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You Should Never Be the Smartest Person in the Room

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This might be a hard pill for some people to swallow, but you should never be the smartest person in the room. I know a lot of you will scrutinize this statement. Some of you will even get defensive after reading it. But I stand by it, and I’m not the only one either.

Entrepreneurship is one of the most difficult career paths to pursue. If it was easy, there would be a lot more entrepreneurs out there. But this isn’t the case. For most people, failure is inescapable. So it’s no surprise that some leaders who make it past their first, fifth, and tenth year of business become egotistical. Entrepreneurial success stories are hard to come by. Except these egos eventually catch up to them and can become problematic. It’s because of their egos that leaders don’t want to hire people that are smarter than them. But some of the most revered entrepreneurs in the world do this.

This is how Michael Dell hires his employees. Same with Mark Zuckerberg. Even Steve Jobs, the face of Apple, knew this. Jobs’ made one of the most profound statements about managing talent when he said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” 

A business might be built on one person’s idea, but it’s sustained by their employees. If billionaires know this to be true, why is this not the standard for hiring at every company across every industry? Great leaders know that success isn’t a one-person show. Growth, sustainability, and profitability are a team effort. Hire people that constantly push boundaries, shatter glass ceilings, and push you outside of your comfort zone.

“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.” – Confucius

Employees aren’t cogs in a machine, they’re your best assets

Elon Musk, renowned for his bold leadership, has always said that a business is only as good as its people, and I agree. Your company is a direct reflection of your employees. Hiring the best of the best will catapult you to the forefront of your industry; hire inexperienced employees that come at a cheaper cost to you and your company will plummet into the ground.

This is often a lesson that many leaders have to learn the hard way. Hiring for quantity over quality may seem enticing because you can pay employees less while also having more hands on deck to focus on day-to-day tasks. But in very few circumstances does ‘quantity over quality’ ever result in favorable circumstances. The same is true in business.

Entrepreneurs must often wear many hats, but they aren’t experts in every facet of their business. In order to have a well-rounded, high-functioning team, you must fill in those gaps by hiring the most qualified employees. Think of it as a business investment. 

Don’t hire people that will always tell you you’re right and follow your every lead. You need people that will check you, help you develop your ideas, and will bring different perspectives to the table. If you let your ego run the show, you bridle innovation and vision.

Keep competition outside of the workplace

In business, competition is the heartbeat of your company. It motivates leaders to strive for the impossible and to work more diligently in pursuit of their goals. But achieving these goals is only possible when you have a qualified team standing beside you.

While a healthy sense of competition among employees is natural, there should never be rivalries disguised in egotism between leaders and employees — yes, it happens far more than you’d think. If a leader is fixated on how they appear in comparison to others, it’s going to interfere with how they delegate projects and create a highly dysfunctional culture. 

A leader likely already knows their strengths, but they must also understand their weaknesses. This self-awareness is critical in making sure they check their ego before work every day. If you’re threatened by the talent of your employees, you end up working against them instead of nurturing a unified workforce that’s working together to build a prosperous company. In other words, you’ll end up getting in your own way of success.

“Never hire someone who knows less than you do about what he’s hired to do.” – Malcolm Forbes

Hire them and let them fly

Entrepreneurs often have a very misconstrued perception of leadership. Great leaders don’t hire employees so that they can tell them what to do, they hire people they can learn from. Your job isn’t to teach an employee everything they need to know to do the job well — they should already come to the table with this expertise. Instead, it’s your responsibility to create an environment that’s conducive to their growth and development.

Your employees shouldn’t need a lesson in ‘Business 101.’ Instead, they just need to be equipped with the resources and acumen that will help them refine their experiences and knowledge so that they can function independently of you. 

Your goal should be hiring people and then letting them fly. This doesn’t undermine your expertise and leadership skills in any way. Great employees simply don’t need your constant attention and support. You don’t have the time for that anyway, as you need to free up your schedule so you can focus on the big-picture responsibilities of running a business.

The business world isn’t a place for ego. You’ll work twice as hard to go half as far if you aren’t willing to hire people that are smarter than you.

What are your thoughts about intentionally not being the smartest person in the room? Share them with us below!

Daren Barone is the Chief Executive Officer at Watkins Environmental, Inc., an Environmental Remediation company. Daren has participated, managed, and performed over 5,000 environmental projects throughout the United States.

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