This situation is not uncommon in many industries that recruit highly skilled and intelligent people. There seems to be an expectation that such highly functional individuals should a) have equally highly developed organizational awareness and people skills. b) be self-sufficient and need no management. My experience suggests neither is true!
Firstly, while they may be very knowledgeable in a particular area or discipline, this does not always extend to knowledge of people or organizational principles. Professions where subject knowledge and skills are the criteria for progress often dismiss the value of other attributes and subject knowledge becomes the only currency with value. Because these individuals then have very specialist expertise in a specific area, leaders then assume that those individuals can be left to ‘get on with the job’. While true in one sense, this is a recipe for dysfunction and silo working and can often lead to those individuals feeling resentful and under-valued.
Managing high functioning experts does need some thought. They need to be given respect, autonomy and flexibility, but still need appreciation, motivation and structure. It is a fine balance for the leader to maintain but applying a coaching culture is a good start. They need;
- autonomy within boundaries
- flexibility within structures and processes
- recognition without deference
- support, involvement and interest from leadership
- challenging tasks with minimal unnecessary bureaucracy
- opportunities to develop their expertise without becoming indispensable
When have you seen leadership applied inappropriately for the individuals being managed?
When do you need to adjust your approach?
What would you add as a key difference when managing highly knowledgeable individuals?