It’s one of the most frustrating workplace experiences in existence when you’re smarter than your boss. You have to sit there stewing in the truth that he or she is making more than you but is less capable, intelligent, or experienced than you.
But you don’t have to just sit there, nor do you have to stew in anything. And ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink wants you to snap to attention on one powerful thought. You have an alternative to being frustrated, seething, and plotting.
Basically, be a forward-thinking follower.
While these are my words (not Willink’s) it’s the essence of what he told CNBC’s Make It, and I thought it was inspiring enough to share.
Willink says leading includes learning how to follow. While it can admittedly be tough to follow someone who doesn’t have your skillset or microprocessor, there are several important ways to conduct yourself in such situations.
1. Set your ego aside.
Yes, circumstances put you in the, well, circumstance that you’re in, but it’s up to you how you choose to view it. Your ego can cloud that, for the worse.
I probably should have that job. He probably shouldn’t be making more than me. I could lead circles around her, says your ego.
That attitude doesn’t help the team, your leader, or you. Willink calls it outright immaturity, and he’s right. Think about your bosses’ boss. Why would he or she ever want you to be a leader if you visibly show you’ll follow only when the situation is right? The best leaders are humble, and not just when they get to their leadership positions.
2. Make them look good.
When you’re a leader, and if you want to be a great one, it’s never about you. So wanting to occupy the position your leader is in shouldn’t be about you either, it should be about him or her.
Being a great follower (and thus an even better future leader) means helping your boss make good decisions, guiding them in the right direction, helping them learn, and making them look good and be as successful as you can. It’s a chance for you to practice your ability to influence upward, a different “angle” on leadership, but as important as any other.
It’s as simple as this. You are where you are. Would you rather spend your time building someone up or tearing them down? You most certainly have the ability to do both when you’re working for a boss who isn’t as talented as you. And you most certainly know the answer to this question.
3. Study what not to do.
Some of the “best” leaders I ever worked for weren’t great in the true sense of leadership. They were the best because they made a lot of mistakes I could learn from. It gave me a case study and learning lab on what not to do as a boss–these are lessons just as powerful as if you worked for a management guru.
As mentioned, you don’t just watch your boss make the same mistakes over and over, you try to help him or her grow. But along the way, you’re taking mental notes. Be appreciative of what you’re learning from your boss in this sense and turn that into goodwill towards the boss, and to help diffuse your frustration.
So if you really are smarter than your boss, be smart enough to know what to do about it.