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Smart ways to lead smart people

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Some of the smartest employees are also the toughest to lead. Their ideas, de­mands and egos can deplete your time and energy.

To maximize your most brilliant minds, look for ways to support their success.

Start by asking, “What do you need from me in order to succeed on this project?”

Delivering at least some of what they want will pay off—and they’ll appreciate your effort.

Brace yourself: Some employees will give answers you don’t want to hear. They may criticize your leadership, requesting that you lighten up, and delegate more coveted assignments or stop micromanaging.

Welcome such input, even if it hurts. Instead of defending your behavior, discuss how you can change and what outcomes you can both expect if you do.

Keep posing follow-up questions. Withhold your opinions or responses until later; for now, you want to listen.

Beware of saying, “Why don’t you take a different approach …” or “I hear you, but I’ve found that a better tool you can use is …” These comments shut down conversation and risk triggering an argument. Smart people will only accept input when they’re ready—and that only happens after they feel listened to.

You’ll know they feel listened to when they indicate they’ve made their point. That’s when they’ll look to you for solutions—and when you can deliver.

Once you’ve addressed ways to help the individual succeed, change the subject. Say, “I’d like your take on something.” Then identify an aspect of leadership that you’re trying to improve and ask, “Any feedback on how I’m doing with that?”

As long as you’re earnest and eager to learn, you can gain more revealing information from employees than you can from your bosses.

— Adapted from “How to Manage Smart People,” Scott Berkun,

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