How (Not Why) You Need to Start Hiring People Smarter Than Yourself
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“Don’t surround yourself with sycophants and ‘Yes Men’.”
“The gumption and guts to speak up never cost anyone a job worth having.”
“True leaders hire people smarter than themselves.”
Age old proverbs, advice from mentors, and books upon books on leadership have been harping on with the same message. But it doesn’t seem to be enough. We keep falling into the same trap.
It’s hard not to!
We have an inherent need to feel like the smartest person in the room. Our insecurities influence our decisions. It’s hard to hire someone who might replace you someday, even when you know that day is not today! After all, our instinct of self-preservation has evolved over millions of years.
We don’t like people who make us feel less smart. We hate being around people who criticize our work or have opinions that differ from ours. As a business leader, it’s natural to gravitate towards people who share the same set of beliefs. Even when we know we need a change in the organization, it’s hard not to find someone who disagrees with you, well, disagreeable. Why wouldn’t you hire an advisor who shares the same world view? How is it really different from hiring someone who is a ‘cultural fit’?
There are, however, three reliable ‘mind hacks’ that have worked for us and can help you break out of the bubble:
1) Practice self-awareness
Recognise that being good at everything is neither possible nor essential to being a good leader. All good leaders practice introspection to identify behaviours and traits that impact their performance. Simply admitting that you need to bring people in to fill these gaps has surprising implications! Insecurities that influence hiring decisions disappear instantly with this fresh perspective!
Complimenting Smartness, Our Secret Sauce
We regularly look inward to find gaps that can be filled. We focus on sharpening our areas of strength and finding smart people who would complement our skills.
It also impacted ‘where’ we were looking for talent. Since the gaps to be filled were specific, we focused on finding the best talent to fill them and not on where we found them. When we couldn’t find people in our own industry, we looked in other domains. One of the latest additions to our executive team has never worked in our domain, and has come onboard to take charge of our growth strategy! Perspectives from another domain brought in a breath of fresh air and innovation progressed with a renewed vigour.
2) Discover the Power of Criticism
Part of the reason we don’t end up hiring people smarter than us is that we don’t like people disagreeing with us. No one likes to be proven wrong. To ease yourself into the habit of listening to contrarian views, speak to your most vocal critics.
Our Critics: Customer & Competition
Customers’ constructive criticism
Establishing a process of reaching out to customers for feedback and reviews is a good practice in any business. We have regularised the process to connect with customers and arriving at a ‘Net Promoter Score’. Quite unexpectedly, we discovered that our customers were acting as scouts, not only helping us improve ourselves, but also saving us from being blindsided by the competition! Customers started telling us about competitors we never had an eye on! They started telling us about service components they value which we had never prioritised! We were able to stay ahead of the competition simply by enlisting our customers in our mission to improve. And all it took was the openness to receive critical feedback.
Reaching out to the Competition
We view competition as a rung in the ladder of growth rather than a threat. We started actively seeking knowledge and sharing experiences with our competition, even establishing mutually beneficial partnerships with some. We get inspired by smart business moves that any of our competition make. We learn a lot from the experiences of our competition. Acting on these inputs help us anticipate changes in the market and differentiate ourselves rapidly.
Once we observed the effect critics had on our growth, it was easy to extend the attitude to hiring. We started valuing critical analysis, disagreement, and fresh ideas in every aspect of our work. Hiring processes evolved to identify analytical minds and interview questions changed to help us identify fresh perspectives.
3) Continuously Strive to Be Smarter
A good leader knows that learning is a continuous process. Developing a philosophy and culture for learning is essential to avoid the trap of mediocrity. To learn and grow at an accelerated rate to stay ahead, it is crucial to ensure people are constantly learning and pushing the envelope.
We Keep Chasing the Hero: Our Own Future Smarter Self
We posed challenges like ‘Think like a CEO’ to help employees develop a mindset of ownership, look at the larger picture, and innovate aggressively. We invited everyone to step into our shoes and come up with better ideas.
Challenging others to be a better version of themselves pushed the senior leadership to do the same. The pace of innovation picked up as everyone rallied to prove and improve themselves.
Some of the most inspiring stories we hear are about ordinary people who grew to become extraordinary leaders. It just takes a greater level of ownership and value creation (and possibly some ‘mind hacks’ like these) to get there. Leaders who don’t find a way to get past their biases risk stagnation. You need to create value constantly in order to stay relevant. Surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you can spur you to compete and innovate even harder to protect your position.
“If you find that the status quo has persisted too long, disturb it, even when it is in your favour, so you can restore it with renewed intensity.”