“Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room,” Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computer Corp. once said.
Clever, skilled employees require less management, constantly teach you new things, and shore up your weaknesses. But while the rationale behind this tip is simple, executing is isn’t.
The problem is people have egos and insecurities, and being surrounded by folks who are smarter than you can make you feel bad. Few would freely admit it, of course, but this is often the reason people fail to heed this obvious advice. Even the most assured among us can see their confidence erode when they’re surrounded by geniuses.
Here are a few ways to manage forward-thinking employees without looking dumb:
Mentor with wisdom gained through experience
On-the-job knowledge comes from hands-on experience and no matter how much education an employee has, he or she will need an experienced mentor.
Demonstrate understanding in what people want both inside and outside the organization. No matter the type of background employees have, some company specifics are only learned from a seasoned veteran.
Quotation marks are there to make a point. Smart is an ambiguous concept. Chances are, either you’re worried about your perceived competence or the people you’re managing simply look more intelligent than you.
But the former has little to do with your actual duties. And the latter is pointless, because your job as a team leader is not being the smartest person in the room.
Learn how to teach them
Forget about IQ and technical prowess. Your main task as a leader is to give a direction, moving towards bigger goals. And you are there because you have something that they may be still missing. Take a chance to show them what you add to the team by teaching teamwork, people skills, and vision.
What about spotting out each team member’s brightest side, and subsequently mentoring them throughout their improvement? This is the kind of value that you alone can add to the team.
Learn to learn from them
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If your employees are really more skilled than you, pretending that you are on their level won’t last for long. Acting like you don’t care will not take you anywhere, either.
Remember that you need to grow professionally, just as your team does. Show interest in what makes them special. Ask dumb questions. Acknowledge your gaps. In the long run, you could even end up feeling less outsmarted.
Hey, have you got a smart employee? How have you dealt with the situation?