With Martin G. Moore

Episode #62

Leading People Who Are Smarter Than You: Q&A with Marty

In today’s episode, Em and I are chatting through two really great listener questions!

The first question we tackle is from Alison, who asked:I’d be interested in a topic covering how to lead and influence people that are smarter than you! How do you keep them engaged and motivated without being permissive?”

We all know that hiring people who are smarter than us is actually the object of the exercise, but being smart isn’t everything, it’s just a really good start!

The second question is from Jack who asked:Holding people accountable is always difficult – I’m a “nice guy” and struggle being the “tough guy” and also struggle with how to hold people accountable without being threatening.”

This is something that hits us all at one point or another during our careers, so learning to step away from the need to be the “nice guy or girl” is critical to being able to drive the results you want.

In this episode I recommend that you go back and listen to the below episodes if you haven’t already!

Episode 1 Respect Before Popularity: Letting go of the need to be liked

Episode 6 The Psychology of Feedback: Stop avoiding leadership work

Episode 57 Challenge, Coach, Confront: The leader’s basic toolkit

Episode 41 You’re Changing, So Now What?

Episode 19 Execution For Results: Driving accountability in your team

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Episode #62 Leading People Who Are Smarter Than You: Q&A with Marty

Marty: Hey there, and welcome to Episode 62 of the No Bullsh!t Leadership podcast, this week’s episode: Leading People Who Are Smarter Than You: Q&A With Marty. Now we’ve got a couple of good questions here today. So as usual with the Q&A’s, Em’s joining me to ask the questions, how are you doing today Em?

Em: Hey Marty, all good over here. I can’t believe it’s November already. Time is absolutely flying. How was your golf this morning?

Marty: Yeah, really good thank you. I’ve got 18 in, so I hit a few shots like Tiger Woods, but the majority of them like Marty Moore so there you go.

Em: Good to hear. Alright, I’ll get started on the first question because we’ve got two awesome ones today. But first off, I just want to say that there are tens of thousands of you who listen to the podcast, but a lot of you don’t take advantage of the free resources that go with most of the episodes. So it might be a worksheet or a cheat sheet. These are perfect if you listen on your commute because obviously you can’t take notes while you drive. So I encourage you this week to go onto our freebies page, www.yourceomentor.com/freebies and check out the resources there. Or if you want a specific resource from an episode, go to www.yourceomentor.com/episode[insert number here], whatever that episode is. So this one for example would be www.yourceomentor.com/episode62. I hope that makes sense. We put heaps of time into making those so you might as well take advantage of them. Alright, the first question is from Alison. Alison asks:

“I’d be interested in a topic covering how to lead and influence people that are smarter than you. How do you keep them engaged and motivated without being permissive?”

This is a really good one, Marty.

Marty: Thanks Em, interestingly hiring people who are smarter than you is actually the object of the exercise. You want people to be smarter than you, you want to get the best people you can out of the market at any point in time. So as a leader, you sort of have to have a burning desire that drives every recruiting exercise to hire people better than yourself. But to do this, obviously you need to be fairly strong and confident so you can’t afford to be intimidated by their intellect. I had a client relay a story to me just last week, about a boss they once had who was so insecure that he fired anyone who was smarter than him in any given area. And of course, once you go up the layers, you can’t possibly cover that amount of detail in any specific area of expertise. So all this did in the longterm was just enable a substandard team to develop and it was eventually doomed to failure. But what you have to do as a leader is to harness the intellect and bring that to the fore. You have to know how to add value to that and you’ll have strengths that the other people don’t have. So you’ve just got to bear that in mind as well.

Em: Okay. So when you about being strong and confident from the outset, do you have a transparent conversation with them straight away making it clear that you know that they’re smarter than you in X, Y, Z area? Is there a strength in setting the scene early?

Marty: Well look, it’s probably more of an ‘as you go’ situation when it comes to things like that or any particular superpower that someone might have, they’ll know they have it and sometimes they overestimate how valuable that is. So really, just let them go see how they perform, they’ll have their views and of course if they think they’re smarter than you, then they’ll have that firmly in their head. You don’t need to tell them. But often intellect is inversely proportional to emotional intelligence. So the more you rely on your IQ, the less you feel as though you need to employ the leadership and people influencing skills that are just so critical in getting stuff done. And apart from the odd outlier, these people aren’t generally as successful in their careers unless of course they choose a career as a deep specialist such as an academic or a medical researcher and so forth.

But if you give your people clear direction, and this goes for any level of talent, you’ve also got to give them heaps of autonomy. So you need to help them to channel their intellect to deliver value, check in on what they’re doing, to make sure they are on track and work with them to kill their perfectionistic streak, because quite often highly intelligent people put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to get everything 100% right. So you’ve got to teach them that mantra of ‘excellence over perfection’ that hopefully we all live by already as leaders. Also remember the being smart isn’t everything, it’s just a really good start. But there are lots of people who are smarter than me who couldn’t create anywhere near the value I did for organisations. Often they were too busy proving how smart they were, not working out how to enable others and sometimes they just got lost in that esoteric world of their technical domain. And I saw this especially operating in the tech industry when I was in the IT industry in my early career.

