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Leading Smart IT Professionals

Oct 31, 2005
By

Rajesh Setty






“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants” — David Ogilvy

To build this theoretical company of giants we need to acquire the necessary skills to recruit, lead and manage people smarter than ourselves. Leading smart people is not easy in any field. However, leading smart IT professionals comes with an additional set of challenges as technology continues changing at a breath-taking speed.

What follows is, by no means, a complete list, but I think if you follow these basics, it's a good start towards managing the best and brightest in your department:


Ask rather than tell. As a leader, you may be tempted to “tell” people what to do but there is a thin line between providing detailed instructions and “micro-managing." This also creates problems when you are leading smart folks.

First, smart people don’t like to be micro-managed and second, they have their own opinions on how something has to be accomplished. The key, therefore, is to explore options by asking rather than telling. This will ensure a higher level involvement from them. Not only do smart people have their own opinions they also want them to be heard and respected.

Make it safe to fail. Smart people take risks and buck the norm and go their own way. When they do that, there is pretty good chance that they may crash and burn.

If you don’t create an environment where it’s OK to fail sometimes, people will play it safe. While it is good to play safe, we all know that unless we take calculated risks, we can’t expect to see big rewards.

Think about it, is it better to let the average staffer take risks or your top talent?

Re-align at regular intervals. Smart organizations re-configure and/or change course with changing times. Smart people are the same. Their interests and priorities change over time.

It is important for you, as a leader, to recognize this. You need to be a master at re-designing their roles and responsibilities at regular intervals so there is some alignment of personal and organizational goals.

Keep them challenged. Smart people have a great appetite for challenging projects. In fact, if you get them to work on something mediocre, smart people consider that as an insult.

In his ground-breaking book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience , Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains that for a person to be in a state of flow, he needs to be engaged in activities that are slightly above his current skill levels; tasks should require him to stretch a bit. Incorporate this in the work design of smart people.

Provide a roadmap for growth. Everyone wants to grow but growth is of particular concern for smart people. If your organization is not a place that provides an infrastructure for growth, smart people will start planning their exit even if the pay is good.

While there are no perfect metrics to measure a person’s growth, one simple way to ascertain this is to look at what people have become over a period of time. For example, if someone is not more valuable when compared to a year ago, there is a problem.

That person is not growing. Is this because the person has an issue or is it your organization? In the first case, the person is not a fit for the organization and, in the second case, the person won’t stay long if something does not change.

Allow for “play time." Smart people usually have many interests apart from work. Pick ones that have some relevance to your organizational objectives and allow them some “play time” to work on pet projects.

They may have to make up for this time at a mutually agreed upon schedule but smart people love this kind of freedom and, of course, they will make up for this at times when you need them most. Unfortunately, this kind of freedom is not practiced in most organizations even though it would become one of your competitive advantages.

Rajesh Setty is the chairman of CIGNEX Technologies, an open source consulting services and software solutions company, which he co-founded in late 2000. Setty’s latest book is "Beyond Code: Learn to Distinguish Yourself in 9 Simple Steps!" (Select Books - 2005). Setty speaks and writes frequently on topics that include entrepreneurship, leadership and open source.


 

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