In The NFL, Don’t Be Smarter Than Your Boss (like all jobs)
Greg McElroy’s alleged Wonderlic score has been leaked and it’s created a buzz. The Wonderlic is a part of the bevy of tests the NFL puts draftees through and generally measures what is known as “general mental ability”.
SEC standout quarterback McElroy’s problem is that his Wonderlic score is almost 2 times as high as the average NFL quarterback. And QBs are known as the smartest guys on the team (although centers and offensive tackles have higher scores). If a coach is going to add value to McElroy’s work as a player, he’s going to have to be able to “think bigger” so that he can provide context for this young guy.
And there’s the problem, according to Mike Florio of NBC Sports’ Pro Football Talk.
Florio writes that “scoring too high [on Wonderlic] can be as much of a problem as scoring too low.”
Football coaches want to command the locker room. Being smarter than the individual players makes that easier. Having a guy in the locker room who may be smarter than every member of the coaching staff can be viewed as a problem — or at a minimum as a threat to the egos of the men who hope to be able when necessary to outsmart the players, especially when trying in some way to manipulate them.
The commenters on that post couldn’t understand why a coach wouldn’t want someone who is smart in the locker room. I think the issue may come down to the fact that most people have never managed anyone. Florio explained why he thought coaches don’t want really smart players playing for them, saying that coaches could see it as undermining their authority.
Interestingly, he points out that the only NFL-er known to have gotten a perfect 50 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, Harvard’s Pat McInally, has stated previously that his Wonderlic score hurt him in the draft. (He’s now employed by the Wonderlic Corporation as a shill.)
It’s interesting since this is exactly what I have been arguing about you Hidden High Potentials: your bosses are smaller than you are (in their ability to handle complexity). That produces problems. Your boss
- cannot set context for you or add value to your work
- cannot see the full value of your contribution since your work’s complexity (or the problems that it solves) are outside of his ability to handle in his mind
- resents having someone who seems to threaten his authority because you are bigger than he is
It doesn’t matter whether you are in the NFL or the local grocery store. Being able to handle more complexity than your boss is a recipe for failure. Overachievers are despised more than underachievers.
So keep your head down.
And flub some of those Wonderlic answers.