How do you Hire People Smarter Than You?

Posted by Guest Author /July 24, 2013 / Uncategorized

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” -David Ogilvy

Guy Kawasaki tells us that reaching for greatness “starts with the humility to hire people who are much smarter than you,” which might seem to mean that the dumbest person in the company is the big boss. In a recent post on FD:Discuss (the quora-like discussion area of FounderDating where members converse about entrepreneurial hot topics and get advice) someone raised this very issue. How does a founder less intelligent than their employees attract and inspire them? Here, the key is to look at the rest of Kawasaki’s advice. He doesn’t just say we should hire people smarter than we are—he brings humility and greatness into the picture as well.

What’s “smart”?  

Hiring smart people requires, first off, the identification of smart people. So what makes a person “smart”? More importantly, what makes people smarter than the people hiring them?

As the head of your company, you have a breadth of knowledge—you might be proficient in programming, have a basic understanding of sales, a general knowledge of marketing. You can do it all on your own, but there’s a reason you hire other people to do all those things for you. They know it better, and they’re able to focus on a certain aspect of the whole company.

It’s a matter of specialization. They may be smarter than you, but they’re smarter in a different way. If you think about it, “entrepreneurs tend to have a higher level of emotional intelligence, whereas a programmer might have a higher level of logical intelligence,” something that Daniel Ice pointed out in a post on FD:Discuss. So different people are smarter when it comes to different things, and because a CEO can’t possibly do everything, she has to hire people to do all the rest. But it doesn’t end there.

Being smart is also the ability to solve problems, to think outside the box. It’s about challenging authority, going above and beyond a job description to get the best possible results. Another FD entrepreneur commented, “drive, ambition and the ability to get sh%t done in a dynamic and agile work environment need to weigh heavily in your hiring criteria.” But he also says that measuring these forms of intelligence is difficult. How do you tell a smart person from a smarter person? The best way is to have the humility to compare them to yourself. You need to ask the question—can this person do the job better than I ever could?

Your job (it’s not micromanagement)

In his article on hiring smart people, Evernote CEO and cofounder Phil Libin calls himself out, saying he “had a stupid way of thinking about his employees.” He believed that he could do the jobs he hired people to do better than they could. And this, unsurprisingly, led him to micromanage those in his company he didn’t trust with the work they were given. His solution was to hire people who could do the job better than he ever could. You can’t micromanage someone whose knowledge is well beyond your own. It could get embarrassing.  Michael Barnathan points out in the discussion, it doesn’t just stop at hiring people smarter than you are. You have to “then listen to them in their areas of expertise,” or else you’ll still be stuck managing every last employee when really your job is to be the visionary who directs the company to success.

That’s why, without the burden of micromanaging every last programmer and sales rep, Libin had more time to focus on steering the company in the right direction. Your job, like Libin’s, is “to show the vision, not prove you are smarter,” Balki Kodarapu explains. As the founder of a company, you are responsible for that company’s success. Sure, it also depends on the work of others, but these are people you hire. You’re responsible for what they do in the company.

A company of giants

“Smarter than you” isn’t a raw IQ test. Your employees might well be smarter than you are in a particular area, but you have to be smart enough to get them working together in chorus. For that, they’ll look up to you with respect, and you’ll be on your way to building an amazing company.

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