As a leader, the smartest thing I ever did was hire people better than me
For 15 years, I was the Executive Producer of a comedy TV show in Seattle. I was also a writer and performer for the show, but my main job was being “the boss.” And as the boss, I was responsible for hiring the rest of the team.
Now, let’s understand something. When you’re on TV, there’s generally a fair amount of ego involved. I don’t mean that in a bad way. It just comes with the territory. It’s fun to be a star (and the perks are pretty sweet, too!).
(By the way, the previous paragraph is just as true if you substitute “on TV” with “in the C-Suite.”Please keep that in mind as you read on.)
Because of the ego thing, it would have been very easy for me to hire people who were good-but not quite as good as me. They’d look up to me, my ego would be fed, and I’d be the star.
And the show would have been canceled within two years.
I’m a decent writer-but there are people who are better. I’m a decent performer-but there are people who are better. As a leader, it was my job to find those people and get them on the team.
This meant that my ideas, my decisions, and my ego were being challenged nearly every day for 15 years. That’s the trade you make when you hire people better than you. You trade ego for growth.
People who are better than you keep you on your toes. It’s really hard to coast, or phone it in, when your team is asking smart questions.
People who are better than you help you make better decisions. When the big decisions need to be made, it’s not a bad idea to get input from smart people.
People who are better than you make you a better leader. It’s an old adage, but a true one: you don’t get better at tennis by playing with people worse than you; you get better by playing with people who are better. What’s true in tennis is also true in leadership. You get better by playing with people who are better than you.
I have a friend who’s in a leadership position at Microsoft. He told me what he was told when it was time for him to make his first hires: “Hiring people smarter than you is not just encouraged-it’s expected.”
Remember: building a smart, talented team is itself a leadership skill-in fact, it’s one of the most crucial leadership skills.
The team that I built comprised smart, talented people who were better writers and better performers than I was. And because of that, our show lasted 15 years and won more than 100 Emmy® awards.
The smartest thing I ever did was to be the one who brought that team together.
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