Should You Hire People That are Smarter Than You? A Data-Driven Answer


For far too many entrepreneurs, ego is the biggest obstacle that keeps them from reaching their full potential. They’re often reluctant to seek help from people that are more talented and knowledgeable. They’re even more hesitant to hire people that are smarter than them.

Pharmaceutical entrepreneur Ewing Marion Kauffman points out how important this is if you want to grow your business.
“Hire people who are smarter than you! In doing so, you prevent limiting the organization to the level of your own ability—and you grow the capabilities of your company.” Kauffman reportedly stated before his death. “If you hire people you consider smarter than you, you are more likely to listen to their thoughts and ideas, and this is the best way to expand on your own capabilities and build the strength of your company.”
This can be difficult for many entrepreneurs who are proud of the companies they’ve built on their own. But despite the ego bruise involved, hiring smarter people can be the best decision you make for your business. Even if you don’t agree with Kauffman, you should still consider the very serious risks of onboarding the wrong people.

According to research from the Harvard Business Journal, bad hiring decisions may account for up to 80% of employee turnover and usually could have been mitigated by choosing the smartest and most qualified candidate. Further research shows that turnover costs between 50-500% of the employee’s annual wages, proving that denying a job to a brilliant candidate to soothe your own ego can be a very expensive mistake!

As a number of case studies show, you need to check your ego at the door and hire the brilliant minds that will drive your business to new heights. As Craig Cincotta, the VP of Brand Communications at Porch found, hiring smarter people helps provide a diversity of perspectives and makes you smarter as their ideas rub off on you.

Drop Your Insecurities and Hire the Best Talent

Insecurity often discourages managers and entrepreneurs from hiring employees that are smarter than them. Zeynep Ilgaz, the founder of Confirmed Biosciences, has admitted to making this mistake in the past.
“Early in my career, I was hesitant to hire people I thought were smarter than me. Believe it or not, I had a bit of an ego. I didn’t want to accept that I might not be the smartest person in the room. I feared losing respect; I thought that, as the leader, I should have all the answers.”
You may feel self-conscious that your subordinates and colleagues might turn to the new employee for guidance, instead of you. You may also fear that the more talented employee will steal your job or launch a competing company. And while these are valid concerns, they shouldn’t keep you from choosing the best candidate – even if that means that you’ll no longer be the smartest person on the team.

Some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world earned their success by insisting on hiring smarter, more effective employees. Consider these two quotes:
“Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room.” Michael Dell

“Greatness starts with the humility to hire people who are much smarter than you.” Guy Kawasaki
Surprised to hear these quotes coming from such revered geniuses? Although many people are under the illusion that Dell and Kawasaki are the smartest figures in their respective organizations, they clearly disagree with that perspective and attribute their legendary success to their ability to hire exceptional employees.

Heed their advice. Your company will be much more successful if you swallow your pride and bring on employees that are more intelligent than you.

Key Takeaway: The opportunity costs of hiring the wrong candidate are extremely high. Don’t jeopardize the future of your business just because you’re intimidated by someone that may be smarter than you.

Companies that Benefited from Hiring Smarter People

If the quotes from Kawasaki and Dell don’t inspire you to reassess your priorities when looking for new talent, the following lessons from real-world case studies should help put their advice in context.

Evernote – The Answer to Your Micromanagement Problem

eric1

One of the biggest benefits to hiring smarter people is that they don’t require you to micromanage everything that they do. Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote, wrote a guest article in Inc. stating that he became severely overwhelmed early in his career because he believed that he could do all of his employees’ jobs much better than them.

He tried to handle all of their tasks on his own but eventually accepted that his employees were much better at their jobs than he would ever be. He also realized that allowing gifted employees to do their jobs without micromanaging is necessary to maintaining employee satisfaction. This is an important lesson in the modern world, where 75% of employees voluntarily leave their organizations due to friction with controlling managers.

Libin’s post should be eye-opening for the many entrepreneurs that are pushing themselves to the brink of exhaustion. Managers often believe that they’re the only person in the organization that’s qualified to do the job properly. But think about it… If you burn yourself out, you’re going to wind up unable to do even your most important tasks effectively.

Micromanaging can also quickly erode employee motivation.  Christina Bielaszka-DuVernay wrote a blog post in Harvard Business Review detailing this very phenomenon. She stated, “Because a consistent pattern of micromanagement tells an employee you don’t trust his work or his judgment, it is a major factor in triggering disengagement.”

Of course, the organization can only grow if you hire people that are better at their jobs than you. Libin said that the quality of his team’s output was much higher after he ensured the best person handled every task. He even concluded his post by stating: “Many readers will have just realized that this means the CEO is the dumbest person at Evernote. Please don’t tell my board.”

