Six Keys to Managing a Team That's Smarter Than You

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

When managing a talented team that outshines you in the smarts department, use these 6 methods to take advantage of your team's brains.

It’s a dark secret that many managers might be afraid to admit: they are leading a team that is smarter than them.

Many in this position might fear they could lose their jobs or look weak to upper management; or worse, they might fear that they look like a fool to their staff. On the contrary, leading a smart staff to success reflects well on the organization, the team and its leader.

If you are a supervisor in this kind of spot, don’t be ashamed. Instead, view it as both a compliment and an opportunity.

Here are six keys to successfully managing smart people:

1. Encourage your team to become more engaging

Use your coworkers’ expertise to your advantage and do not allow yourself to be unnerved by intelligence. Often, those who feel intimidated will try to overcompensate by micromanaging. That only backfires; annoying your coworkers, damaging team morale, or worse, they might lose their trust in you as a leader.

Instead, center your efforts on identifying talent and using it to the team’s advantage. Allow your team to take ownership in the tasks and projects they are involved with. Be supportive in their decisions where it makes sense and your team will develop pride and confidence in the work they perform. This will allow you to become an effective leader as a manager and influencing engagement with your staff.

The 2014 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson found that 23% of workers are highly engaged when they perceive their managers (but not their leaders) to be effective, but when both a leader and manager are perceived to be effective, 72% of employees are highly engaged.

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2. Look for the best and brightest

When hiring, identify skills that may be lacking in your team and seek out the smartest applicant to fill that gap. Also keep in consideration similar traits your top performers have in the applicants you are hiring. Try to hire those that work collaboratively, and steer clear of the “know it all” types, even if they are the smartest applicants.

3. Shine a light on talent

Freely and frequently offer genuine praise or rewards to highlight a team member’s expertise. Having bright people on your staff gives you bragging rights! “Bree is our video production guru.” When highlighting collaborative work, underscore contributions first and foremost. “Rafe and I completed that work ahead of schedule and under budget.”

Smart people will appreciate the trust you have bestowed in them and they will reward it with continued loyalty and hard work. But be careful not to hand out rewards like candy; it will dilute the effectiveness of recognitions and praises.

4. Focus on collaboration

If you don’t know the solution to a problem, put your best minds on it by throwing it to the team. Your team is in the trenches dealing with problems every day and they will be your best bet in figuring out the best solutions. “What do you think we should do?” Asking for help earns you the respect of your coworkers and gives them ownership of the process.  

Related Article: 3 Leadership Mistakes that Lead to High Millennial Turnover

5. Enable excellence

Ask your team members what they need to succeed, and then make sure they get it. If your staff has the tools to excel in their jobs and build their expertise at the same time, it will mean better results overall. Remove any obstacles that are in their way to success and provide them with what they need to perform their duties better.

According to the 2014 Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson, 54% of employees favored ‘Managers helping removing obstacles’ as a key driver of manager effectiveness. More training and better equipment might sound expensive, but if it translates to the successful completion of a wider variety of challenging tasks, the bottom line will recover.

6. Recognize talent

Make it a goal to retain the talent and reward it by allowing them to take risks. Smart people enjoy projects that test their abilities. Support and encourage them in the process, and give them credit when they succeed. Shield them if it doesn’t go well. Make their successes part of your management style.

A manager who guides a highly intelligent team to success isn’t the better paper pusher or office politician. A successful manager cultivates the talents of her workers instead of trying to match wits with them. She doesn’t care if others view her as less intelligent than her team. After all, if the team succeeds. every one will think she’s a genius.

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