How Good Bosses Can Help Smart People Become Smarter

How does a smart person get smarter?

It’s not an easy question to answer.

For questions like this, you will be tempted to take an “escape from it” approach by saying that “smartness” cannot be defined in absolute terms so it is a waste of time. Worse yet, you can take the approach of saying “everyone is smart in their own way” so why bother?

So, to avoid any confusion, here is how I look at smart people getting smarter:

If a person progressively increases his or her capacity to increase his or her contribution AND the costs of contributing keep reducing over a period of time, the person is getting smarter

You are smart and here are 7 ways your Boss can help you get smarter
(or, if you are the Boss, here is an expectation list from those smart people you are leading)

1. Painting the big picture

Let’s look at what happens IF your Boss shuts you off from seeing the big picture. You are left to operate in your own shell. Your sphere of influence is automatically is limited by the size of the shell you are placed in. It’s hard to come up with “out of the box” ideas if you are forced to operate from within a box.

On the other hand, a big picture will instantly provide you a bigger canvas to play with. If you want to walk the extra mile, you know which direction to walk (in a way that’s meaningful to the cause of the project)

2. Expect more of you than what you expect from yourself

Here is a “magical loop” for growth to consider

a) You expect more of yourself than what anyone else around you are expecting of you. (courtesy: Michael Jordan)

b) You Boss expects more from you than what you are expecting of yourself.

Put the above two together and you form a magical loop that will (within no time) propel you to greatness.

3. Believe when there is not enough proof!

Progress is made when you start treading in the “right” uncharted territories. Let’s say your Boss is willing to take leap of faith on you and believe that you can tread these unchartered territories. In other words, he or she is willing to take the risk for you to take the risk. The stakes are high for him because if you fail, the Boss (and the Company) is footing the bill for that failure.

Every time your Boss takes such a chance at you, you owe it to them and yourself to stretch and grow AND most importantly deliver.

4. Create situations that stretch you

This was 1998. I still remember the time when I was asked to lead a project on Sales Force Automation in Paris. The problem? Until then I had never managed a sales force automation project. I told my Boss that I had no experience on managing such a project. My Boss said it with a Zen-like calmness “I think you can do it and besides, it takes more than eight hours to fly to Paris. All the books and manuals are available…”

That was definitely a situation that stretched me. Not only did I use my flight time to study, I also spent almost the entire night in Paris, reading and getting ready.

Looking back, I know that it was a good thing to happen – it became clear to me that we all have more capacity and capability to do way more than what we generally do on a daily basis.

Plus, nobody can stop us from “artificially creating situations” to stretch ourselves and grow.

Your Boss has many opportunities to create such stretch situations. At that particular moment, you might hate your Boss but (in the future) almost always you will thank him (or her) for creating those situations.

5. Offer right amount of help (but not until it’s absolutely needed)

On one end, your Boss might give you a lot of help to an extent that he or she become a crutch in your life. On the other end, your Boss may offer no help to such an extent that he or she becomes an annoyance.

Good Bosses know the balance – they know hat in some cases they should not offer any help (because they know that you can stretch and deliver on your own) and in some other cases they know that they need to lend a helping hand.

In almost all cases they know that their job is not to fill in the gaps that you can fill yourself.

6. Care deeply

Your Boss can rarely fake caring. You are smart and you will see through it. A good Boss cares deeply way beyond what is required as a Boss.

One simple way to genuinely care for you is to know what you deeply care about. If your Boss has never asked you or bothered to find out what you care about, there is very little chance that he or she deeply cares about you.

If anyone deeply cares about you, you have no choice but to care for them. If you know that your Boss cares deeply about you, you WILL walk that extra mile for him or her. In that process, you will lift yourself up for your own good.

7. Forgive failure

I am not talking about forgiving serial failures – if that’s the case, you need to be fired.
Nobody wins ALL the time. You are no exception. If you have a Boss that won’t forgive failure, you are in trouble – in the short-term and in the long-term. In the short-term you are in trouble because absent forgiveness, there are consequences for failure. In the long-term you are in trouble because you will do everything to avoid failure – including avoiding risks you should be taking for the good of the company and for your own good.

To wrap this up, here is a quote to reflect upon:

“A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves”
~ Author unknown”

Have a good weekend!

Photo Courtesy: Wildphotons on Flickr