When I tell you that the people I manage in my MBA Admissions Consulting firm, MBA Link, are smarter than me, I am in no way being humble or self deprecating. I’m simply stating a fact. I am, by most measures, a smart guy. The people I manage are simply smarter. Not a little bit smarter. They are much, much smarter than me.
They are also mostly more organized than myself, harder working, more creative, more emotionally intelligent and for the most part they are also better looking.
Why then, you may ask yourself, are these people willing to follow me at all? I can tell you that it is not because of what I pay them. Although they are paid well, there isn’t anyone on my team who couldn’t get just as much or more elsewhere.
The nature of my business necessitates that I can only hire superstars. If you find yourself in the same position, or if you just want to bring superstars into your business, here are some suggestions on how to lead them:
1. Be Clear On Your “Why”
Ultra-talented people aren’t going to waste their time on a mission they don’t believe in, or a leader without a mission. They don’t need to prove themselves, they proved themselves before they got to you and they have lots of options. There is nothing more important than finding people who believe in and want to contribute to your mission, but the first step in that is figuring out what your mission is.
I founded MBA Link because I love helping people identify and achieve their goals. We narrow this down specifically into the MBA context, but we see our mission as broader than just getting people into great business schools. We force people to think critically about their life plans and empower them with knowledge and resources to help them achieve their ambitions. Every one I work with has to have an intimate desire to help other people achieve their goals or this is not the right company for them, no matter what their background is.
2. Be willing to admit when you’re wrong
“Fake it ‘til you make it” is an overrated strategy. When dealing with the ultra-talented, it can be unforgivable. You’re human. You’re allowed to make mistakes and you’re allowed to be wrong from time to time. What you’re not allowed to do is let your ego get in the way of your integrity.
If you’ve made mistake, cop to it and be prepared to take the necessary corrective action. Showing your team that you will accept responsibility for your mistakes will go a long way in earning their respect, and their loyalty.
3. Find the right level of challenge for each of your team members
Research has shown that people perform best when faced with a challenge that is just beyond their comfort zone. Anything too easy and your team is getting bored. Put too much on their plate and they’ll get discouraged and frustrated. This is particularly relevant when working with Type A personalities that may have a hard time saying “no” when given a challenge. Monitoring the performance of your team carefully will help you keep them in the sweet spot.
4. Be genuinely interested in their opinions, experience and abilities
Your A players are A players for a reason. They have amazing experience, incredible abilities and ideas that can move your business forward. Taking the time to understand your talented staff isn’t just good for your business, it’s a necessity for keeping them motivated and engaged. Impact driven people don’t just want to know that they are valued, they need to understand that they are essential to your business.
5. Don’t micro-manage, but support
No matter how talented your team is, if you’re not there for them when they need you, you’re begging to turn your staff into your competition. As the leader of your business, your job is to enable your people to do their jobs properly. That means providing the resources and expertise that only you can deliver, when needed. When working with incredible people, you’re better off telling them what needs to be done, rather than telling them how to do it. A weak manager can get jealous of their own team’s performance and will take pleasure in watching them fail. A strong and confident manager will give their team room to run, but be there for them when they need it.
6. Support your people’s growth, even if it’s outside of your organization
When applying to business school, candidates need to gain the support of supervisors in the form of recommendations to submit to MBA programs. Time and again I’ve seen employers who lavished praise and benefits on their star employees turn the backs on them when they needed this support. This is a critical mistake, as it just reveals how shallow the professional relationship was all along.
“Love and let go” isn’t just good advice in a romantic context, but is a great policy to keep with talented employees. If you find a staff member’s career plans are diverging from your business, supporting them in whatever it is they want to do next not only brings you good karma, it puts you in the position to build a network of supporters in the talented alumni of your organization.