Love him or hate him, Steve Jobs had an often polarizing effect on people with his commanding personality. Biographer Walter Isaacson, who interviewed him more than forty times, said he saw two Steves -- the "good Steve" and the "bad Steve."
As co-founder of Apple, the "good Steve" became even better as a leader because he clearly understood his place in the information age to eventually produce the Apple products we can't live without. Case in point, 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.
This perk benefits the knowledge worker from day one, but will benefit leaders to a greater extent in the long run. A leader's best move is to intentionally not be the smartest person in the room. Just hire smarter people than you and get the heck out of their way.
2 keys to managing knowledge workers
To manage highly paid, highly-intelligent independent thinkers, however, is no easy task, especially since most don't like to be managed in the first place. The key to put Steve Jobs' advice into action is to lead them (not manage them) as you would everyone else: Value your people as real human beings.
Like all high performers, knowledge workers take pride in their work and want to serve their customers well. And they want to grow and reach new possibilities along their career path.
Here are the two ways leaders can engage and inspire their knowledge workers to be and do their best:
1. Give them freedom and autonomy.
In a knowledge economy, top-down hierarchical management styles that direct traffic one-way with no input will collapse, especially since knowledge workers typically know more than their managers about their own areas of specialization.
The perk here is to give them the keys to managing themselves; allow for them to problem solve in order to offer a richer customer experience since, chances are, they also know their customers' needs better than their managers by being closer to the ground.
Conversely, you'll find that in high-performing organizations that empower their knowledge workers, information is shared openly across fewer reporting levels, and people are able to use it to make the right decisions quicker.
2. Make sure they feel heard.
Building personal relationships with knowledge workers is the best way to make sure they feel heard, respected, and understood. This means the most receptive leaders will listen to their needs, ask what matters most to them, and genuinely figure out a way to develop them in the direction they want to go in order to retain them.
If you find yourself managing the smartest people in the room, remember this: The universal human need of every knowledge worker is not unlike that of the rest of us. It's to perform meaningful work, be respected and recognized for their contributions, collaborate in a culture of shared values, and ultimately make an impact for good in the world. This will ultimately work wonders for your business.