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Be Bold; Be a Stronger Finance Leader: Hire People That Are Better Than You

It’s easy to be cautious when you’re hiring and much, much harder to be bold.

As a recruitment expert I’ve seen many hiring managers who are totally comfortable to surround themselves with people with more experience, more expertise or more intelligence than them, but I’ve also seen the converse, and unfortunately, too often.

The reasons for under-hiring for experience, or smarts, are multiple. However, all of these reasons really come down to one of two factors, or fears: the fear you will not be able to provide long-term career options to someone who’s chipping at your heels, or the fear that, as a leader, you might be exposed, or undercut, by someone who, potentially, might be more respected, create better solutions or achieve better results.

But, we also know that many great leaders in today’s business world credit their success to surrounding themselves with the best people possible. And it makes sense. Surely we all want the most intelligent, the most experienced, and the most knowledgeable people working for us. So, how can you change that mind-set, and how might you approach leading people “better” than you?

Make the shift: accept that you are no longer an individual contributor
The first stage, as always, is acceptance. We all understand the value in letting go of the tasks of your reports’ jobs in effectively freeing you up as a leader. You can’t do your reports’ jobs, so as a leader, your role is to ensure that the people performing those jobs are the best qualified, best equipped and best led to achieve the best possible outcomes. Accepting that your job is not to do your report’s job, but to lead is vital to taking a step back from focusing on whether this person is more of an expert than you.

Calm your inner ego: realise you don’t need to outsmart them
Even if you’ve come up through the ranks in the role you’re hiring for, don’t assume you know best. Times changes, businesses evolve and companies differ, so if you value innovation in any shape or form, allowing your new hire to come up with solutions, using their own expertise is essential. And, all the better if they have five more years’ experience than you in two other industries, with four other systems. Learn from it, and leverage it.

Give smarter, or more experienced, hires space: don’t assert authority on areas you don’t understand. As you progress as a leader, you’ll take on increasing responsibility for areas that aren’t within your area of knowledge. And as a leader, you know you can’t possibly develop niche expertise in every area your team covers, which means that you have to rely on others to provide you with the right information. It makes sense hire in someone smarter, better, more experienced to cover statutory accounting if you’re a strong commercial finance head, so give them space to do their job and come to you with the right numbers and analyses. In fact, it’ll also reduce your workload. Hire smarter, be stronger.
Show everyone your value: do what you do best
Finally, a very obvious but commonly overlooked point. Worrying that you might be exposed in certain areas that you don’t have as much experience in is a natural concern. But why should that matter, as your job is not to be an SME in all areas, it’s to lead a team of SMEs to deliver the best outcomes. Likewise, if you still provide subject matter expertise on certain subjects, take any conflicts on the chin as healthy debate, and an opportunity to reassess and challenge the status quo. Focusing on what you do best, and demonstrating your ability to lead others to deliver common goals is why you have been selected to lead, so why wouldn’t you hire the best possible people to support you and your business to move forward?

And if that means taking their “smarter”, “better” advice on certain subjects, all the better. There’s no doubt it will make you a stronger, not a weaker leader.

Read more: Knight, R., “How to Manager People Who Are Smarter Than You” HBR

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