed foodie, and is constantly experimenting with new sandwich creations. We took note of this fact, and ended up selling one of his creations in our restaurants nationwide. The sandwich now accounts for around 20 percent of restaurant sales. It is stories like this that validate the idea that you can learn from anyone at your company, regardless of titles.

Related: Inspirational Quotes From 100 Famous Business Leaders (Infographic)

Build passion in your company.

Since purchasing the Capriotti’s brand from its former owners and becoming CEO nine years ago, I have learned that people want to feel involved in the company’s decision-making and see that their influence matters. The “dumbest person in the room” philosophy allows you to build a team of people with education and skills above your own capabilities. It is up to you to then put these capabilities into effect.

I have found that when my colleagues take on a more active role in high-level planning, they become more loyal to the company and will work harder to accomplish the goals that everyone has put into place. Experts believe that company culture is the most powerful indicator of performance, so it is important to build this motivated, involved culture in order for your brand to flourish.

When I was in college, my roommate Jason and I would eat Capriotti’s several times a week and eventually broke the lease on our apartment to move closer to a restaurant. Now as owners of the company, our passion for Capriotti’s is very apparent. Trusting and accepting insight from the talented people surrounding you builds that same passion for your company in them as it does in you.

Knowing all of the answers would be great, but it is something that will never be realistic. Take your team’s opinions to heart -- remember, you hired them each for a specific reason, and your company can only thrive if everyone is developing together.

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