Managing Highly Qualified People
“Two weeks ago, they were my peers. Today, I am their direct report.”
When executives get promoted and transition into new positions, they often find themselves in such an awkward situation. Managing colleagues who are experts in their own rights and have higher qualifications than you can be a daunting task.
Derek, a client of mine, found himself in such a position when he was made the country manager. He had to manage functional heads that were expatriates and colleagues who had decades of experience in their own fields.
Do you identify yourself in similar situation?
What actions can you take to navigate through this seemingly tough situation?
No one knows everything about an organization. Your management has promoted you for a reason. Thus, have faith in yourself and in your management. You have certain attributes that qualify you more than your colleagues. People management commands a different skill set than technical functions. So, give yourself a pat for making that mark.
Be a good listener
Check your own ego and respect your staff. Words such as “stubborn” and “must have a last say” surfaced in 360 interviews for leaders. A great leader is a good listener. Hence, listening to what your staff has to say is essential. For example, during brainstorming or at meetings, let your staff speak first and elicit feedback. Acknowledge and thank them for their contributions, and value their special knowledge before you make your final decisions. They will respect you more. You will probably pick up some gems along the way.
Ask more than Tell
Instead of fearing your staff’s knowledge, leverage on them! Maintain a humble attitude of learning by asking more than telling staff what to do. Clever people enjoy demonstrating their knowledge. In this way, highly qualified staff will not feel that they are taking orders but feel in-charged instead. Asking instead of telling is what distinguishes a successful leader.
Should there be differing viewpoints, it is perfectly fine to debate with these highly qualified staff. Most likely, they will enjoy the sparring process.
Managers in such position must pay attention to develop themselves – both hard skills and soft skills. Firstly, gear up your technical knowledge in areas where your team members are subject matter experts. You need to have sufficient knowledge to have an intelligent discussion and make good business decisions. Next, work on the different aspects of your emotional intelligence to help you interact and lead effectively.
Take time outside work to build on the relationships and enjoy the social activities that you used to do with your staff before your promotion. This way, you will not be seen as distancing them as a result of your position. The camaraderie spirit can be a great help and support at work. It also allows you to find out what motivates them in a less formal setting and seek ways to inspire them.
Work with a Coach
Leadership positions are lonely places. Working with a coach will grant you space to hear your own voice and talk through things. You will gain new perspectives, of which will be invaluable as you take on the challenge of facing an intimidating team. A coach can shed light on your blind spots, working through with you on stressful interpersonal situations and keep you focused on your advancement.
Since coaching is better experienced than explained, I am willing to offer a free 30-min session via phone or Skype. Do contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by any other means on the contact page.