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Let your dream team sleep on it

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Clever people really don’t like somebody telling them what to do. Harvard researchers confirm this. So, how are you supposed to handle geniuses?

Answer: Shield them from “administrivia” and give them a wide berth.

Here’s the scoop:

Protect them from “organizational rain,” the rules and bureaucracy associated with big budgets.

Decentralize. If you have two units, divisions or even companies with two distinct cultures, don’t go for a match-up. Instead, let each pursue its own path and in five years, see how the new products shake out.

Keep the idea pipeline open. Don’t divide your staff into “creatives” and “administratives.” That cuts your talent pool in half. If your company relies on innovation, consider a policy like those at Google and Genentech, where employees can devote a day per week to their own start-up ideas.

Recruit and retain stars. When Bill Gates engaged in the day-to-day operations at Microsoft, he sometimes intervened personally and called a job candidate who needed a little persuasion. It was flattering, and it worked.

Create a safe haven for innovation. You need to be a benevolent guardian, not a rule-bound boss or a productivity hound with a clipboard.

In 1947, William Shockley co-invented the transistor and later won a Nobel Prize for it. He left Bell Labs and founded his own lab, attracting some of the cleverest people in electronics. The problem: lack of leadership. Once, he asked employees how he might pump up their enthusiasm. A few said they’d like to publish papers, so Shockley wrote a paper and offered to put their names on it. He meant well.

Eight of Shockley’s brightest minds quit to form Fairchild Semiconductor, which revolutionized computing. Others left, too. Shockley’s bad leadership populated Silicon Valley.

Lesson: If you want to keep the clever ones, give them space.

—Adapted from “Leading Clever People,” Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Review.

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