Author Paul Johnson's book Intellectuals1 identifies people whose ideas have changed human history, often for the good; but who were terrible to have as a family member or friend. These individuals invented or advanced new and positive ways of thinking, but were deeply flawed as people who were often selfish, hypocritical, jealous, and cruel. Most intellectuals are not toxic in their relationships, but many have quirks and ways that make them difficult to manage. One sees this in all areas of human endeavor -- the arts, sciences, humanities, and professions.
In 1989, Hedley Donovan wrote a unique article, Managing Your Intellectuals.2 Donovan was the managing editor of FORTUNE and later editor-in-chief of Time Inc. Donovan spent three successful decades "managing the unmanageable" and he features his 'lessons learned' in Right Places, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism Not Counting My Paper Route.3 Donovan defines an intellectual as someone who deals mainly with ideas rather than things, has a mind of some depth and originality, and has a compulsion to share his thinking with others. Everyone has an ego and the desire to be important, but intellectuals often have extra large egos, the need for recognition, and generally don't like restrictions.
Intellectuals can be found everywhere from the shop floor to the boardroom, from the studio to the lab, and from the farm to the sea. The following are practices that Donovan recommends for anyone who is managing intellectuals anywhere, including colleges and universities:
1. BE YOURSELF. The boss of intellectuals is going to be studied by smart people who can see through phoniness and love to talk. Their assessment can be merciless and will be brutal if you put on airs.
2. CREATE A PLACE. Make an environment where gifted people can fulfill their potential. Most intellectuals value self-expression and personal accomplishments and will be grateful for a place that supports their work.
3. LOYALTY DOWN, NO LESS THAN UP. Intellectuals are not given to hero worship, but they greatly respect and value the manager who supports their work, especially in dealings with the next layer up.
4. SUPPORT THE INDEPENDENT MIND. Intellectuals don't automatically agree with the boss. Decisions must be made from time to time that cannot please everybody. In these situations, the intellectual must believe his opinions are valued and will get a fair hearing.
5. USE THE ORGANIZATION CHART WISELY. Organizations need the clarity and efficiency that an organization chart provides, but the chain of command must be operated in an 'up-side-down' way. This means managers must be easily accessible, highly communicative, and devoted to serving the people who are performing the work (well bodies, safe streets, educated minds, accurate news, etc.). Managing intellectuals requires knowledge about what is
going on, an open-door policy for questions and discussion, and a philosophy of servant leadership.
6. KNOW GOOD FAT FROM BAD. The absence of absolute standards of quality in intellectual work presents a challenge for the boss. This comes into play when hiring, promotion, and pay decisions are made because these are subjective. Intellectuals must be convinced that their manager is thoroughly informed and consistently fair when judging performance. The manager must be seen as intellectually honest, bias-free, and void of favoritism.
7. FULFILL RESPONSIBILITY. A high degree of freedom characterizes most organizations of intellectuals. Collaboration and discussion are encouraged, and direct orders are rare. Still, there are times when a decision must be made and the buck stops with the manager. The mature intellectual knows this and will appreciate a decisive manager whether he admits it or not.
8. KEEP AN OPEN MIND. Intellectuals tend to have a lot of ideas that may be intermingled with complaints about present conditions. Idea flow should be supported because it's essential to institutional vigor. The manager needs the ideas of intellectuals even more than intellectuals need to express them. A manager's closed mind will shut down intellectuals who will channel their energies elsewhere, resulting in a brain drain -- high salaries paid with poor results achieved.
9. BE A GOOD LISTENER. Nothing shows respect more than effective listening. Intellectuals need respect and will judge the quality of their managers by how effective they are at listening. Some problems are enlarged by being voiced; others may explode if they are not voiced. The manager can't distinguish which is which without listening. The problems a manager denies or won't address are the problems that will destroy her. Addressing problems requires good listening.
10. PAY INTELLECTUALS WELL. A strong pipeline of talent is important to organizations of intellectuals. Effective managers stay on top of this. You don't want to lose talented people to save a few dollars and have to pay even more money to replace them. And you don't want people to dwell on salary issues; you want them focused on the creative and productive work that only they can uniquely do.
Hedley Donovan completes his article on Managing Your Intellectuals by saying, "Over three decades I earned some good salaries for trying to manage intellectuals. Now and then I was rewarded in coin better than dollars: a glimpse of trust and respect, perhaps even gratitude, felt by some highly creative people."
The One Minute Manager4 and The New One Minute Manager5 are great job aids for managing your intellectuals (and everybody else, as well). In these best-selling books on leadership, Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson teach three secrets to leadership success that correspond with performance planning, coaching, and correcting. These books work so well because the three secrets are drawn from the basic principles of behavioral psychology --the power of goals to focus and energize behavior, the need for feedback to reinforce or modify behavior, and the importance of praise as a recognition technique.6
One-minute goal setting involves identifying three to five goals that are critical to success and writing them on a single sheet of paper -- in 250 words or less. Throwing darts at a blank wall is inefficient until a target is drawn. Goals are the bull's eyes that focus and energize behavior.
One-minute praising involves showing appreciation for effort and accomplishments. It is based on two ideas: People need feedback as a way of tracking and sustaining progress, and what gets rewarded gets repeated. One-minute praising has four elements: 1. praise is immediate; 2. praise is specific to the behavior; 3. praise is sincere; and 4. the individual is encouraged.
One-minute correcting is saved for individuals who are trained and who know what to do but make a mistake. One-minute correcting is a caring exercise with four elements: 1. correction is immediate; 2. correction is focused on behavior (what has been said or done); 3. correction is sincere, and 4. the individual is encouraged.
The One Minute Manager and The New One Minute Manager are two of the most popular books that are used for leadership development. They are short, written as parables, and founded in behaviorism. They work well with all employees including managing your intellectuals.
1. Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky, by Paul Johnson (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007).
2. Donovan, Hedley. "Managing Your Intellectuals," FORTUNE magazine, October 23, 1989.
3. Right Places, Right Times: Forty Years in Journalism Not Counting My Paper Route, by Hedley Donovan (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1989).
4. The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson (New York: William Morrow, 1982)
5. The New One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson (New York: William Morrow, 2015).
6. Managing Behavior on The Job, by Paul Brown (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1982).