Not a few leaders boast about building employee capability to ensure their organisational capacity is able to deliver not just for today but in years ahead. They hype their “passion for growing quality talent”, as they say. They would mention spot-lighting “hi-po” staff and getting them well rounded and grounded through conscious mentorship routines. In general, there is so much song and dance made out of this. However, you wonder if this was the case, why we still talk about the dearth of quality talents in Nigeria and the fact that in most industries, we are always recycling the same 20 or so per cent that are truly solid.
The killer question is – are we really authentic in our relationship with this critical success factor for business growth and sustainability or are we just paying lip service to it? Today, I want to challenge any leader that has genuinely embraced this imperative to sign up to not just hiring better, smarter people than him/her from the outset, but to glaringly showcase such subordinates as being better than they are. I can’t swear that many leaders would do this. Sometimes, perhaps due to job insecurity, leaders don’t like the idea of working with smarter subordinates, and when they suddenly discover one, they try to frustrate or subdue them. Our leaders generally thrive in creating an aura of indispensability – as though the business would collapse if they are not in the company. It’s even worse when you see young managers behave in this manner in companies that have been in existence long before they were born.
What a shame? Please permit me to emphasise, just as the popular late Steve Job said, that it’s a sign of greatness for a leader to hire people smarter than them. What’s wrong if you have a subordinate that’s smarter than you? Some of us obviously don’t understand the difference between a technician, a manager and a leader. As a leader, you have no business contending for Intelligent Quotient superiority with your subordinate. This is because you bring a lot more to the table than smartness. You are paid to create possibilities for the organisation and create the conditions for your team to excel. You would focus your energy on the long-term value creation agenda of the company and orchestrate the team to deliver great performances consistently.
You would help break barriers, remove complexity and eliminate ambiguity in the communication and understanding across the organisation of what makes the company successful. You really have the responsibility to give your team the freedom to be at their best; to have that confidence and energy to step out of their shell and make things happen. So why hire people smarter than yourself?
(1) Need someone to stretch your thinking: In an ideal world, having a smarter person in your team, who you have given the freedom to do his job in an “unrestrained” manner, can only help make you a bigger leader. I had a boss, who in all honesty wasn’t the smartest of people — he wasn’t great at numbers and he really was soft, respectful, not in your face, but firm. However, I have never met a better leader at inspiring his team. He really manifested trust and belief in me almost always (and I know he did the same with many of my colleagues on same level), and as a consequence, we worked like there was no tomorrow. He was highly successful. Shortly after, we got another boss — his replacement — who in fairness was very smart and sometimes behaved like he knew it all. You had hardly opened your mouth to make a contribution than he cut in and imposed his decision on you. He would never create complementary inter-dependencies with you. He was also miserly with his recognition of good performers and was unanimously profiled by his team as arrogant. He failed woefully. A great leader must have the ears to listen to (even) what he doesn’t want to hear.
(2) Innovation is the future: Related to the above is the fact that we are in a changing world. What we thought we knew when some of us were growing up in our careers has become obsolete today, just as new mind-blowing insights have emerged. The top five most capitalised companies globally today, didn’t exist 20 years ago (I believe). You need new thinking: you need innovation. To do that mostly, you need fresh blood who can out-think you or at least be your thought-partners. John Stuart Mill said “when society requires to be rebuilt, there is no use in attempting to rebuild it on the old plan. No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible, until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought.” With technology going the way it is, there’s no shame in accepting that someone younger, less experienced but more tech-savvy than you would be able to cause the transformation you may never be able to do.
How many times have I got stuck with some of the tech applications in my house or phone that I have had to sort out through the help of my children — does that make them better leaders than myself? We can’t take the limits of our dream or vision as the limit of the world. It is the child who hasn’t seen another child’s father’s farm that may think his father’s is the biggest in the world. Hire some smart guy who can help navigate a changing world through innovation and creativity.
(3) Prepares you for the next level: If you have done a fantastic job hiring a smarter person and you help repair their rough edges and prepare them for your role, by default someone somewhere is looking to move you to a higher position. Even where there’s no vacancy at the top, the fact is when you are done, you’ll know that you’ve created a legacy by having an additional leader mount the rostrum of corporate leadership. It pays someday, if not immediately. I can’t count how many places I go to these days and people remind me of how I contributed to their career growth. This always gives me deep-down fulfillment. It doesn’t matter how you cut it, there is total wisdom in consciously hiring someone smarter than you. That is the first authentic statement of intent at not just building a breakthrough team for today, but having a better successor than you for the future.
Have a great week ahead!
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