Today’s managers can’t afford the arrogant “I’m-the-all-knowing-boss” narcissism of an earlier generation, a stance always laced with the fear of humiliation should the inevitable pockets of ignorance be exposed.
The art of management today is about drawing out the best of team members’ talents, knowing every detail of their expert knowledge is unnecessary. Consulting with experienced colleagues is the first step toward detoxifying the anxiety of managing people who you know possess knowledge and skills you don’t. The next step is walking toward your fear: the closer you get, the smaller it becomes.
Organisational psychologist Roger Schwartz advocates directly engaging with your formidably intelligent direct reports and making it clear that you see learning as a two-way street: be upfront about wanting to learn from them. That may mean asking a lot of seemingly dumb questions or shadowing your team members for a day, but by focusing your attention on where they are stuck, what worries them, and who they could use for input, you soothe prospective antagonisms and sow the seeds of cooperation.
Be clear that while it’s part of your role to give feedback, you welcome feedback from your employees.
Finally, it’s always best to confront any issues that are beginning to circulate about your leadership capabilities quickly but amiably. Acknowledge that an apparently disgruntled or doubting employee has more experience than you and that you understand they have concerns about that. Spell out your managerial abilities: you’re not interested in trying to be more important or pull rank, but you do want to know how you can meet their needs, how you can work together well, and how you can best support them.
Fear is always more disabling when it’s an imagined scenario. When you walk toward it and discuss practical measures with your scarily talented employees, you turn it into a key for unlocking potential.