When Subordinates Have More Leadership Skills Than You

How to collaborate and manage subordinates with higher skill sets

“Ma’am, my leadership is pretty upset with me.” the service member stated

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Well, I was explaining what their role was in the situation, and my commander seemed put off by this.”

Let me stop here and give the background to the above scenario.

This was an actual conversation I had with one of the Guard and Reserve service members I took care of when I first started my last job in the military. Jeff, the service member, was in our medical continuation program. It allowed injured/ill guard/reserve service members the ability to remain on orders while they received medical care.

Jeff was a very articulate and organized Staff Sergeant (keep his rank in mind, it is relevant to the story). He read and understood the guidance, but was having trouble getting his leadership to understand what he needed from them. When he spoke, he was factual, clear and direct in what needed to be done and the timeline it needed to be completed. However, his communication with his leadership only seemed to irritate them. It confused both of us. At one point, I suggested he let me handle communication with them, with the hopes I could come from a standpoint of educating his leadership on the program.

A few months later, Jeff and I were in conversation about work, when he told me about his work background. Jeff, had been active duty for 11 years; Data Center Managers for an automobile company for 10 years supervising Electrical Engineers, Information Technology support staff, and union electricians; and currently a GS 14 (civilian equivalent to a Lt Col — Colonel) Senior Information Technology Project Manager for the Department of Homeland Security. Jeff had years of leadership experience!

However, his experience exceeded someone at the rank of Staff Sergeant. Jeff had many options, but wanted to specifically join his current unit because of their cyber mission. They did not have any officer slots available, so he happily accepted a SSgt slot, to become a Cyber Communicator. His new unit saw his value as mentor to the airmen.

Now the playing field made sense.

(Continue reading here...)

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