10 Rules for Entrepreneurs: Hire People Who Know More Than You Do

by Lynnette Nolan | Feb 23, 2012
It’s National Entrepreneurship Week in the U.S., and in honor of the celebration I’d like to continue on with my 10 Rules for Entrepreneurs and talk about Rule #6, “Grow your team. Hire people who know more than you do.”

The idea of hiring people who know more than you do seems obvious and most CEOs don’t have a problem with it. No CEO is going to turn down an opportunity to hire a really great engineer, for example. But often it’s a different story when it comes to senior management, the people who report directly to the CEO. Really smart and competent people in these positions can be threatening to some CEOs, and rightly so. Nearly anyone in a senior management position thinks about where they go next in their careers, and the answer often is “I’d like to be a CEO myself someday. Most CEOs came up through the management ranks themselves and were once VPs of Marketing, Engineering, Finance, etc., so they know what it’s like. CEOs with even the slightest insecurity (and most of us have some) may be uncomfortable hiring someone who could potentially turn out to be smarter and more competent than they are.

So sometimes a really great hire is passed over with the rationalization that “s/he’s too aggressive, won’t fit in, will threaten other members of the team, has too many opinions, is arrogant, etc. Often these rationalizations are simply the result of the CEO’s own insecurities. My solution to banishing such rationalizations is to try to honestly work myself out of a job. It probably won’t come to that, of course, because in reality CEOs rarely get fired for hiring great teams.

I’d like to think that most of my VPs are smart enough that they could step into my job if necessary, and do a pretty good job of it. In fact, this helps make my job gets easier and more fun. I can tell you that it’s great to be able to go away for a couple of weeks knowing that the company will run just as well without me as it does when I am there. To use a baseball analogy, the coach doesn’t need to be able to play shortstop, or first base, or outfield. He just needs a strategy for the team and know how to hire the players who can execute on that strategy.

When you have a team that knows more than your do, every day can be a great learning experience. My VPs know more about marketing, engineering, operations, finance, and so forth, than I do, and consequently every day I learn from them. Strategy discussions among my team are as intense and exhausting as a late night college debate. This makes coming to work fun and exhilarating and we are stronger together as a team.

If you’re a CEO or aspire to be one, you’ll never stop needing to learn. How will you learn unless every member of your team knows more than you do?

-Dave Friend, Carbonite CEO