Tips for Mentoring Clever People

By Linda Henman, Ph.D.

Occasionally a project manager will have the good fortune of discovering a really clever person among the members of the team. This doesn’t always mean good news, however. The best and brightest stars on any team bring their own challenges. They offer more in intellectual firepower, but often demand more from their managers. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you lead clever people:

• Clever people learn quickly, so they bore easily. About the time they master a skill set, they itch to move on and start to look at other opportunties.

• You can’t fool them with titles, even though they appreciate ones that mean something. They want ever-changing, challenging work and real authority to make a difference.

• They require other A players on their team. Make your organization a place where the clever choose to work, and your stars will become your best magnets for other top performers.

• Celebrate innovation and experimentation, even when that means the occasional failure. Clever people like to create. You have to give them that chance.

• They know their worth and expect to be compensated fairly. Even though star performers don’t usually count compensation among their reasons for taking or leaving a job, they do have a sense of fair play and want to be rewarded for who and what they are.

• Top performers don’t respond well to autocratic leadership. Nor do they appreciate laissez-fair leadership. They want direction but in the form of democratic guidance, not an absence of direction.

• Try to micromanage a star just a little, and you will lose that person.

• Star performers require praise, but unless you offer it sincerely and specifically, they will dismiss it.


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