Why Smart People Make Lousy Leaders

This is a guest post by Mike Holmes. Mike is the founder of Tithehacker. The purpose of the site is to stir up a revolution of radical giving. Stop by the site a get a copy of his free resource “Hacking the Tithe 101”

When Swedish industrialist and International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) founder Gunnar Olson started his first company, in his words, he was a yo-yo Christian. When things were great he was ecstatic, when things were down he was depressed. Also he was super-spiritual, so when sales were down he would fast and pray.

It was the smart thing to do.

Child walking in the road

Image by Nina Williams

On the last day of a 14 day fast he received a call from a woman whose wisdom and insight he highly respected.

She had a word from the Lord.

He was excited. He desperately needed answers from God. What mystical insight had God revealed to her? According to him,

“‘Get out there and sell!!’ she announced. ‘Gunnar you need to do your part too!’”


“But wait a minute Mike!!! He did the right thing. He sought the Lord. It was the smart thing to do. On top of that…where do you come off with such a moronic title??!! Leaders are supposed to be smart! That’s why they read books, go to conferences, read blogs…hello!! You need to explain yourself here Mike!!”

Sheesh 🙂

Fair enough.

Let me do just that.

What I mean to say is: the problem with smart people is they tend to know more than they do. And the fact of the matter is: God called us to seek Him but He also called us to hustle.

You look at people like Michael Hyatt and Jeff Goins who are leaders in their own right. Did they get where they are by being smart? By waiting for opportunities to come to them? Or was it because they were foolish enough to chase opportunities, even when it didn’t seem “smart” enough to do.

Smart people don’t make good leaders–“childlike” people do. What are the differences? I’m glad you asked:

Know mostly about everything Know they don’t know and because of that keep learning
Create so they won’t fail Fail because they know that’s part of the creation process
Give answers Ask questions
Trust reason and logic Have faith
Ask, “Why should we?” Ask, “Why Don’t we?”
Have fun with theory Have fun with theory and action
See work as work Have fun with their work
Set out to fix a problem Set out to change the world

We were never called to be smart; we were called to be wise and childlike.

Question: But what do you think? What make a great leader? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • A great leader is someone who leads by example.  Modeling desired behavior is essential to getting desired results.

    •  Great point Jon. If you’re not modeling the behavior, people are reluctant to follow. They’ll even get angry when they see you telling them to do a certain behavior while you’re not.

      • Tell me about it! The worst thing is when they say “do as I say, not as I do!” Sigh #fail

    • Absolutely Jon! The best leader I have EVER been under was a man who did just that. If  he told us to go 100% its because we knew he was going 150%. He was definitely not “smart” at all lol!

    •  Great point Jon, so true.

  • I believe a great Leader needs to be Humble and decisive. I know the Entrepreneurs of the world have so many ideas and yet many die with them or don’t implement them. Its like in the bible when the men were given the talents to sow. Which brings us to your point Mike, hustling to do what God put you here to do. Change lives and bring more to him through what you do. Being decisive and putting those thoughts into Action are just some key traits I’d like to add. Awesome post!

    • Oh wow Lincoln! That’s something that has been heavy on my heart lately. It’s like they say “A great idea isn’t worth anything until it’s implemented.” 

      • Joe,

        I always keep thinking back to what Jesus said: “wisdom is justified by her children.” Or by her “results” or “fruit.” My biggest mistake in life was that I had (or thought I had) great counsel…but I had no children to back it up. And as you get older you stop listening to claims and look for more fruit. So I wholeheartedly agree with you.

      • Just imagine how many ideas died when the people died Joe. The inventions, the lives that could have been changed. Whatever we have in us, we have to share it now not later. 

    • Maaaan…Joesph should’ve had you guest post instead of me lol! That right there needs to be bottled and sold! 🙂

      • Stop it Mike.. Your content is what sparked it all. So thank you for what you do, and Joe for sharing it with his audience.

      • Lincoln’s a smart guy! Who knows. Maybe he’ll be my next guest poster.

  • Leaders don’t know everything – Knowing just one thing is all they need to create the change they want to see. And sometimes, they don’t even know much of the one thing they know but they still step up and lead. Is being smart still necessary? Sure! But doing is better than thinking.

    • Amen Joseph! You’ve got to take action.

    • That reminds me of what Jim Rohn said, ”
      You cannot make progress without making decisions.” Love that quote!

  • Love you post Mike.
    I believe both are necessary. Action without smartness is terrible. And smartness without action is paralyzing. I think the key is balance.

    • It appears that balance is the key in everything pertaining to this life. Thanks Ngina! I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

    • Yup Ngina. Balance is the key.

  • Knowing and doing are two totally different elements. Even Jesus that said, I must work the works of He that sent me while it is day…..” knew and did. Smart people know a lot and often times too much knowledge and thinking is the killer. Move your feet and cross over into execution of the super plans and ideas you can formulate. When you execute and people see that your execution tallies with your knowledge, they follow you….PRESTO! A leader.

    • Ooooooohhhhhh! At least we know where our next guest poster is coming from lol!

      • Seun Arosanyin


        Bless you for the article…really set me reviewing a lot.

        PS. Your mailing list is not active.

        • It isn’t??? Holy crap! Let me get that fixed asap!

    • Yup, the smartness can create indecisiveness and kill any progression. Any suggestions on how to move forward?

    •  Jesus is a perfect example of a person who was both smart and achieved great things.

  • Michael, You had me at Smart, but isn’t that a bait and switch, all or nothing title,? But then you modified it in the article;-)

    Some random thoughts on intelligence and wisdom in general:

    I love what Albert Einstein says: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift
    and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society
    that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

    Our rational mind will build, what our intuitive heart invisions.

    Every good leader I know is smart and intuitive. You named two.

    Childlike and ever learning. Thanks Michael.

    PS Good Storytelling!

    • I almost thought you said, “You had me at hello!” I nearly fell to the floor. Thanks Bob!

  • Great and true post, people who are “smart” and knowledgeable often teach because they often can’t do. Producing positive results is what separates the winners from the losses or average. I think the greatest leadership responsibility is in doing and achieving results.

    Great post Mike.

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  • Jlee55

    Yes, it’s unfortunate that some people have had many hurts and wounds, so that they can’t even be childlike.  I have difficulty being humble, because I never felt safe enough to be childlike.  Does God care about “smart” people like me?

    • God sure does care for “smart” people like you. He made you unique and special for a purpose.

      While Mike’s post may make it seem like smart people aren’t the best leaders, they can still make excellent leaders. We just need to know that while we’re smart we don’t know everything and we can still learn.

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