Are You the Smartest Person in the Room? Let’s Hope Not.

Smartest person in the room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best thing that can happen to you as a boss is hiring a person who is smarter, more creative, or in some way more talented than you are. It’s like winning the lottery. Suddenly you’ve got a team member whose talent will very likely improve everyone’s performance and reputation. Including yours.

Yes, it’s human nature to feel fearful that a “superior” employee could make you look, well, inferior, and perhaps slow down your career progress. But in reality, the exact opposite usually occurs.

The reason is that leaders are generally not judged on their personal output. What would be the point of evaluating them like individual contributors? Rather, most leaders are judged on how well they’ve hired, coached, and motivated their people, individually and collectively—all of which shows up in the results. That’s why when you sign up top performers and release their energy, you don’t look bad. You look like the goose that laid the golden egg.

So keep laying them. It is a rare company that doesn’t love a boss who finds great people and creates an environment where they flourish. And you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to do that. Indeed, when you consistently demonstrate that leadership skill and come to be known as the person in your company who can land and build the best, watch your career take off.

Now, we’re not saying managing “superior” employees on your team is necessarily easy. We received a question from an audience member at a speech in Chicago several years ago who said two of his seven direct reports were smarter than he was. He asked: “How can I possibly appraise them?”

“What the heck happened to the other five?” was our attempt at a lighthearted response. But we took his point.

How in the world do you evaluate people whom you feel are more talented than you?

You don’t. That is, you don’t evaluate them on their intelligence or particular skill set. Of course, you talk about what they are doing well, but just as important, you focus on areas in which they can improve. It is no secret that some very smart people have trouble, for instance, relating to colleagues or being open to other people’s ideas. Indeed, some struggle with becoming leaders themselves. And that is where your experience, self-confidence, and coaching come into play.

In that way, then, managing superior employees is just like managing regular types. You have everything to gain from celebrating their growth and nothing at all to fear. -Jack and Suzy Welch

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