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October 24, 2015
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My Employees Are Smarter Than Me!

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Today’s managers are faced with a unique set of challenges that neither their business schools nor their bosses prepared them for. One of those challenges is managing staff who are smarter, more competent and better educated, than they are. If you are a manager who is in such a predicament or an employee who is causing it, then reading this might offer some useful perspective.

The regular employee today is smarter than ever before – I know that many of our colleagues make this hard to believe, but generally it is true. Many indicators confirm this observation and here are few. MBAs are now the norm rather than the exception – a big disappointment for badge hunters whose business cards and email signatures have been decorated with those 3 magic letters. Moreover, today’s worker has access to elite sources of knowledge through MOOC’s from Ivy League universities. This enables a wider range opportunities that were not previously offered to many of their managers. In addition, instant access to knowledge that is a click away, cross cultural work environments that foster innovation, and global market exposure all contribute to making any employee more adept than his counterparts few decades ago. Look around you and you will see that in any given team almost every member is more competent than their manager in at least one core skill. So how can managers be at peace with not being the smartest in the room anymore.

Managers’ success in leveraging their smartest employees depends highly on the position they take: Competitors or Coaches. Great managers are simply great coaches who facilitate success by improving the thinking of the brightest brains on their teams.

The most effective managers masterfully use coaching to provoke and expand the thinking of their smartest employees. Their coaching process is summarized by 5 steps:

1- Vision: Coaching starts by helping the staff define purpose for their role and allowing them to find connections with the mission of the organization. This future oriented and solution focused start is essential to set a direction for the employees.
2- Reality: Coaching managers always work with their employees to increase their awareness of their realities. They frequently ask them about their strengths in order to capitalize on them and about their barriers in order to break through them.
3- Possibilities: Smart people are fertile with ideas and possibilities. They can bring opportunities unseen by their managers and teams. To leverage those possibilities, managers need to foster the autonomy of their smart employees. They let their employees craft their own actions that serve the purpose they defined for themselves.
4- Accountability: Once possibilities are generated and actions are set, managers become accountability partners for their employees. They frequently check on their employees progress by allowing reflection and growth. They do not shy away from offering candid feedback when needed.
5- Acknowledgement of employees is crucially important and coaching managers leverage positive reinforcement to celebrate success. They do that in ways that suit each member of their teams – one size does not fit all in recognition.

The more I observe smart managers managing smarter employees, the more I believe in the value of coaching. Whether you are the smart boss, the smarter employee or an observer I am interested in your perspective. What are your views on such situations?

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