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Four Things To Do When Your Team Is Smarter Than You

Source | FastCompany : By Stephanie Vozza

If you think the boss should have all the answers, you might be confused about what it means to be a good leader. As a general rule of thumb, every person hired should be smarter than the manager at what they’ve been hired to do, says Ian Siegel, cofounder and CEO of the employment platform ZipRecruiter. “If every manager at the company keeps doing that, you’ll end up with an elite team,” he says. “That’s the dream.”

Managing someone who is smarter than you, however, does take a certain approach, says Siegel, who cofounded ZipRecruiter in 2010. Since then, over 800,000 businesses, including AT&T, Wells Fargo, and Starbucks, have used the platform to find, screen, and track applicants.

When he was just 23, Siegel was tasked with managing an older and more experienced team of engineers at the online city guide Citysearch. “Four failed CTOs had come before me, and the team was considered difficult and volatile,” he says. “I knew they all were smarter than I was, so I told them, ‘Just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.’”

Be A Good Listener

The approach turned out to be the key to his success, says Siegel, although he didn’t know it at first. Initially, Siegel felt like a fraud and was certain he was failing, but when he admitted during a leadership meeting that he didn’t know what he was doing, he got some surprising feedback.

“Everyone in the room started immediately telling me that I was the best manager at the company,” he says. “The only reason they thought that was because I was the best listener the team had ever had. It sounds so simple, but listening to people is highly effective, especially when you’re managing people who are smarter than you.”

Present Objectives, Not Strategies

Throughout his 21-year career, Siegel has managed teams that were filled with smart people. Recently, he managed a computer engineering team from Israel who were working to complete high-level systems architecture programming for ZipRecruiter. “Many had come out of the Israeli military and were beyond elite,” he says. “They had been writing code to save lives. They were the best of the best—off-the-charts smart.”

Instead of being intimidated, Siegel tapped into their motivation and changed the way he delivered his tasks. “I would start each project with the mission,” he says. “I would say, ‘This is the goal. This is the strategy. This is what success looks like.’”

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