Wednesday, December 19

Hire People Smarter Than You


Professionally, 2019 was one for the record books. I'm proud to say that I probably accomplished more this year than in any year ever (at my age!), and I probably learned more this year than any year ever (at my age!). 

I'd say that's a pretty good year! And through it all I've been reminded by one core concept over and over again: hire people smarter than me.

I recently saw a quote from the late Steve Jobs about hiring smart people. It went like this:

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

2019 was a year that brought this concept home: hire smart people and have them tell me what to do! They're the experts, so let them do their job! Such a great reminder!

Truth be told I didn't need much of a reminder because I’ve always held the belief that I should hire people who are smarter than me. I need to hire people who know things that I don’t…and there’s a lot that I don’t know. Imagine that! I’ve never been threatened by that; quite the contrary I’m actually inspired by it.

This principle is even more important now given the speed at which we operate and the amount of effort that goes into our initiatives. There’s no wiggle room, not even a tiny bit.  And there’s never enough brain power to go around, so don’t try to bear the burden all by yourself. 

Hire people smarter than you!

Here’s how to do just that:

Figure out your skill/knowledge gaps. While it may be hard to admit, none of us are good at everything. We all have our own special skills. I’m sure there are a few areas where you really shine, as do I. So don’t hire for those talents. Hire for the skills and experiences that you don’t already possess. Let someone teach you something new, while you teach them what you know. Think of your team as a portfolio…fill it with smart people with diverse talents that you don’t already have. It’s okay if they are smarter than you because you’ve brought them onto the team to enhance the collective strength of the group. Everyone will thank you for it.

Test for multi-tasking talent. Interviewing for prospective team members is hard. We tend to focus on the candidates’ experiences and accomplishments, and I don’t think that’s the right approach. Test to see if the candidate is smarter than you and be ready to answer with a “yes.” You want to answer with a “yes,” or you don’t want the candidate. Past experience is one aspect but being smart and being able to apply it to a new situation is another. And make sure that the candidate can multi-task. The last thing you want is a smart person who only knows one area. These days, being smart means being able to get a lot of things done with a lot of different people.

Look for street smarts, right from the start. You should redefine what you mean by being “smart,” and you should probably put that in context for what works for your business. “Smart” isn’t necessarily IQ and intelligence. I personally value street smarts and the ability to get along with lots of people. To me that’s “smart.” Combine that with a skill set that you don’t already have within yourself or on the team and you’ve got teamwork gold.
Don’t be afraid. It’s human nature to want to be the smartest person in the room. We were trained that way growing up in school. Not sure if they do it anymore, but in high school we were literally ranked according to our grades. According to being “smart.” I was number seven. Of course I wanted to be number one. We all did. But as business leaders we have to let that go. We don’t need to be the smartest person in the room anymore. We are in charge, which means we set the direction and guide the initiatives. One way to do that is to fill the seats at the table with people that are smarter than you. They aren’t going to take away your authority, they’re going to get the job done!

I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but…you won’t lose your job! Even if you work for a large organization (like I do), you won’t lose your job if you hire someone who is smarter than you and if (dare I say) outshine you! You’ll be getting your goals accomplished. You’ll be producing results. You’ll be guiding the team! You’ll be taking responsibility for the ups and the downs (with smart people at the table, there will be more ups). And you’ll be getting credit for building a successful team, setting the strategic direction, making sure that everyone stays focused, and at the end of the day…being able to spot good talent.

Need I say more? Salute to Steve Jobs. I’m hoping he’d endorsed this point-of-view.

What's your experience? JIM.

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