Tony Hsieh – Bad Hires Have Cost Zappos Over $100 Million

The consequences of hiring the wrong people can be disastrous. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs don’t recognize the potential costs of their bad hiring decisions until it’s too late. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, claims that bad hiring decisions have cost his company over $100 million.
“I would say the biggest category mistake is bad hiring. If you add up the cost of bad hires and the bad decisions they made and they, in turn, hired more bad hires, it led to this whole domino effect. Over the past 11 years, it’s probably cost the company well over $100 million.”
Hsieh said that one of the changes Zappos implemented to address this issue was having two sets of interviews that every candidate needed to pass. Not only did they have to pass an interview with a hiring manager to see if they had the right qualifications for the job, they were required to go through a separate interview with the HR department to ensure they were the right fit for the company culture.

Having two separate interviews ultimately reduced the risk that an individual manager would campaign against a talented candidate that could threaten their ego, solving many of the problems Hsieh described in the quote above.

Neil Patel – Smarter People Can Run Your Company Without You

eric2

Image by Wendy Piersall

Neil Patel is a world renowned digital marketer and analytics expert. However, even Patel is humble enough to admit that he isn’t the smartest guy in the universe. Patel insists that there are many benefits with recruiting smarter people to join his team:
“You should never hire anyone who isn’t smarter than you. Now they don’t have to be a jack-of-all-trades, but they do need to be smarter than you when it comes to their job.”
Patel shares Libin’s perspective that hiring smarter people is one of the best ways for managers to reduce their workload. However, he takes it a step further. He states that all managers should create teams that can run the business in their absence. And in Patel’s opinion, hiring and training the best possible talent is critical to achieving that goal.

Google Executives – Hire Smarter People that You Can Learn From

eric3

Image by Steve Jurvetson

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, is arguably one of the smartest people in the world. He graduated from Princeton, received a Ph.D. from the University of California – Berkeley and later amassed a fortune worth $9.3 billion by running one of the largest tech companies in the world.

However, even Schmidt believes that there are smarter people out there and wants them on his team. In fact, this is the very first rule for hiring at Google:
“Do hire people who are smarter and more knowledgeable than you are. Don’t hire people you can’t learn from or be challenged by.”
Every manager should continually grow over time, which is impossible if you don’t surround yourself with top talent. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, we are the average of the five people that we spent the most time with. Managers often spend more time with their employees than their own spouses, which is why they must be sure the people they hire are going to push them to new limits. They simply won’t be able to grow if their employees are less knowledgeable than them.

Chris Shayan of VietnamWords – Hire Smarter for Company Growth

Chris Shayan is the Head of Engineering for VietnamWorks, and he admits that he initially fell into the same trap as Libin. He was certain that he could do his employees jobs better than they could but eventually had to come to terms with the fact that he was hiring the wrong people. Ultimately, he realized he needed to change his perspective for the company to grow.
“When I became head of IT at VietnamWorks.com and also in charge of running our products (vietnamworks.com, ERP, CRM and Analytics systems); I made a new rule: Everyone who reports to me has to be much better at doing his or her job than I could ever be.”
Shayan hired Eduardo Mora to become the company’s Head of Products. Mora proved to be a truly amazing employee, which made Shayan even more convinced that his new hiring policy was essential for company growth.

VietnamWorks is now rapidly growing into one of the largest talent marketplaces in the world – a feat the company would never have achieved if they limited themselves by hiring weaker candidates.

Key Takeaway: There are many benefits of hiring people smarter than you, but one of the most compelling is that they can help you grow as a leader. Why should you sacrifice your own growth just to feel like the smartest person in your office?

Challenges With Hiring and Managing Smarter People

The interviews and blog posts by the aforementioned entrepreneurs illustrate the importance of hiring brilliant employees. But just because something is important doesn’t mean that it’s easy. You’ll face some unique stumbling blocks in the process, though you can minimize your frustrations with the following tips:

Know Their Limitations

It’s easy to be mesmerized by a brilliant job applicant. Your initial reaction may be to hire them on the spot and take them under your wing. However, you need to bear in mind that even the most seemingly exceptional employees are going to have their own limitations. Their genius may not make up for the inability to keep track of essential documents, lack of punctuality or a pompous attitude.

Drop Your Own Biases

Ujwal Tickoo, the Senior Vice President at Practo, said that employers need to recognize the challenges associated with hiring smarter employees. “When you hire someone smarter than yourself, you need to acknowledge that you are not hiring a carbon copy of yourself and you are going to be stretched by the capabilities and thinking of someone smarter than yourself.”

As a result, Tickoo points out that the biggest mistake managers make is failing to drop their own biases. Smarter employees may approach problems from a very different perspective than you would. As a result, you’ll be better off leaving them to their own devices whenever possible.

Assess Their Attitude

Zeynep Ilgaz, a cofounder of Confirm BioSciences, said that hiring smarter employees has helped her and her husband grow their company much more quickly than they would have been capable of on their own. However, she also points out that hiring brilliant employees isn’t enough: They also need to have determination and integrity for your company to benefit.

