Managing and leading others is simultaneously challenging and rewarding. While rarely easy, it's simpler when you have personal experience in the role of the person you must lead. After all, that's why so many businesses are fond of promoting from within.
One of the more difficult jobs a leader will ever tackle, though, is to manage someone doing a job they cannot themselves do. Think of any CEO at a large-scale company. While they may be a sales genius or a financial wizard, they probably know little about technology or manufacturing. A prerequisite for any top-level executive is the ability to lead others who have skill sets they do not -- while adding value to their performance.
Here are seven keys to leading someone when you can't do their job.
1. Don't try to fool them into thinking you can do their job.
It may be tempting to drop a few technical terms to try to convince your charge you are an expert in their field, but it will surely backfire in the long run. At some point, they will catch on to your masquerade, which will only lower your credibility and potentially damage the relationship.
2. Ask them for their help.
Admit you don't know their role anywhere close to their level, and let them know that you will need their assistance in comprehending what they do. While some may view this as a sign of weakness, the right employees will see this as a sign of strength. Hopefully the transparency will work both ways to help the overall working relationship.
3. Do reiterate what they just said to ensure your correct understanding.
Ask for clarification if they are speaking over your head. It's always dangerous to assume things, particularly when both parties don't share a similar level of comprehension on a subject. It's smarter to slow things down a notch to make sure everyone has the same expectations rather than regret not doing so weeks or months later.
4. Err on the side of too many meetings -- at first.
Effective leaders are conscious of their team's time and are reluctant to call an abundance of unnecessary meetings. However, more contact initially can help establish a good working rapport and will help you understand the tasks and challenges your worker faces.
5. Earn their respect.
While you are establishing a solid working relationship with your new team member, analyze the areas where you can offer them the greatest assistance. Perhaps emphasize that you can't do their job, but can provide help in other areas, such as time management, communication, marketing, etc. Taking the time to listen is a sure way to earn respect.
6. Use reason and logic.
The greatest CEOs don't have a mastery of every single discipline -- but they are able to apply the principles of reason and logic to every decision they make. No matter the topic, they bring a sound method of analysis to the table. If you've been asked to lead someone else or a team, you likely have experience making decisions and have made wise ones in the past. Don't lose sight of that just because you're in unfamiliar waters.
7. Help them develop a more user-friendly communication style.
There's an age-old saying, "If you can't explain something simply, then you don't know it well enough." Learning a new skill set will help you and your direct report establish the common language necessary to keep the lines of communication open. This will benefit all parties involved.
Great leaders are secure in the fact that they won't be the best or most knowledgeable at everything. Never be intimidated by the prospect of leading someone when you aren't qualified to do his or her job. Instead, look at it as a challenge, and find a way to add value to their performance by your leadership.