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VIEWPOINT: Smart bosses smarter teams

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I once heard a line of leadership advice that seemed so counter-intuitive in theory, and yet produced such brilliant results in practice, that I never forgot it. I was told: “Always be smart enough to hire people brighter than yourself.”

At first, I was a little taken aback. In the dog-eat-dog world of corporate business, it seemed foolish to hire someone who, given the chance, could knock me off my perch? And surely as a leader, I ought to know at least as much as my employees, if not more.

But in fact, I have witnessed firsthand how it is more important, in the role of a manager, to be able to lead and guide a team than necessarily to grasp and implement all the technical details yourself. It is your job to notice and develop talent. Hire people smarter than you, then allow them the space and opportunity to do what they do best by providing them with what they most need – be it feedback, a budget, or encouragement and confidence. By creating a work environment in which your team can thrive to meet their own potential, you inspire them to do so. Then all you have to do is step aside and watch them perform.

Bill Gates, American entrepreneur and founder of the multi-billion-dollar Microsoft Corporation, once said, “The key for us, number one, has always been hiring very smart people … If you give people tools, [and they use] their natural ability and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you might have expected.” But it is key to remember that being smart doesn’t necessarily mean having the most impressive CV – an Ivy League education or an array of long-service awards.

Gates continues, “[Smart] is an elusive concept. There’s a certain sharpness, an ability to absorb new facts. To ask an insightful question. To relate to domains that may not seem connected at first. A creativity that allows people to be effective.”

Being smart also doesn’t mean your employees will never make mistakes. But it does mean that they should learn from your mistakes, understand how they happened and how they can be prevented or dealt with in the future.

Gates captures the importance of failure with his words, “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”

Again, it is the duty and privilege of team leaders to be calm, fair and decisive when inevitable disappointments occur, and to handle the situation rationally and in a way that encourages the team to problem-solve with renewed vigour. Motivating a smart team is the smartest thing a boss can do. ❐

Author: Brett Tromp CA(SA) is CFO of Discovery Life