Managing a workforce that knows more than you may seem like a strange scenario. But it’s not uncommon. Companies that separate technical tracks from management tracks often see this happening; as managers grow and develop, they move further away from their technical background and subordinates overtake them with news skills. As time goes on and industry trends change, this becomes even more apparent. And it’s likely that your trainees and juniors will become better at project work than you are. It’s also not uncommon for managers to take on team members with their own specialisms, each looking after their own areas. In this case, managing people with more knowledge in a particular subject is all a part of your business structure. So how do you do you deal with a set-up like this?
The first thing is to embrace the positives. Having so much expert resource at your disposal can only be a good thing. And then ask yourself what you can bring to the table? Your role is to lead; you don’t have to have more qualifications to be able to do this. As a manager, you need to be able to inspire, motivate, recognise talent (as well as nurture it), support and give advice when needed. You will also need to be the decision maker, have the final say when it’s a tough call, and ask questions when no-one else takes a step back to see what’s going on. Because as the leader, you’re the one who sees the bigger picture when your team of specialists are buried deep into their own areas of expertise. So does it matter that your staff know more than you? If you work hard to provide value as a boss, it shouldn’t.
Focus on Relationships
Generalist leaders need to focus on relationships, not facts. Unlike the specialist leader who will tell his/her team the answer to a problem, a generalist leader will bring experts together to collectively find an answer. This managerial style allows you to tap into talent, whilst building the confidence of team members and allowing them to have input at work.
Be Open and Honest
Managers are not meant to know everything, so it’s a futile task trying to pretend. Be honest with your staff and let them have ownership of their own areas. Not only does this prevent micro-managing within the company, but it’s a fantastic way to build trust and respect – something that needs to go both ways with employer and employee. A good manager knows when to step up and take control and when to step back and ask for help.
Whilst some company structures do not require leaders to be experts, understanding the basics is still important. Read books, go to seminars and workshops, or enrol for a course. Grasp at least the basics of all the areas you oversee; you don’t need to know more than your staff, but knowing enough will give you a hands-on advantage and open up constructive dialogue during meetings and discussions.
Giving your team members room to grow is one of the most important features of being a good leader. Don’t hold them back and don’t let personal feelings of fear or resentment affect your leadership ability. Fostering talent is an asset for your company and even for those who flock the nest, you never know when you might cross paths and work together again in the future.