How to Lead People Who Are Smarter Than You

Steve Jobs, who was famous for his hiring and recruiting practices, believed a small team of A+ players could run circles around a giant team of B and C players. He was thoroughly convinced that the quality of the team was everything.

Many leaders are reluctant to hire as Jobs did. They settle for dependable but less stellar teams—in part because they feel threatened or intimidated at the prospect of leading someone smarter than they are.

Leading a team of exceptionally bright people does require skill, but as Jobs proved again and again, the payoff is well worth it. Here are some pointers for getting the most out of your own A+ employees:

Don’t be intimidated. Leaders tend to think they need to have all the answers—and to be terrified when they don’t. But your role as leader is not to know everything; it’s to set the stage. That means working to sustain and support people who are more experienced, up to date and talented than you. It may feel disconcerting at first, but it will serve you well in the future. You do have to know enough to be conversant—so let your stars take center stage while you ask the questions, do the reading, learn and investigate.

Confront your fears. It’s natural to feel fearful when you are leading people who are smarter than you. Whether you’re afraid of being shown up, of looking unprepared and foolish, or even of being passed over for advancement while someone who was below you rises above, face your fears and work through them. Then remember that hiring the smartest people is ultimately an act of confidence and smart leadership.

Don’t micromanage. I’ve seen this happen a lot: a leader feels insecure so they overcompensate for what they don’t know by becoming a controlling micromanager. Remember, your role as leader is to allow the smart people to do what they do best. Support them but don’t hover. Keep your actions empowering and maintain strong relationships with your team members by providing support and resources and then stepping aside.

Get educated. I believe it always helps to have a learner’s inquisitive mindset. If you consider yourself a student rather than an authority figure, you can more easily share your concerns and ask others to include you in discussions that will help you learn. Let those around you know you want to learn from them and be deliberate about creating opportunities to make it happen. You don’t have to try and become an expert, but gain insight into what your people do and it will give you the acumen you need to keep up with those around you.

Stay vulnerable. If you hear that people are questioning your leadership capabilities, be transparent with what you’ve heard, and what you think, and what you plan on doing about it. Don’t go in trying to safeguard your ego. Instead, approach the situation with a mix of vulnerability and strength, and figure out how you are going to work together and support each other.

Seek good counsel. Find someone who can listen to and advise you. It may be a peer, a coach, or a mentor. Speak to them candidly, share your concerns, ask for help. Sitting with fearful or anxious feelings often makes things worse, but seeking counsel might help ease your emotional load.

Add value. As a leader, your role is best served when you are able to bring people together and be there for them in ways no one else can. The best leaders don’t always coach, but they do consistently add value by providing support and resources to their team.

Lead from within: You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room—you just have to have that person on your team, give them the support they need, and get out of their way.

N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R


What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Rajesh Menon

    10. Apr, 2018

    To lead means to follow – Thanks @LollyDaskal

    A lion leading a pack of sheep’s can anytime beat a sheep leading a pack of lions

    Reply to this comment
  2. prabir kundu

    26. Apr, 2018

    Good points to Lead Smart&Talented people, I like the approach, A Leader need not the answer of all questions. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Timothy Lynn Burchfield

    29. Apr, 2018

    Don’t be intimidated
    Get educated
    Stay vulnerable

    These three have served me well. Most leaders need and want affirmation. Approval of their insight is the fuel to keep them leading effectively. I have never let a smarter person intimidate me. I have also continued to be a student of leadership thoughts from experts like you. I am the first to acknowledge my journey to become a person of influence.

    Good word!

    Reply to this comment
  4. Timothy Lynn Burchfield

    29. Apr, 2018

    Smart people make our businesses flourish.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Siraj Ahmed

    30. Aug, 2018

    “leader is not to know everything; it’s to set the stage” Good words. thanks for remembering me !

    Thank you

    Reply to this comment
  6. Proggio

    26. Dec, 2018

    Transformational leaders motivate their team by being a role model. They challenge the team to execute (and outperform), by empowering them to shine and do their best.

    Reply to this comment

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