5 Ways Smart People Sabotage Their Success

Most of us believe that smart people are automatically successful, but that’s not always the case. Intelligent people may have an advantage out of the gate, but a surprising number end up sabotaging their own success. Here are five of the top reasons why:

They think they know it all. When people genuinely believe they know everything they need to know, there’s no reason for them to work to develop, grow or evolve. It’s easy for them to become stuck in their ways, and over time they grow rusty and fall behind on new developments in their field.

They feel entitled. Those who think they deserve special privileges and treatment often already have a significant advantage—whether it’s intelligence, wealth or social status. Entitled people tend to sit back and wait for success to come to them instead of putting in the hard work it takes to get there.

They aren’t willing to take risks. Sometimes smart people rely on their intelligence and avoid risk at all costs—and as a result they miss out on a lot of great opportunities. Big rewards often require big risks, and those who aren’t willing to roll the dice have a much harder time moving past the middle of the pack.

They overthink. The smarter you are, the more likely you are to overprepare and overanalyze. Of course it’s good to be thoughtful, but overthinking doesn’t just create a problem—it creates a problem were there wasn’t one before. There’s no bigger enemy to opportunity than the paralysis brought about by overthinking. It’s a surefire way for smart people to sabotage their own success.

They lack emotional intelligence. People with high intelligence sometimes see other skills as less important. They rely on their IQ instead of working on their EQ, and they’re often painfully unaware of what’s happening around them and how their demeanor may be affecting the situation. People who grasp concepts quickly and demand high standards are especially prone to creating difficulties when they interact with others. Sometimes smart people rely so much on their intelligence that they miss out on the nuances of a situation where they could have been successful.

Intelligence is a great gift. But at times it seduces smart people into thinking they’re destined to succeed when that’s not the reality. No matter how smart you are or what other gifts you’re blessed with, make sure you stay connected to reality and work to maintain balance in your attitudes and approach to leadership and work—and life.

Lead from within: Smart people sabotage their own success all the time without even being aware they are doing it.


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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR, Inc.com, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. asianwomanleadership

    12. Aug, 2019

    Enjoyable article, thanks for sharing

    Reply to this comment
  2. Nick Revo

    07. Nov, 2019

    Thanks for great sharing. We need to avoid all the mistakes.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Eddie

    02. Dec, 2019

    Needless to say you nailed it. It is apt and sums up a whole lot. More people need to know this. Thank you for this exposé.

    Reply to this comment
  4. Brittney C.

    10. Jul, 2022

    Great blog post! Many people don’t realize that they themselves can sabotage their own success. Of the 5 ways you noted that “smart people sabotage their success,” I resonated with “they aren’t willing to take risks” and “they lack emotional intelligence.” In examining my own life, I do feel that I have unfortunately sabotaged my own success by being too rigid and being afraid to step out of the box and take risks, as well as by not understanding how to intelligently manage my emotions. I think sometimes we blame others for our lack of success, but a lot of times we need to look within and identify ourselves as the culprit. Very insightful!

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