If you've been charged with managing a group of really smart and savvy employees, you have your work cut out for you. Smart people obviously know they're smart, which works to their advantage. They have high expectations of not only themselves but also of the people they work with, which ups the game for bosses to manage them well.

That's where it gets interesting. "Managing well" is not the same as "leading well." While bosses can "manage" their smart workers to accomplish tasks, it takes much more to motivate, inspire, and engage your smartest workers (also called "knowledge workers"). 

Here are three proven leadership strategies that will positively impact your smartest people to conquer mountains for you. 

1. Create a learning environment.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink highlights the importance of creating an environment where people can develop personal mastery in their work, which he says is one of the core elements of intrinsic motivation.

Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline calls such an environment a "learning organization." It's one of the key differences that sets apart high performing teams and companies. This means the whole organization relies upon the knowledge of individuals, where teams learn from each other and learn together with every project.

This also means hiring the smartest people -- smarter than their managers even -- you can find to set a learning organization in motion. Some real icons in the business world agree:

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, states that you should never hire "people you can't learn from or be challenged by." 

Sheryl Sandberg, on the podcast Master's of Scale, said "you do want to hire people who are better than you are." 

Steve Jobs famously quipped, "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."

Lee Iacocca once said, "I hire people brighter than me and get out of their way."

Jeff Bezos swears by this hiring approach: "every time we hire someone, he or she should raise the bar for the next hire, so that the overall talent pool is always improving."

2. Recognize those who make significant contributions.

"I don't like to be recognized," said no human being, ever. Managers have to get into the habit of praising and complimenting their knowledge workers for their good qualities and exceptional work.

The companies in Gallup's study with the highest engagement levels use recognition and praise as a powerful motivator to get their commitment. They found that employees who receive it on a regular basis increase their individual productivity, receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers, and are more likely to stay with their organization. How regular are we talking? Praise should be given once per week, according to Gallup

The flipside: Employees who say they're not properly recognized at work, are three times more likely to quit in the next year.

3. Let knowledge workers know what's going on.

According to Gallup research, the second most common mistake that leads to turnover is lack of communication. While the smartest people in the building tend to be lone rangers and want to do things their way at times, managers must step out of their own comfort zones to provide them with guidance and direction, give them regular feedback on their performance, confront them when needed, and clarify goals and expectations, especially during change.

This is also a two-way street. When managers don't solicit the opinions of their smartest team members, trust begins to erode. They need to listen to their people receptively and without judgment about their concerns, passions, fears, joys, goals, and aspirations so they feel validated and understood.

Lastly, managers also need to replace the dinosaur HR practice known as the annual employee performance review. Replace them with frequent short meetings to take the pulse of knowledge workers and evaluate their progress so there are no surprises later. 

Published on: Oct 20, 2017
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