Years ago, when I would be desperately competing against geniuses, I questioned why I didn’t have enough talent. I would be pouring hard work, sweat and tears into improving and then someone effortlessly passes by me in a blink of an eye. Life hardly seemed fair.
You expect this type of mindset from a teenager. The surprising thing is that even in work environments, people still think like that. They look at prodigies with envy and sometimes even fear.
Who does this kid think he is? What if he replaces me?
These are thoughts that echo this common mindset. But imagine if you become a leader of a team of wizards. These are people who, compared to you, know more, are more technically skilled and have more experience. How do you lead them?
Get Past Your Own Ego
At some point in their lives, everyone discovers that the mind has a way of creating stories based on what little info it has, even if that means filling in the blanks with assumptions. If you’re worried about how you will seem or if you’ll be replaced, chances are, you won’t last long in your position.
If you do go down that route, what will happen is that you’ll alienate yourself from your team. A lack of trust will permeate the work culture. As a result, nothing even resembling teamwork will happen. Then your fear will turn into a self fulfilling prophecy and your competency is called into question.
So let’s analyze this fear. It stems from the ego, the sense of pride you may have in your position. Now, direct your attention to this question: why were you given this position?
Did you get to where you are now because you were always the smartest person in the room? Chances are, that probably was not the case. Having the most knowledge, technical skills or even experience does not guarantee one a leadership position.
No, you got to be a leader because you have stakeholders who trust you with uniting your team while being able to leverage their skills against organizational goals. What are your strengths here? What do these stakeholders expect you to bring to the table?
If you’re here because of your leadership capabilities, then communication, coaching and/or other people skills are your strengths. Focus on what you’re good at instead of trying to compete.
There is no tolerance for those with an over inflated ego.
Once you get past your ego, what about the egos of the others on the team? Even if you are no longer worried about being outshined by your star genius, others might not think the same.
As a manager, you have different responsibilities than everyone else. But for peers, they do the same work and are rated in the same way as any geniuses they work with. This dynamic can make room for direct competition at times. How do you manage this?
You bring everyone’s focus to a higher purpose. If you can reconcile everyone’s goals with the end goal of the team, then they will see the value of what a prodigy can do. This is similar to one talented player giving up his position to an even more talented one because he wants his team to win the championship.
Now while sports has a limited amount of positions to play, the working world often allows for more flexibility. Perhaps this may mean taking on a support role in order to learn from the best and steal their techniques. Or becoming more valuable by learning to compensate for the genius’ weakness.
Ego tends to go away when you’re connected to something bigger than yourself. The trick now is to get that into everyone’s head.
Once everyone can work with a genius in their midst, you can start optimizing what the genius can do for you. As talented as they may seem, they are still human. There’s a limit to what they can do by themselves. That’s why the leader’s job is to support them and bring out their best.
One way you can do this is by acknowledging their expertise and deferring to them when you need to call upon that expertise. This means giving them credit for their work and letting them take charge during meetings if their subject matter comes up.
This allows them to feel acknowledged and be able to express their creativity.
Another way is to give them room and not micromanage. If you can paint a clear picture of what the end goal should be, they will get there and probably in a more creative and efficient way than you might think of.
And the most important way you could help them is to make sure you have their back. If they know you are looking out for their best interests, they will feel safe and also compelled to help you as best they can. This is crucial for any work culture but especially so when it comes to nurturing talent.
When was the last time you met a genius? How did you react to them?
From the perspective of a peer, it’s normal to feel jealous. But if you can shift your perspective to one of a team member and a leader, it can be exciting to see what you can accomplish together.