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Phil Cooke Podcast

Nov 10, 2021

Although it’s wise to surround yourself with smart and talented people, leading teams can be challenging when your team is smarter than you. If it hasn’t happened to you, it probably will in the future, so here’s six leadership principles I’ve learned that can help you take your team to the next level and their best creative work.


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*More About This Episode* *More About This Episode* How to Lead When Your Team is Smarter Than You – 6 Leadership Principles

On numerous projects during my career, the stakes have been high. Perhaps even more challenging with those projects, is the fact that I was also leading teams that were in most cases more experienced and significantly smarter than me. For instance, I remember multiple times when I worked with a pretty famous A-list director of photography and was worried that on the set, the crew would be more loyal and respectful to him than to me.


Working on great projects can be exhilarating, but honestly, intimidating as well. But from those experiences I learned a lot about how to lead when you’re not the best or smartest person on the team. If it hasn’t happened to you, it probably will in the future, so here’s a handful of principles I learned:

1) Lead softly. Stop reminding your team that you’re in charge, or try to prove how smart you are. You don’t need to defend yourself. You’re the leader, period. Remember if you have to constantly remind the team that you’re the leader, then you’re really not the leader.


2) Acknowledge their strengths. Nothing wins a team over like knowing you value their expertise and appreciate them being there. Don’t hoard praise. Let them know you’re glad each one is on the team and you’re depending on them.


3) Allow them freedom. If they’re smarter than you, then they don’t need to be micromanaged. These aren’t interns here so don’t treat them like it.


4) Don’t let them see you sweat. If you’re the leader, then your team needs to know you have a plan. Once they start sensing you’re over your head, it will be like sharks to blood – not necessarily because they’re bad people – but when a leadership vacuum happens, someone will step in to take over.


5) Respect them and ask for their opinion and feedback. Create a big tent. You may feel like that could open the door to someone nudging you out, but exactly the opposite happens. They feel much more positive about contributing, and will respect you for opening that door.


6) Finally, leverage their strengths. Most of us know the frustration working with a team that’s under par, so be sure and maximize the moment when you have a great team. Worry less about how little you may know and enjoy the benefits of leveraging their brilliance.


Steve Jobs famously said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” That’s great advice. Now go out there in confidence and lead talented people to accomplish great things!


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