Charles Steinmetz was a scientific genius whose many ideas and inventions helped build the General Electric Company. Early in his career at GE, because of his tremendous abilities, he was made head of his department. Before long it was in complete shambles – for brilliant as he was, Steinmetz was a terrible administer.
The management of GE was in a quandary. To salvage the department Steinmetz had to be relieved of his duties. Yet, he was their most valuable employee and a highly sensitive man.
The problem was solved by creating a new title, chief consulting engineer, and “promoting” Steinmetz to the job. He was told that he would be a one-man scientific “Supreme Court,” passing judgement on all research at the company. At the same time he would be relieved of his administrative chores in order to devote full time to his new duties.
No matter how brilliant people may be otherwise, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll also be good leaders. Managing people is a different kind of ball game. Yet it’s amazing how many people, because they are obviously capable at their jobs, assume they would also be good managers or supervisors. The feeling is almost universal.
You’d think that a person who knew every job in a department backward and forward would naturally make the best manager. Actually, such people might have serious problems.
In the first place, if they judge everyone else by their own standards, they may expect their subordinates to do a lot better than they are capable of doing. And if these leaders insist on showing their people how much better they could do the job, nobody’s going to be very happy working for them.
Doing a job well yourself is one thing; persuading others to do it well is another. When people have moved into management positions they have crossed a significant line. They are no longer judged solely by what they can do themselves. Their value now depends mainly in what they do working with others.
A new factor has entered the picture – the interaction of human personalities. Dealing skillfully with human beings is just as much an art, just as much a specialty in itself, as any other kind of work. It’s not a natural ability all of us are born with. It has to be learned, usually the hard way through trial and error.
The transition may be especially difficult for people – no matter how intelligent – who have spent most of their working lives dealing with facts rather than people. Accountants, scientists, and engineers, for example, who move into management positions have a new problem on their hands. The more they appreciate that fact, the better their chances of coping with it successfully.
All managers must delegate to others many things they could do better themselves. If they want the goodwill and cooperation of those under them, however, it’s best to keep that fact to themselves. They can coach and train people, but it must be done tactfully – without flaunting their superiority or undermining the self-respect of their people.