sara canaday reputation humbleMost of us have worked with people who have incredible academic credentials and a reputation to match. They may have attended Ivy League universities and earned a stack of diplomas. They might speak several languages, quote Stephen Hawking or love debating the merits of obscure artists. But when they talk to people they work with, many of these very smart people forget that not everyone has an IQ of 150. Perhaps inadvertently, they may communicate in a way that leaves others feeling lost and not very bright. Unless these academic whizzes make a conscious effort to connect with everyone on the team in a positive way, they may wind up with a reputation as an Intellectual Snob.

People with the professional blind spot I call Intellectual Snob syndrome are the managers or colleagues who subconsciously communicate feelings of self-importance based on their impressive academic achievements or IQs. Sometimes their messages and tone can be subtle. Other times, not so much. Are they unusually smart? Yes! Do they have resumes to die for? Certainly! But those rock-solid competitive advantages are quickly washed away by their sometimes superior demeanor — even if it is unintentional. Colleagues without the high-caliber background may perceive that the Intellectual Snob is overly critical and not-so-patiently tolerating what is judged to be their less-than-adequate performance.

One of my past clients exhibited a prime example of this blind spot. Trish was a career advisor for one of the nation’s top business schools. She graduated from Stanford, won an international scholarship, and showed incredible insight in helping students identify perfect career paths they had never considered. Her own career, however, was stalled. When the school sent someone as an ambassador to other universities, Trish was never chosen. When a leadership position opened up, she was consistently passed over. Instead, she was given projects that involved solitary research and number crunching.

To be an effective team member, Trish had to become more aware of her own tone, to feel the impact of her words, and even to see her underlying attitudes about her co-workers. Then she had to actively make some positive modifications. She started to speak more humbly and work to be perceived as knowledgeable yet not condescending. Perhaps most importantly, she began to recognize the important skills and contributions of her colleagues that combined to give her team different (yet equally valuable) strengths.

For Trish and so many others like her, recognizing an invisible career obstacle is often the toughest challenge. The truth is, what you don’t see could be holding you back. Once you’re armed with awareness, you’ll be amazed at the huge impact of small changes in your behavior.

Do you have a professional blind spot? Find out more in my new book, You — According to Them: Uncovering the blind spots that impact your reputation and your career. (www.youaccordingtothem.com or amazon.com)