Em: So that makes me think about ‘know it alls’. Have you got any advice on what to do if someone is a know it all? I’ve come across these people before who are exceptional in their one skill. So they’ve got that tunnel vision and they think that their skill is the most important element for the organisation to focus on. It’s all well and good for you to be comfortable with someone else having strengths and being smarter than you in whatever that is, but how do you help someone else be aware of and supportive of other people’s strengths within the team or business?

Marty: That’s actually a really interesting one Em, because people who think they know everything, I call them ‘often wrong, never in doubt’, so they’re always certain that what they’re doing is the best thing, what they lack quite often is balance. And so they can’t see the bigger picture and they can’t see the broader context. And so as a leader, it’s up to you to demonstrate what things you value and be very, very specific with people and very explicit and say, “Look, I know how smart you are and I really value your expertise in whatever this particular area is, but we’ve got more to think about than that. We have stakeholders to think about, we’ve got to think about what it means to our brand. We’ve got to think about how we’re going to implement this operationally” or whatever the case may be. You’ve got to get them to look at the broader picture. Now, quite often they won’t want to do that, and that’s their problem. You’ve just got to set up the culture that says ‘we’re going to make this broad, we’re going to make it holistic and we’re going to take all of these individual brilliances and harness them to get something great in the end as a product.’

Em: So would you talk to your team at any point about each person’s individual brilliance and what they specifically bring to the table? Or is that something that you think they’ll just learn and use as time goes on?

Marty: Well, there’s a lot to be said for recognising what people are good at. I don’t think it’s the sort of thing that you do regularly. I have seen it done occasionally and have participated in doing it myself in things like team building days where you go for a couple of days away from the office on an offsite, you all drink way too much on one night, come back, hung over the next morning and talk about how great everyone is. I’ve seen that work ok, but not in the general run of play I wouldn’t say.

Em: Okay, good to know. Anything else to finish that one off Marty?

Marty: Just obviously to say that as a leader, the very best thing you can do is to develop your leadership capability and confidence so that you can help all your people to be their best regardless of how smart they are. Great leaders find a way to add value to great people no matter what.

Em: I love that one Marty, hopefully that helps Alison! Okay. Onto the next one, Jack asks:

“Holding people to account is always difficult. I’m a “nice guy” and struggle being the “tough guy” and also struggle with how to hold people to account without being threatening.”

This is another great one Marty.

Marty: Yes it is. And this is something that hits us all at some time or another during our careers. Fortunately we’ve got lots of good podcast episodes out there already to address some of these issues from different angles, which Em I know you’ll of course put in the show notes for this particular episode. The ones that spring to mind immediately for me, of course, our very first episode, Respect Before Popularity, very popular episode because this is where it all starts as a leader. You’ve got to let go of the need to be liked and really cherish the need to be respected. And so to do the right thing at the right time because it needs to be done. The Psychology of Feedback, which I think was episode six, that was a pretty interesting one in terms of how to get your head around having difficult conversations and to work out how to do that more and more comfortably as time goes on. And the other one I think is Execution for Results, which talks about how to get shit done in a way that isn’t threatening and is empowering for the people that work for you, so I think that was episode 19, but those are the three that come to mind immediately.

But part of being a strong and effective leader is understanding the balance between supporting and stretching your people. People are actually at their happiest when they’re achieving over the odds, as we like to say. So we got an email this week from one of our LBT graduates who said that he’s really getting people’s attention in his organisation through delivering better results. Now he sort of expected this, but what surprised him was how much his team has grown in confidence and they are now driven to achieve even more their own drive without him having to push them. But this doesn’t happen unless you stretch people and work out how to help them to feel the deep satisfaction of delivering exceptional outcomes. So once you manage to do this, accountability then becomes an unspoken part of your culture. But setting this up without feeling as though you’re being too overbearing is sometimes a little difficult.

Em: So in terms of setting those accountabilities, I suppose that goes hand in hand with standards. I think if you set high standards and communicate them clearly, you can still be the nice guy if your people don’t hit the mark by saying “You knew what the standards were, it was very clear, you haven’t reached them and these are the consequences, which you knew about.” It almost puts it back on them rather than you having to be tough, so to speak. I guess they’ve made their own bed. Would you agree with that?

