Great Leaders Surround Themselves With Smart People

Leadership is a team sport.  It is not about what one person does, but instead the cumulative actions of everyone in an organization. Sure, a leader has to make some pretty important decisions at times that might require bypassing consensus or collaboration, but those are few and far between when you look at the big picture.  Success requires broad embracement of ideas where people are motivated to change because they want to, not necessarily because they are forced to. It’s both a two-way street and a give and takes relationship.  Effective leaders rely on the expertise of others regardless of where they are in the organizational hierarchy. 

The best leaders surround themselves with intrinsically motivated individuals who will not only perform at a high level with little oversight but will also push the leader to reflect and grow continually.  One of the most important decisions a leader can make is either through hiring new employees or placing current staff in a position to lead change even if he or she doesn’t have a specific title.  Steve Jobs famously said, “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.” Don’t ever think you have the best ideas or answers because you don’t. If you work with someone who thinks he or she does, then that person is not a leader.  Leadership means we must be willing to check our pride at the door if leading change and success are the ultimate goals.



Always try to hire or surround yourself with people that are smarter than you. This should be the most natural part of a two-step process.  The next step requires giving up some control and trust.  It is this next step where great leaders get out of the way of people who have been empowered for their respective expertise. When I think back to my time as a principal, I tried hard to embody this.  When a math position opened many years ago, I hired Kanchan Chellani.  She didn’t tell me what to do per se, but little did she know that her actions did.  Her ability to effectively implement and model flipped learning in a pedagogically-sound way sent the message to me as a leader that I needed to work better to support the rest of the math department in this area. 

Another great example was the hiring of Laura Fleming.  I desperately needed an innovative leader in the library who could transform the space in a quick amount of time.  She hit the ground running and had full control over her budget and the autonomy to make any decision related to the space that would benefit our learners.  Successfully launching a makerspace was what she is known for, but her real impact was how she empowered learners regardless of labels and perceived abilities to find success in ways that they never had.  Laura not only transformed the space but her actions and resolve helped to transform the entire learning culture of the school and ultimately the district. Her creation of a micro-credential platform came well before any companies began to monetize them and pushed our teachers to learn in different ways regardless of time or place.

Being told what to do can come in many forms. Laura and Kanchan represented just two of the many teachers that I hired as a principal who indirectly told me what I should do through their actions.  There were also may other teacher leaders, as well as members of my admin team, who were not only wicked smart but also leveraged the professional relationship they had with me to guide me in a better direction at times. Depending on others for guidance and wisdom is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it a definitive sign of strength. Effective leadership relies on making smart decisions. Make it easy on yourself. Hire or surround yourself with smart people, get out of their way, and don’t be afraid to let them “tell” you what to do. You need these people in your circle if you want to succeed as a leader. 


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