MANAGEMENT FOR SMART PEOPLE
Todd Dewett | January 7, 2016
There is a large series of books dedicated to helping idiots and dummies. A few even address my world – the world of leadership, teams, and success. These books have their place, but I think they have forgotten something. Not everyone is an idiot. Not everyone is a dummy. In fact, the working world is full of many smart people who want to be managers.
The problem is that smart people are not always the best managers. In fact, the smarter they are, the more troublesome they can become. Believe it or not, sometimes the not so smart folks are better junior managers than the smart folks because they know they aren’t brilliant, thus they ask questions and they don’t assume they know it all. As a result, they build strong rapport with their team. That’s not always the case with high IQ employees. That’s why I think it’s about time we finally start talking about management for smart people.
The problem is that smart people (and most others) have never been trained to lead others. Well, that training begins right now. Here are five guaranteed ways to make sure your bright young professionals don’t botch the job the first time they are promoted into management. Sit them down and make sure they understand these five simple concepts.
- You don’t always know the answer. To make the grades and earn your degrees, you were always the one with the answers. To get noticed as the new young person at work, you always tried to act like you knew the answer. As a new supervisor, believe me, even if you know the answer, sometimes you don’t need to share it. First, remember, you are smart, but not always correct. Second, recall that there are always multiple legitimate ways to solve a problem or make a decision. If you want to build a cohesive team, you have to look to them for guidance just as often as you seek to give guidance.
- They are not motivated by what motivates you. This is a particularly troublesome management error smart people make all the time. What drives them is different than what drives you. Humans (especially smart ones) too often believe that others think they way they do, like what they like, and would thus make decisions the way they would. Nope. You might want money, but they want time off. You want more salary, they want flexible benefits. You seek to achieve, they seek to belong. Who knows. Just don’t assume you know what drives them.
- Speak their language and don’t condescend. One of the hallmarks of highly intelligent people is highly intelligent language. If you’re a professor this might be useful, but not for a manager. The essence of productive working relationships is connection. You can’t make sincere connections unless you meet people where they are – and that means speaking on their level. Otherwise, you risk being perceived as if you are speaking down to them. Once they feel you’re condescending you’ve lost them and have a long road ahead of you rebuilding trust. Think before you speak and meet them with words they understand.
- Stop overthinking everything. Smart people can think deeper than other people. They can comprehend intricate complexities. Great, but leading others is not terribly complex. You don’t need to obsess on detailed models from an advanced management text. You don’t need to attempt to become a serious psychologist to become an effective manager. Keep it simple! For example, if you perceive an issue or see a mistake, address it: use simple questions and statements, be positive and private if needed, and don’t assume you know what the issue might be. Save your deep behavioral or political analyses for future executive roles. For now, don’t overthink it – just continually get better at talking to your team.
- Commit to no longer talking about yourself. Translated: no more bragging and no more telling them about your professional experience and exploits. Smart people, sorry, it’s not about you. If you want to maximize the team, it’s about them. Resist telling them about a time that you… or a problem you once faced that… or that boss who once showed you… Incessantly talking about yourself makes you look arrogant and often leads them to feel insecure. Instead, consider two things. First, allow them to lead conversations instead of you initiating discussions by immediately offering potential solutions. Second, address your input generically instead of referencing yourself. For example, “Hey, have we ever considered…”
Once they master these basics, they can begin to tackle more advanced topics like conflict resolution, group decision making techniques, and leading for creativity and innovation. Until then, teams won’t respond warmly and even the smartest new manager might feel like an idiot or dummy.