Once upon a time, the boss’s job was to be a kind of parent: he (and it usually was a “he”) knew best, while the employees were quasi-children – there to learn and do what they were told. Today, this parent-child model is useless. Today’s managers are typically responsible for direct reports who are considerably more knowledgeable than they are about their specialisms. How do you go about managing people who you know are smarter than you in their field of expertise?
Business is an emotional enterprise, and it can be scary. Anatomising the sources of your fear as rationally as possible is the key to turning it to your advantage (if you resort to avoidance strategies, you get caught in the paradox of fear: the more you try to avoid it, the bigger and more pressing it becomes). How do you detoxify fear?
Reach out to other managers who have faced, and survived, similar challenges. If your direct reports instil feelings of inadequacy in you, you’re not alone. Those feelings can be treated as communications from your unconscious, inviting you to transform them by subjecting them to thought.
The psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas once described “the transformational object” – a person or experience that literally transforms a disturbing or painful emotional state into serenity, bliss or restored equilibrium. Feeding your fears through the minds of more experienced colleagues can function in this way – these people have all learned how to outface what you’re struggling with now and use it productively.
Today’s effective managers have learned the art of successfully presiding over a setting that’s conducive to the development of their employees. They don’t have to call the shots and tell their talented and skilled team members how to suck the proverbial eggs.
In Part Two, I’ll explore how those talented team members who scare you so much can also help you manage them.