Leadership is a multifaceted journey, filled with challenges, opportunities, and pivotal decisions. Throughout one’s leadership career, it becomes increasingly evident that one of the most intelligent choices a leader can make is to hire individuals who are superior to them in various aspects. This realization can significantly shape the trajectory of an organization, as well as the personal growth and development of the leader.
For 15 years, I held the role of Executive Producer for a comedy TV show in Seattle. While I was also a writer and performer on the show, my primary responsibility was that of “the boss.” This role meant that I was tasked with assembling and leading a talented team. However, in the world of television, where egos often loom large, it would have been effortless to surround myself with individuals who were skilled but not quite as talented as me. It’s a temptation that many leaders face, irrespective of their industry.
The allure of being the star, the one who shines the brightest, can be powerful. But, in hindsight, I understood that such a decision would have led to the premature cancellation of our show. It was my duty as a leader to recognize that while I might be a decent writer and performer, there were people out there who were simply better than me in these areas. Consequently, my role as a leader was to identify and recruit these exceptional talents to our team.
This approach meant that my ideas, decisions, and ego were constantly under scrutiny for 15 years. It’s the inherent trade-off when you choose to hire individuals who surpass you in various aspects – you exchange ego for growth.
Individuals who excel beyond your capabilities keep you sharp and vigilant. It’s nearly impossible to become complacent or coast along when your team consistently poses intelligent questions and challenges your assumptions. This dynamic creates an environment where continuous improvement is not just encouraged; it’s expected. As a leader, you must rise to the occasion, learning and adapting to meet the high standards set by your talented team members.
People who outshine you contribute to more informed decision-making. When significant choices need to be made, seeking input from bright and capable team members is not merely a wise option; it’s a necessity. When you hire people who are better than you, you gain access to a wealth of expertise and perspectives that can help you make well-rounded and informed decisions. It’s akin to having a diverse set of lenses through which to view a problem or opportunity.
Those who surpass you in skills and abilities ultimately make you a superior leader. It’s an age-old adage, but it remains true: you don’t become a better tennis player by competing against those less skilled than you; you become better by competing against those who are more proficient. This principle is equally applicable to leadership. Improvement is fostered by working alongside individuals who surpass your capabilities.
In a leadership context, this means that you’ll be constantly challenged to elevate your own skills and competencies. You’ll be compelled to set a higher standard for yourself and your team. This process of continuous growth and self-improvement ultimately makes you a more effective and influential leader.
I have a friend who holds a leadership position at Microsoft, and he shared the advice he received when making his initial hires: “Hiring individuals smarter than you isn’t just encouraged – it’s expected.” This perspective is not unique to one company or industry; it’s a guiding principle in many successful organizations. It underscores the importance of recognizing and valuing the contributions of talented individuals who can raise the collective performance of the team.
It’s important to remember that assembling a smart, talented team isn’t merely a component of leadership; it is, in fact, one of the most pivotal leadership skills. A leader’s ability to recognize and harness the collective brilliance of their team can be the difference between mediocrity and excellence.
In conclusion, the smartest thing a leader can do is to build a team of individuals who outshine them in various areas. This choice isn’t a testament to weakness but a testament to wisdom. By relinquishing the need to be the smartest person in the room and instead surrounding oneself with exceptional talent, a leader can elevate their organization to new heights. Ego takes a back seat, and growth takes center stage, ultimately leading to enduring success in the ever-evolving landscape of leadership.
As a leader, it’s crucial to embrace this philosophy and actively seek out individuals who possess skills, knowledge, and perspectives that surpass your own. Encourage a culture of excellence within your team, where everyone strives to continuously learn, grow, and excel. When you foster an environment that celebrates the collective brilliance of your team members, you pave the way for innovation, success, and sustained growth.
Additionally, while hiring individuals who are more talented than you is essential, it’s equally important to create an inclusive and collaborative atmosphere where these individuals feel valued and empowered. Recognize their contributions, provide opportunities for leadership, and encourage open dialogue and idea sharing. When everyone feels like an integral part of the team, the synergy generated can lead to remarkable achievements and breakthroughs.
In conclusion, remember that leadership is not about being the smartest person in the room; it’s about harnessing the collective intelligence and talents of your team to achieve remarkable results. Embrace the notion that hiring people better than you is a strategic and wise choice that can propel your organization to new heights of success. Your journey as a leader will be defined by your ability to cultivate a culture of excellence and continuously push the boundaries of what is possible.