Should You Hire People Who Are Better Than You?

Are you kidding me? Can you believe this is even a topic of discussion in 2015? Recently I became aware that some leaders continue to wonder about this. So here are my thoughts.

The answer is, “Yes,” by the way. But let’s not naively believe that this makes the leader’s life problem-free. Every strategy brings benefits and drawbacks. Would you rather come to work every day dealing with the problems presented by leading a group of mediocre performers, or the problems associated with a group of high-potential people? I prefer the latter.

What problems do high potential people present? The most fundamental challenge for the leader is to answer the following questions:

  • How do I keep this person engaged and excited to come to work?
  • How do I help them explore their potential?
  • How do I help them progress rapidly?
  • How do I avoid feeling threatened by them?
  • How do I keep them from being recruited away?

Most importantly, cultivate close relationships with your high potential players. The closer you are, the more influence you have. The closer you are the more you’ll know about their needs, passions and aspirations. Make it clear that you seek their greatest good. Extend yourself to ensure that their needs are being met, and that they see a very desirable future in your company.

Tell them clearly you see their potential and your goal is to help them progress as rapidly as possible. Make sure you know what they want to learn and help them learn it. Take risks on them. Give them assignments that require them to stretch. While doing this, express your sincere belief and expectation that they’ll perform with excellence. Make sure these assignments enable them to add significant value to the organization.

Empower them to make decisions and try their ideas. Not only will this accelerate their growth, but also it’ll contribute to your growth. You must be willing to learn from them.

Be their champion. Celebrate their successes.

Don’t control them. Lead. Teach. Influence. But don’t control. Accept that they’re going to make some mistakes. If you control them, the outcomes are your outcomes, not theirs. No growth will result. High potential people hate micro management. Even if you disagree with a particular decision, ask yourself, “Does this decision bring the risk of great harm to the organization?” If not, let them proceed despite your misgivings.

If you’re threatened by high potential players, recognize that feeling threatened is only a feeling. It does not have to control your behavior. No matter how you feel, you can choose the right behaviors. It’s not always easy, but it can be done.

Great leaders want high potential players whose performance elevates the entire organization. They want to develop people who will lead the organization to greater heights after they’re gone. This requires recruitment of people who will be better than they are.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

4 thoughts on “Should You Hire People Who Are Better Than You?

  1. My professional organizational life took place in academia. Some of the issues in the Ivory Tower are unique, but as with most corporate situations competition is fierce. When I had the chance to hire a second faculty member in my area I knew right away I would go for the most talented individual with the strongest reputation in my field that we could reel into our department. When my new colleague came on board I told him that although I had eight years seniority he and I were to work together as equal partners to build program. The results were profoundly satisfactory professionally and personally. We were able, through the art of persuasion, to bring a third faculty member into our area. That program is now one of the top three graduate programs in the U.S. in that field, drawing students from around the globe. When I took the job in 1987 the program was moribund. I attribute all of our success to the fact that I was willing to hire someone with a bigger name than mine in the field and then tell him sraight off that we were equal partners. Not only did this approach deliver positive results, we had a great deal of fun in the process of accomplishing all of our goals.


  2. Dear Larry,

    Yes you are correct.

    One should hire people better than you and aspire to be NOT “the smartest person in the room” but the person who hires “the smartest people that can be found”. This might qualify you as the wisest person in the room.

    .Maybe Talent Plus should offer training on “How to feel comfortable hiring people smarter than you”.

    In my experience, this kind of wise hiring happens rarely.

    However, when they are hired away, that makes me feel like I have done the right thing in supporting their growth and development, though it does mean more work.

    Thanks for surfacing this,

    Chris Handley


    • @ Chris Handley I like the distinction between being the smartest person and being the wisest person. I think it takes a certain kind of Ego to hire people smarter than you. We spend a lot of time coaching leaders on this.


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