Article: The Counsellor: How to gain respect from colleagues

Life @ Work

The Counsellor: How to gain respect from colleagues

What if your team is better qualified than you?
The Counsellor: How to gain respect from colleagues

I am a successful manager who has made it to the top of my department without having an MBA. Recently, the company has started recruiting MBAs from big name institutes and I often feel that the new recruits do not respect me and feel that their knowledge of modern analytics trumps the on-the-ground experience I bring to the table. I feel resentful towards the MBAs and this is affecting my ability to work with them. I feel they chafe at having to take orders from me when they are far better qualified than I am. Am I over-reacting? Is there some way I can address this elephant in the room?

To become a successful leader in an enterprise, you don’t have to be an MBA from a top school. You just need to have excellent leadership qualities, wisdom and the relevant experience. Many very successful entrepreneurs and industry leaders are not necessarily MBAs. Management education just gives you a quick start; however, the growth in the organization is dependent on the performance, ability to lead, gaining the respect, meeting and exceeding the commitments, etc.

You have stated that new recruits do not respect you. You have also stated that you feel resentful towards the MBAs. Looks like all these factors are in your mind. With these negative thoughts, you will never be able to gain respectability of the younger workforce who will always be better equipped than you in many ways.

I will suggest that first of all get rid of these negative thoughts in your mind. Feel happy that now you have subordinates who have better knowledge of the modern analytics, newer theories and techniques, etc. Figure out how to utilize their skills and capabilities to improve the performance of your department. Start leveraging their abilities and knowledge that your department did not have in the past. Look at the situation as an opportunity and not as a problem.

While you do all this, in order to remain successful on a long-term basis, you have no option but to plunge in to lifelong learning. Upgrade your own capabilities, knowledge and skills on a continuous basis rather than becoming resentful towards this new breed of MBAs who are now an integral part of your organization. Learn to accept the new realities and deal with them positively. In a modern competitive world, to survive in an enterprise on a long-term basis, you have no option but to collaborate with several constituencies, better qualified and more knowledgeable colleagues/subordinates being one of them. A good leader will have the ability to create synergy, leverage the skills and align people towards a common set of objectives.

You gain respect from your colleagues and subordinates not on the basis of your qualifications, but on the basis of your consistent contributions and value creation. Your knowledge and experiences in the business should be utilized for effective coaching and providing the guidance to the younger people. You must demonstrate your leadership capabilities through your ability to make quick and effective decisions, your ability to deal with tough situations, your ability to mobilize resources, and your ability to lead and effectively manage individuals and the teams. Your role modeling behaviors will enable you to become respectable. As a leader/departmental manager, you should be yourself motivated first, and have a positive mind and attitude before you expect your subordinates to become motivated and demonstrate positive behaviors.

Vivek is a Senior HR professional with over 35 years of experience, ranging several leadership positions, in India and abroad. He leads his consulting practice since 2003 and presently works as a Strategic HR Advisor to Reliance Industries, and is also an independent Director on the Board of Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd. Prior to this, he was based in Singapore for several years where he was Director HR - Operations at Hewlett Packard for the Asia Pacific Region. Allow Vivek to clear your career & professional dilemmas by writing to us at

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