Three Ways to Lead Engineering Employees Smarter Than You

We might quibble with some of Jobs’ quote here, but his underlying point is uncontroversial: Namely, you should never avoid hiring smart people, even people smarter than you are. It’s okay to be a little insecure at first, but you must recognize intelligence in your team as an asset to your goals, rather than a liability to your career. To that end, here are three ways to help you lead employees who are smarter than you.

It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do;
we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.

                                      –Steve Jobs

Leadership Isn’t Intelligence:

Try to recall the best bosses or managers you’ve had. Were they also the smartest people you’ve ever met? Unlikely. That’s because the best leader doesn’t have to be–and often isn’t–the smartest person in the room. Effective leadership requires attributes that go far beyond technical expertise or pure intelligence. Think of a conductor in an orchestra. It’s not a conductor’s job to be the best musician; his job is to make the other musicians the best they can be.

Remain Humble:

An insecure manager might feel intimidated by a much smarter direct report–but only if that manager has forgotten his place on the team. A manager’s role, in baseball as in the office, is to find ways to let his players shine. So don’t be threatened by their strengths: Celebrate them. At the same time, embrace opportunities for improving your own skills, and encourage others to do the same. The combination of those acts will motivate everyone else to grow, too.

Stay Focused:

A 2014 survey from Towers Watson found that “72% of employees are highly engaged” when the manager and leader are seen as effective. A manager micromanaging his employees–playing small ball, as it were–isn’t focused on the big picture. As the manager, your employees, even the smarter ones, look to you for guidance, support and inspiration. They will work better knowing that you have the larger goal in mind–that all their efforts will be put to maximum effectiveness through your leadership.

Above all, remember that as a leader, your job isn’t to be the best at any one thing. Your job is to get the best out of everyone else.

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