I have a smartphone.  You probably do too. Here’s the problem: sometimes they’re really dumb. (And no, I’m not talking about texting while driving – a habit I’m currently trying to break.)

Yes, this is dumb. But wait, there’s more!

I had a client a while ago whose people complained about one particular behavioral quirk.  When they were in meetings with this (smart, capable, well-intentioned) leader, he would often absent-mindedly check his smartphone for emails, text messages, or whose call was buzzing away on the device.  This happened both in leadership team meetings and, even more disconcertingly, in one on one conversations.

The result? His colleagues basically didn’t think he was listening.  It’s not a long leap from “you’re not listening to me” to “you really don’t give a rip about me.” Try leading people through major challenges to a better strategic future when they’re not sure you give a rip about them.  Good luck with that.

Here’s my incomplete list of times when a smartphone is really dumb:

  • You’ve assembled your leadership team for important strategic discussions. The combined wages and opportunity cost of people’s time is huge.  This is a bad time to be distracted by the phone.
  • You’re in an important conversation with a client.  They’re paying for your time (or thinking about paying for your time/service/product).  This is a really bad time to steal a glance at the phone.
  • You’re in a one on one with a colleague or an employee.  Nothing communicates “I’m bored” more than looking down at the phone while they’re mid-sentence.
  • You’re on a date with your spouse/significant other… (OK, if you do it then you’ve definitely been hit by the stupid stick.  And if you live in Chicago, I know a good marriage therapist.)

Of course, it’s possible that the meeting you’re in is dumb too, but that’s a subject for a different post. Right now, just be smarter than your phone.