Does Supervising A Highly Experienced Person Make You Uncomfortable?

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in Your Office Coach

Question: “I’m a new manager, and one of my employees has a lot more experience than I do. I feel that I should be working for him. He says that he didn’t want the management job, but he seems to resent my having it. This is becoming very uncomfortable for me. How should I handle it?” — New Supervisor

Marie's Answer: Like many novice managers, you’re suffering from “imposter syndrome.” You have the title, but you don’t really feel like a manager yet. Supervising a highly experienced person just heightens your sense of inadequacy. 

Here are a few things to consider in dealing with this situation:

•    New supervisors sometimes compensate for insecurity by becoming arrogant little dictators.  If you succumb to that temptation, you will alienate everyone. Remember that your job is not to command but to inspire people to do their best work. 

•    Ask yourself why this experienced employee might resent you. Are you micromanaging him?  Finding reasons to criticize his work? Neglecting to involve him in decision making? The problem may lie with your leadership style.

•    To improve the relationship, make it clear that you consider him a valuable asset. Express appreciation for his contributions, and look for opportunities to learn from him. If you handle things well, he will become an ally, not an adversary. 

•    In this new role, you must decide what kind of leader you will be. Learn from your own experience with previous bosses, both good and bad.

Keep in mind that mature managers are not threatened by smart, skillful people. Your job is to add value through your management skills. You don’t have to know everything that your employees know

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

B Manager April 3, 2009 at 9:47 am

Thank you. This helps a lot. I’m 20 years younger than the youngest person that I manage and there’s no way that I know as much as some of them. I totally agree with the defense mechanism of compensating with being arrogant as this was probably the first thing that came out. After noticing this (or others noticing it) I tried to quickly squash it. I combat it with extreme humility, but then by my energy and enthusiasm to make them their best(even at my expense). This is something they can’t offer and they then realize why I am where I am. They have the knowledge and experience, but not the enthusiasm and energy. I am constantly trying to find what I can offer that no one else can and I focus on delivering that in increasing measure. Cheers!

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