Science of Success

'I would never hire the smartest person in the room,' says one CEO—here's why

Kawamura | Twenty20

Whenever someone asks me for advice on hiring, I always fall back on the wise words of Steve Jobs: "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."

Through my many years of interviewing and hiring, I've found that too many candidates try to come off as the "genius" who has all the answers. But what they don't understand is that great leaders aren't looking to hire a smart, competitive, know-it-all who constantly tries to outshine everyone.

After years of working at massive corporations — and even launching a successful beverage company, Hint — I've always tried to be humble about what I don't know and surround myself with people who are more knowledgeable than I am.

So when it comes to growing my company, I never hire the candidate who comes off as the "smartest person in the room." Why? Because someone who lacks interest in spending time around people who are more intelligent than them won't help to make them (or their team) better at their jobs.

Don't let your ego get in the way of success

According to James Flynn, author of "Does Family Make You Smarter?" and Emeritus Professor at the University of Otago's Department of Psychology, people can "upgrade" their own intelligence by surrounding themselves with smart co-workers, friends and family members.

It's also important to understand that not being the smartest person in the room isn't about being the dumbest person in the room. Instead, it's about not believing that you're the smartest person in the room.

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.
Steve Jobs

If you let your ego get in the way, you're more prone to ignoring the ideas of others. As a leader, I value people who have strong delegation skills — and those who think that no one can do the job as well as they can often struggle with delegation.

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Recognize the skills you don't have

If you want to be successful in your career (and in life), you should always be self-aware about your weaknesses.

If you're in a meeting, for example, ask yourself: What about this topic do I not know the answers to? Where do I feel like I'm struggling to figure things out, whereas someone with expertise might do things more efficiently?

There's a good reason why I love working with people who don't think like me: Seeking out varied opinions has helped me and my company grow.

Find mentors who have the skills you don't have

Once you've identified the areas that you lack knowledge in, seek out people who have more experience in those areas.

For example, you could attend conferences in your chosen field more regularly and try to network. Or maybe there is someone who is more senior at your company; ask them out to lunch and pick their brain or have a deep conversation about what they do.

LinkedIn is another great resource for finding and reaching out to mentors. You'd be surprised by people's willingness to share their knowledge and help you fill the gaps and challenges you're looking to solve.

Kara Goldin is the founder and CEO of Hint, a flavored water brand. She also hosts and produces the podcast "Unstoppable," where she interviews inspiring entrepreneurs.

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