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When employees are smarter than you

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Leading employees who have a greater level of expertise in certain areas than you has its challenges. After all, you can feel insecure, and they can resent having to answer to a supervisor who isn’t on their same level. Follow this advice:

•  Stop doubting yourself. Granted, they may know more about their specific job than you do, but you know more about managing than they do. Rather than feeling self-conscious, be proud that you lead such a smart group of people.

•  Treat them with respect. You may want to put them in their place, especially if you are feeling insecure, but fight that urge. The best leaders surround themselves with people who are better and smarter than they are. Regularly tell them how much they mean to the team, ask for their advice and act on their feedback.

•  Learn from them. Find out how they do their jobs, pick their brains, ask questions and research their area of expertise. Don’t aim to become an expert yourself, but gain a basic understanding of what they do and know. Always be humble enough to learn from them.

•  Don’t be afraid to provide feedback. You are still the boss, so offer both positive and negative feedback they can use to improve their performance. Don’t nitpick and tear them down for no reason, but do offer warranted feedback with authority and confidence.

•  Address negative behavior. When employees are insubordinate or rude, confront the problem head-on. Meet privately with them, and say, “I realize that you have been here longer/know more about this than I do, but [specific action] isn’t acceptable. I need you to [list behaviors you want to see change] or [describe the consequences].”

Then follow through. Even your most expert employees should never be disrespectful to you or others.

— Adapted from “How to Manage People Who Are Smarter than You,” Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org.

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