E-Canteen Fundas: As a leader, surround yourselves with people smarter than you with no qualms  

A secure leader surrounds himself with people smarter than himself and brings the best out of each individual and the team
What he says | (Pic: Edexlive)
What he says | (Pic: Edexlive)

‘Sometimes, I wonder how Chandra sir became Head of Science Department,’ said Rahul sipping on his lime juice. ‘All others in the department are much smarter than him.’

‘But he gets the results,’ said Rinku. ‘Our Science Department is one of the best. Thanks to the rest of his team perhaps. He’s lucky. In any other place, he might not have found a spot in the Department itself.’

‘Interesting,’ said Rakesh. ‘So, who according to you should be leading the department?’ 

‘Clearly Roshan sir,’ said Rahul. ‘He’s the smartest of the lot. He won many awards and people really respect him for that.’

‘Yes, bhaiyya,’ said Rinku. ‘I agree.’

‘Hmm,’ said Rakesh. ‘Would you go with someone who knows the science behind how the bus works but does not know how to drive or with someone who can actually drive the bus?’

‘I guess we’ll go with the person who knows how to drive the bus,’ said Rahul. ‘But clearly, the one who understands how the bus works knows more than the driver, no bhaiyya?’

‘Yes,’ said Rakesh. ‘But what matters here is knowing how to drive the bus. Not the theory behind it. Similarly, some people may know more about a subject, but may not know how to lead.’

‘Are you suggesting that a leader need not know more than the others on the team?’ asked Rinku incredulously.

‘That cannot be, bhaiyya,’ said Rahul. ‘To lead an elite team the leader should know more than the others.’

‘Not necessarily,’ said Rakesh. ‘The leader only needs to know how to get the best out of his team. If he knows the subject that’s good, but it’s not a necessary qualification to lead. The greatest leaders in the world don’t need to be great scholars — they need a great vision and should know how to get things done. This might surprise you, but one of the greatest corporate leaders, Jack Welch, has, on record, said that he was never the smartest guy in the room.’

‘Whoa,’ said Rinku. ‘Then, how did he lead? Others would have had no respect for him, right?’

‘He knew how to get things done,’ said Rakesh. He knew how to ask the right questions, guide discussions correctly and get everyone to work for a common purpose — in short, he knew how to lead. On the other hand, many smart people who are good at their work might not be good leaders — they get stuck in ego hassles, have people issues, a limited vision and so on. So you see, it’s a wrong notion to think that just because someone plays well, we must make them the captain. It could compromise the entire team.’

‘Are you saying we should keep the smartest ones away from leadership positions?’ asked Rahul.

‘No,’ said Rakesh. ‘I’m saying, pick the best leader. A good leader will automatically get the best people on the bus and manage them well. Jack Welch says that from the first person he hired, he was never the smartest guy in the room. Which means that he picked people smarter than himself, people who knew more than he did.’

‘Whoa,’ said Rinku. ‘He must have felt pretty insecure and stupid.’

‘Not at all,’ laughed Rakesh. ‘Only a very secure leader can do that — hire people smarter than him. That way he can get them to do the best work and get brilliant results. When he gets the results, he’ll not feel insecure or stupid, I can assure you. Like your Chandra sir, I’m sure.’

‘I’m getting a hang of this, bhaiyya,’ said Rinku. ‘We’re used to seeing leaders who surround themselves with mediocre people simply because they’re insecure and cannot handle not being the smartest in the room. Whereas it's actually way smarter if you can get the best brains to work for you to get great results. With a mediocre team, it’s a no-brainer — you’ll only get mediocre results.’

‘Absolutely,’ said Rakesh. ‘Which is why we need more secure leaders in this world who have smart people around and listen to their ideas. Jack Welch goes as far as to say that if you’re a leader and you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’ve got real problems.’

‘That’s so counter-intuitive but so true,’ said Rahul. ‘It could be a measure of a good leader then — how many smart people he has around him and how he’s getting the best from them. On the other hand, the leaders who surround themselves with yes-men are not going to get the best results surely, since it’s only one man’s wisdom, and that too, an insecure man’s wisdom. It’s bound to end up poorly.’

‘That’s right,’ said Rinku. ‘I like the vision of having world leaders like Chandra sir — listening to everyone, letting everyone speak, asking the right questions, nudging them in the right direction and managing egos to facilitate great work. All they do is hold the space and create a good environment quietly. People hardly know they exist, but everything gets done. How brilliant is that.’

‘True,’ said Rakesh. ‘And while at that, they’re quietly developing leaders by pushing their team members’ boundaries, allowing them to take risks and giving them more responsibility.’

‘Wonderful, bhaiyya,’ said Rinku, raising her cold coffee. ‘To more secure leaders and to a better world.’

Pro Tip: A secure leader surrounds himself with people smarter than himself and brings the best out of each individual and the team. On the other hand, an insecure leader is the smartest person in the room, which may lead to poor results.

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