He was a successful entrepreneur who turned 5 thousand dollars into 20 million in 20 years, and he was the CEO of the first company I worked with after graduating college. After working with him for a few months, I built up the courage to ask him: what is your secret of success?
The answer was simple and surprising to me at the same time. As a new graduate I expected a long lecture of how hard he worked, or how skillful he was in marketing and selling, or how good he was in negotiating big deals; it was none of the above! I was surprised when he replied: “I am NOT the smartest, so I hire smart people.” I thought to myself: wow, is that it? It sounded over simplified, but later in my career I came to realize how hard it is to find smart people! I am sure that being smart was not the only selection criteria used by the CEO, but it was the most important.
When I started to examine the top talent in the company I discovered that he practiced what he preached. The leadership team was a group of smart and hardworking people who worked in sync and as a team. Although very simple, the answer is very deep and an eye opener. It really encompasses a very basic rule of building a strong team and a successful company: hire the best, take care of them, lead with vision, and stay out of the way. That has stuck in my mind for the past 20 years, and the reason it stuck is because it was so simple and just plain common sense.
I observed the power of this advice throughout my career, and lived with the consequences of implementing it -and not implementing it – frequently. I tried to implement this piece of wisdom whenever I hired people, and at the same time I observed the bad consequences when I watched other managers hire people who were average; or sometime below average.
As leaders we must first admit that we do not know everything, and we are not the most competent in all areas. This is not a shame, rather it is a blessing. Can you imagine if you (thought you) were the best in all aspects of your business: sales, HR, finance, IT, CRM, operations, etc.?
Personally I am happy to announce to the world that I am not an accounting expert, nor an IT whiz, and I don’t know many things; I have no shame. By admitting it, I have relieved myself of those responsibilities, and it makes me want to find smart people who are experts in those fields to help me achieve my goals. Realizing this fact helps me focus on my main mission as a leader “to be the best leader I can be”.
At the same time managers and leaders who “think” that they are the smartest in everything are egotistical, and will have problems finding (smart) people who can stand their attitude. This kind of a “leader” tends to be a micro-manager, self-centered, and arrogant. Now who wants to work with such a person?
From my experience most leaders who repeatedly hired average or weak people did so for one of three reasons:
- They don’t know how to hire.
- They are desperate.
- They are insecure.
The last one is the most dangerous and damaging. Such leaders usually know that they are weak, and do not possess necessary management and leadership skills. They are afraid of hiring smart people who under scrutiny by others will make them look inferior, and one day may be a threat to their survival as leaders. So, rather than going out and trying to gain missing skills and knowledge, they focus their efforts on surrounding themselves with average “yes” men and women, and eliminating any presumed threats.
Hiring smart people is one of the main secrets of success for any company. Without it, you will not be able to survive the continuous onslaught of competition. It takes courage to admit your weaknesses and you should be smart and realize that you, alone, will never be able to possess all the skills needed to succeed in business without the support of others.
Author: Fahmi Abdein