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I meet a lot of entrepreneurs today who are afflicted with an unfortunate misconception: that their primary job as the leader of their company is to tell other people what to do.
This mentality bears a variety of repercussions, but it particularly affects hiring processes. Entrepreneurs infected with this misconception believe that they don’t need people who are brighter or smarter than them, but rather, people who are malleable and accepting of direction. If they come a bit cheaper? Well, that’s a win-win.
The problem is, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The job of a team or company leader is not to tell people what to do. Rather, your job is to create conditions conducive to growth and success — to supply great people with the resources they need to achieve great things. In fact, hiring people on account of their perceived docility will only increase your company’s chance of failure.
As a founder, manager, or CEO who’s building out a team, your job is similar to that of an army general: to find and cultivate talented lieutenants and give them the tools they need to succeed. You need to find the smartest people — the strongest people — and motivate them with a strategy and mission that’s intrinsically captivating. If those people happen to be smarter or stronger than you, that’s a very good thing.
Simply put, hiring smart people leads to better results. Here’s why.
Your business will grow faster if you have smart, skilled people in every sphere.
Here’s the bottom line: progress — by way of promptly completed projects or procedural innovation — comes faster when skilled, smart people are driving the core processes that are important to your business.
It took my team and I at Skylum a long time to learn this. Like many first-time founders, we actually had the opposite impression: that we’d make progress faster by hiring people who perhaps had less expertise, but came cheaper and were positioned to join the company quickly.
Soon, of course, we discovered the truth: it pays to invest in people who are dynamically capable — people who are in fact smarter than you, and whom you can learn from.
Why, exactly? Well, for one thing, intelligent employees will allow you to solve problems you otherwise wouldn’t be able to on your own.
Great hires can improve aspects of your business that you — with your limited expertise and perspective — might not have even seen as needing improvement.
For example, my team recently hired a person who’s an expert when it comes to email marketing, automation, and after-purchase customer experiences. His first day on the job, he sat down in front of his laptop, cracked his fingers, and combed through the processes we’d built to drive these functions. I’d been under the impression that they were pretty strong. But within an hour, our new hire had redesigned them so they were flawless.
Most impressively, he built a system to ensure that the data we collect through these channels — from email, to advertising, to customer feedback — was made available to our team in one easy-to-find place. This allowed us more insight into customer behavior.
We had no idea that much streamlining was even possible.
When you hire people like this, your company will improve in ways you can hardly anticipate. And when problems arise that might have otherwise necessitated the hiring of a consultant or outside expert, you’ll find you already have that expertise in-house.
Another benefit of hiring genuine professionals? They can operate independently.
When you’re building out a team, what you should be looking for are people who can eventually own their projects or processes.
If they’re capable, such people will not only complete those projects — they’ll be able to innovate and improve the processes they used to complete them, creating more effective workflows.
Such people are crucial to your company’s success. Their ability to own critical functions frees you to focus on other matters, and their ability to innovate will make your company more creative.
Plus, in time, they’ll grow to become leaders in their own right — managing their own teams to create value at scale.
That increases your productivity exponentially.
So how do you hire these kinds of people?
The catch to hiring people like this is they’re often already known experts in their fields, which means they’ll likely be expensive to bring on board.
The good news, though, is that experts aren’t always looking for the most lucrative contract. What they really want is to play a role in solving interesting problems. They want to join a mission that is intrinsically satisfying.
For this reason, when interviewing candidates for a given role, you should make sure to articulate your company’s vision and mission clearly and succinctly. Then, you should also ask candidates two simple questions, which will help you identify whether they’re properly motivated:
Their answers will show you whether or not they’re inspired to join your team for the right reasons. And if you’re interviewing the right people, you’ll generally be inspired by what you hear. Dynamically capable employees are usually seeking big challenges, along with assurances that they’ll play an important role in the company’s attempts to solve those challenges moving forward.
Even with all this knowledge, you won’t build the best team if you hold onto the belief that you need to be the most capable person in your company.
It’s true that when you’re building out your team, quality is more important than quantity. That’s important to remember. But it’s more important to remember that you as the CEO don’t need to be the most qualified person on your team — the ultimate expert. In fact, you shouldn’t be.
Whatever war your company is waging, you want the best people beside you on the battlefield.
That’s what will give you the best chance to win.
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