Managing people smarter than you--or even people who just think they're smarter than you, for that matter--is a real challenge. Whether you are running a lean and mean startup or a Fortune 500 or Inc. 5000 business, it's your responsibility to translate employees' intellect, ambition, and confidence into day-to-day progress.
Imagine a scenario where you are paid to oversee a team of more than 1,500 researchers and scientists, most with MDs, all working toward one goal: introduce groundbreaking scientific discoveries. That would even give Mark Zuckerberg a headache.
That's exactly the role of Chris Czura, vice president of scientific affairs at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research. The institute is considered the crown jewel of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, which is one of the largest in the nation, operating 18 hospitals, with more than 50,000 employees and seven million patients in its service area.
I connected with Czura, to find out how he gets these brilliant people to function efficiently and effectively. While he does possess a PhD, he doesn't have an MBA or formal management training. He did start out as an auto mechanic, though, so he has figured out how parts work together.
Here are the four ways he manages people smarter than himself.
1. Have them learn the same language.
Czura says, "The common denominator percolating throughout my organization is that we all have a passion for science. Everyone is here for a common purpose and a majority of the leadership team have a background in the field." Czura is able to use the common background to establish a common language everyone can use internally. This creates communal understanding, which reduces communication issues. Then together they can determine how to interpret their findings to the outside world.
2. Focus less on IQ and more on collaborative intelligence.
Czura claims the secret sauce at Feinstein is collaboration. He explains that all hiring interviews focus on work style and philosophy. He believes people are clearly either collaborative or they aren't. They recruit and retain talent who are fundamentally and intrinsically collaborative and have a strict "no asshole" rule. They even turned away brilliant candidates in the past because of their inability to work well with others.
3. Get them to speak in "we" and not "I."
Czura points out that the team is exalted over the individual. In everything they do they try to incorporate the power of "we." They even host mini symposia bringing together doctors and scientists from completely divergent disciplines where real progress can be made. Czura points out that many scientists, particularly in molecular biology and the life sciences, can be antisocial in nature and often stimulate conflict. Czura is creating an open environment where questions and constructive conflict are encouraged.
4. Learn when to get out of the way and when not to.
Czura explains that when dealing with bright minds, it's really important to create situations where smart people ask other smart people challenging questions. To make that effective, you must try and recognize what the person on the other side of the table sees or prioritizes. But after all is said and done, and marching orders are established, Czura says it's his job to get the heck out of the way. Czura says it best: "We want our staff to focus solely on their crafts, and I am the biggest advocate for enabling people to do what they do best. Business and management folks breathing down a scientist's neck has never led to meaningful discovery. It's important to give people the intellectual freedom to figure out solutions on their own volition. I take the responsibility upon myself to advocate for our scientists, to make sure they have what they need, and to make those justifications to the business and operational side of the house. It's best that they are only doing what they are uniquely positioned to do."