Marty: Oh, of course. Of course. And you know, as I like to say, everyone chooses each day how they show up to work, how much time they spend Googling the interweb, how much time they spend around the water cooler, and how much time they spend doing productive work. But you should never apologise to your people for setting high standards. Now, most businesses are in competitive environments. Even if you look at the not-for-profit sector, there is still stiff competition for funding and revenues. So keeping your organisation healthy and performing is what keeps people in jobs, pay rises and bonuses. So don’t apologise or be shy about expecting people to contribute the way they need to to make the organisation as successful as it can possibly be. And of course it reminds me of the episode we did a few weeks ago, which was, Challenge, Coach, Confront, which really outlines how to stretch your people and what to do when they don’t meet the expectations you’re setting.

Em: One thing that I think is really worth doing when you’re making changes to your leadership style is to listen to Episode 41, You’re changing, so now what? I’ll put that in the show notes as well. I’ve referenced a lot of episodes in this episode! Can you talk a little bit more about the verification phase? So how do you actually set up the new standards and expectations when you’re moving out of that nice guy or girl territory?

Marty: Well, this is often the toughest bit setting up the verification phase because you’ve got to be able to satisfy yourself that your team is on track to deliver to the right standard, but you’ve got to be able to do this without getting into their jobs and micro managing them. So right up front you’ve got to set the right metrics and milestones to do this for you. If you’ve set these up correctly, then it removes most of the angst from the confronting phase. It makes it fairly unemotional and removes the subjectivity. So basically you’re at the point of saying, “Look, we said we were going to do this and it didn’t happen. Why not?” This also forces people to be more adult and so if they see that something’s off track rather than waiting for you to come to them or for a date to be missed or a deadline to be forgone, they will come to you and say, “Hey, look, I think I’m having trouble with this. Can you step in and help me?” So if someone comes to you prior to a deadline and says, “I’m concerned that we won’t make the deadline for these reasons”, that’s actually good management. If they come to you after the deadline, that’s basically just an excuse. The dog ate my homework and I didn’t get it done. And the worst thing people can do is to miss a deadline and be very, very quiet and hope you don’t notice and for you have to go to them and say, “Did you miss this deadline or did you meet it?” And then you have that conversation there. So it’s really important that you’ve got really clear milestones set up so that you can interrogate them readily and everyone knows what the expectations are.

Em: Just to wrap up, I know you mentioned earlier that our listeners, should go back to episode one and listen to Respect Before Popularity, but can you give us some tactical advice around the psychology that you might be feeling or going through when you’re transitioning out of being the nice guy or girl?

Marty: Yeah, for sure Em. I mean the, the problem with the whole concept of, ‘I want to be nice, I want to be liked’ is that you’re going to make choices that you wouldn’t necessarily want to make in the best interest of the team in the organisation. The biggest thing that will change that for you is to shift the focus from yourself, the internal focus about how you feel and it’s shifted to an external focus that says, “How much can I help the organisation or this individual or my team?” Once you actually managed to shift that focus, it becomes really, really simple from there. So the thing that worked for me best was to say, I have a duty of care. I’m a professional leader and I’m paid to do this job. It’s up to me to set the standards to make sure they’re met and to drive the best performance I possibly can for my team, no matter where in the organisation that team is, that’s up to me. And of course, the higher up you go, the more impact that has because you have more and more teams underneath you. And so I find that just putting the focus outside and saying, “I have an obligation to get results for the organisation, for the people, everyone’s better off, even though they might not feel like it at the time, but everyone’s better off if the organisation is performing really well. If we competitive, we’re making money and we’re satisfying all our stakeholders.” So I think that’s probably the key tip I put in there.

Em: Okay, awesome. That’s really helpful, thank you.

Marty: So I guess finally for me just finishing off, I think holding someone to account, which we call the confronting bit of challenging, coaching and confronting, has to be balanced with empowering and supporting them. And that’s the challenging and the coaching bits. So if you get this right and it’s no longer about whether you’re too nice or too tough, it’s just about the team all doing what they’ve agreed to do, including you as the leader. And of course we know as leaders eat your own dog food.

Em: Totally. I think that one will really help Jack.

Marty: Yeah, absolutely, I think it will too. But, look a quick one today, but that brings us to the end of Episode 62. Thanks so much for joining us and remember at Your CEO Mentor our purpose is to improve the quality of leaders globally, so please share it with your network as this is how we reach even more leaders.

Em: And guys, if you haven’t subscribed to or rated the podcast on the Apple Podcast app, pause this episode now and do it. You’ve made it to the end of the episode because you’ve got value out of it, so show us your support by taking one minute out of your day to tell us what you think. For our Spotify listeners, make sure you’re following podcast so the new episodes come up on your homepage every Wednesday. Thanks for having me on again, Marty, another great Q&A done and dusted.

Marty: Yeah, thanks a lot Em, I’m gonna look forward to next week’s episode, Situational Leadership: Reading the play.

Until then I know you’ll take every opportunity you can to be a No Bullsh!t Leader.


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