Their Question: My leadership style is casual, friendly and collaborative. One big hurdle — I have to manage a SME (subject matter expert) senior engineer (nearing retirement age) who is also a likely contender to the position. It is an exciting and intimidating opportunity. Appreciate your advice.
My Answer: I’ve faced similar circumstances in my own career. Great opportunities to test whether we’re as good as we think we are!
What worked for me was to adopt a full-on “servant leader” approach to my older-than-me direct reports, asking them:
- “Tell me how you want to be managed?”
- “What type of support do you want…or not want…from me?”
- “Do you prefer me to ask you for updates or you to provide your updates to proactively?”
Based on what they say, negotiate, as needed:
- “Sure, I can check in with you no more than once/month, but then you need to check in with me every Thursday at 2pm because if I don’t know what you’re working on I’m likely to make some pretty lousy decisions on your behalf.”
- “Oh, Thursdays won’t work? Okay, then when before that would?”
- “I understand you think you could do my job better than me, and quite possibly you can, but what I want to know is what would demonstrate otherwise to you? Let’s talk about what make me the best boss you’ve ever had and see if I can rise to the challenge?”
A lot of this has to do with your poise; your grace under fire, as it were. So keep in mind that your boss picked you, no doubt, because s/he thought you were capable enough to handle the challenge. Proving him/her right about that will serve you, your boss, and your direct reports well.
Let me know if you’d like to talk through some of the follow-up questions you, no doubt, have.