After determining that an employee is the right fit, Ilgaz points out that it’s still important to make sure your new hires adopt the right outlook needed to work in the company. She requires all new employees to read StrengthsFinder 2.0 to identify their top strengths, as well as to find ways to encourage these top performers to keep growing.

Stephen Rascoff, the chief executive of Zillow, also states that it’s important for managers to hire smarter people. “The biggest mistake I tend to see from junior managers is not hiring people who are better than them. It might be subconscious – people don’t want to be shown up by one of their direct reports – or maybe they don’t know how to identify talent.”

However, he also feels that it’s essential to hire employees that have the right attitude. “I want to hire people with ambition, but humble ambition. I want people who want to advance their career, but they need to do so in a self-deprecating, unassuming and not-obnoxious manner. I don’t want to hire jerks.”

Interview and Hire Smart

Ilgaz and Tickoo both point out that it’s important to ask the right questions during the hiring process in order to assess and evaluate smart job candidates. Here are a couple of strategies you’ll want to implement during the interview, onboarding and employment processes:

Self-Assess Flaws

It’s always important to ask employees about their self-perceived flaws when conducting interviews. Doing so will help you make sure that they can be honest with themselves and their colleagues about their shortcomings in order to take responsibility for improving as an employee.

Unfortunately, most candidates will be cautious about opening up on this topic during the interview process. They’ve been conditioned to respond to questions about flaws with thinly-disguised compliments, such as, “I’m just too detail oriented” or “I’m just too much of a perfectionist.”

Force potential applicants to give more genuine responses by asking specific questions. Don’t ask a cliché question like, “What is your biggest flaw?” Instead, consider asking something along the lines of, “What is the biggest mistake that you made in your previous organization and what would you have done differently?”

Employees will be caught more off guard and forced to delve into specifics. This will give you the opportunity to assess their genuineness and their ability to learn from past mistakes, which can be otherwise difficult to gauge when interviewing an extremely intelligent individual.

Show Appreciation

All employees like to feel appreciated. Recent research has found that higher salaries and benefits are poor motivators, but giving genuine words of gratitude can go a long way towards building employee loyalty. This is especially true with very talented employees, as they generally recognize the value of their contributions and tend to be especially hard working. As a result, they want to know that their efforts are valued.

Aditya Banerjee, the former country manager for Aesculap, pointed out in a LinkedIn post that his former boss regularly complimented him and his colleagues for their brilliance. He said that his boss said on no less than three occasions: “I hire only those who are smarter than me.”

Banerjee said that those words were highly motivating and encouraged him to work harder. He not only decided to follow the same principle but made sure to offer the same courtesy to his own employees.
“The most effective empowerment often happens at a subliminal level,” he writes. “Acknowledgement of a team member’s competence to be even beyond the leader’s, not only empowers the team member to use this competence without close supervision but also by default thrusts the person into a leadership position in matters relating to this competence.”
Demonstrate Empathy

One of the biggest problems in many organizations these days is that employees feel their bosses don’t genuinely care about their needs. According to the Towers Watson Global Workforce, only 45% of employees feel that senior managers genuinely make an effort to see how they are doing and only 39% feel that managers do a good job helping develop their employees.

It’s particularly easy to overlook the needs of your most talented employees, especially if you feel that they understand things better than you. You may feel that they have all of their bases covered, so there’s no need to reach out and see if they need anything. However, they may be facing struggles you aren’t aware of and don’t feel comfortable approaching you with them.

You need to make a point of reaching out to them and letting them know you’re on their side every step of the way. In exchange, they’ll be more committed and more likely to use their talents to their fullest potential.

Recognize Your Own Limitations Before Hiring

The main reason to hire employees, in general, is to handle tasks that you can’t handle on your own. To do this effectively, you need to recognize your own weaknesses and find employees that can help you surpass them.

Ramit Sethi, the founder of “I Will Teach You to Be Rich,” states that some of the biggest limitations with young entrepreneurs include their lack of maturity, irresponsibility, and difficulty staying organized. For this reason, he encourages leaders to hire people that are older and wiser to make up for their limitations.

The best place to start is to conduct an honest self-assessment of your abilities (keep in mind that you may need additional perspectives from your coworkers if you’re having trouble coming to terms with your faults). Figure out what problems you have that need to be addressed and then determine how you can find an employee that will help you remedy these weaknesses.

Key Takeaway: While there are a number of benefits to hiring smarter people, you’ll also encounter some challenges. Be aware of them ahead of time so that you can take the necessary steps to adjust more easily.

Finding Smarter Employees

Countless anecdotes from legendary business leaders like Neil Patel and Michael Dell show the benefit of hiring smarter employees. By hiring more talented employees, you’ll be able to grow as a leader and drive your company to reach its goals. It may be difficult to set aside your ego, but you and the rest of your team stand to benefit significantly in the long run.

Do you believe in hiring employees that are smarter than you? Feel free to share your perspective in the comment section below!