How to Manage the Most Talented
How do you manage people who don’t want to be led and may be smarter than you?
by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
ranz Humer, the CEO and chairman of the Swiss pharma-
ceutical giant Roche, knows how difﬁcult it is to ﬁnd good ideas. “In my business of research, economies of scale don’t exist,” he says.“Globally today we spend $4 billion on R&D every year. In research there aren’t economies of scale, there are economies of ideas.” For a growing number of companies, according to Humer, competitive advantage lies in the ability to create an economy driven not by cost efﬁciencies but by ideas and intellectual know-how. In practice this means that leaders have to create an environment in which what we call “clever people” can thrive. These people are the handful of employees whose ideas, knowledge, and skills give them the potential to produce disproportionate value from the resources their organizations make available to them. Think, for example, of the software Stephen Webster
72 Harvard Business Review
How to Manage the Most Talented
programmer who creates a new piece of code or the pharmaceutical researcher who formulates a new drug. Their single innovations may bankroll an entire company for a decade. Top executives today nearly all recognize the importance of having extremely smart and highly creative people on staff. But attracting them is only half the battle. As Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, one of the world’s largest communications services companies, told us recently,“One of the biggest challenges is that there are diseconomies of scale in creative industries. If you double the number of creative people, it doesn’t mean you will be twice as creative.” You must not only attract talent but also foster an environment in which your clever people are inspired to achieve their fullest potential in a way that produces wealth and value for all your stakeholders. That’s tough. If clever people have one deﬁning characteristic, it is that they do not want to be led. This clearly creates a problem for you as a leader. The challenge has only become greater with globalization. Clever people are more mobile than ever before; they are as likely to be based in Bangalore or Beijing as in Boston. That means they have more opportunities: They’re not waiting around for their pensions; they know their value, and they expect you to know it too. We have spent the past 20 years studying the issue of leadership–in particular, what followers want from their leaders. Our methods are sociological, and our data come from case studies rather than anonymous random surveys. Our predominant method consists of loosely structured interviews,
clever people is very different from the one they have with traditional followers. Clever people want a high degree of organizational protection and recognition that their ideas are important. They also demand the freedom to explore and fail. They expect their leaders to be intellectually on their plane–but they do not want a leader’s talent and skills to outshine their own. That’s not to say that all clever people are alike, or that they follow a single path. They do, however, share a number of deﬁning characteristics. Let’s take a look at some of those now.
Understanding Clever People
Contrary to what we have been led to believe in recent years, CEOs are not utterly at the mercy of their highly creative and extremely smart people. Of course, some very talented individuals – artists, musicians, and other free agents – can produce remarkable results on their own. In most cases, however, clever people need the organization as much as it needs them. They cannot function effectively without the resources it provides. The classical musician needs an orchestra; the research scientist needs funding and the facilities of a ﬁrst-class laboratory. They...