In Business, Don’t Surround Yourself With Smarter People
There is a saying in business that people like to throw around. I am sure you have heard it many times. It goes something like this.
“Good leaders succeed by surrounding themselves with people who are smarter than they are.”
I think that is a bunch of garbage.
As a founder of 5 startups what I have learned is this.
Surround yourself with people who share your vision.
I learned this the hard way.
There are plenty of people out there who are smarter than me. I think my kids are smarter than me, but I wouldn’t want them involved in my business.
Overall Intelligence Does Not Equal Emotional Intelligence
In any business, but especially start-ups, things go wrong every day. Every startup that I know of has had a near death experience. And many established companies go through similar problems. You want people around you who can think clearly and develop plan b,c, & d. You don’t want people who “check out” because they can’t handle the stress.
I had one operating partner who was very smart. The problem was he could not control his emotions during the difficult times. He would lash out and begin to destroy relationships that were trying to help him succeed. Every time business life became tough, he mentally checked out.
There is a personality type you need to be aware of in business. When the startup goes through a difficult time, some founders will begin to make impulsive and poor decisions. They self-sabotage. They can’t walk away and admit they cannot handle the job. Instead, they subliminally try to kill the company with poor decisions. This is a tough condition to manage and you need to get those personalities out of the company fast.
Big Names Don’t Mean Big Brains
I have founded businesses alone, with celebrities and with well-known business leaders. Just because someone is famous or got a lucky break, does not make them any smarter than you. Let me give you an example.
One of the businesses I found was a pure play e-commerce brand. I was lucky enough to land a few huge business guys as investors and board members. My original business plan laid out exactly how to spend the funds we had to scale the business online. Almost my entire plan was focused on using digital tactics that have worked for many other businesses.
But these guys were more traditionally focused marketers and steered me in the direction of offline media. They did not understand the digital world as I did and focused on where they were comfortable. I allowed them to refocus me in a different direction. Primarily because they had achieved so much success in their careers, they were obviously smarter than I was.
After spending millions of dollars and close to two years of time, we were not reaching the results we needed. So I convinced everyone to pivot to a purely digital spend. This focus achieved the results, but at a time when we had very little funding left. This pivoting put us in a position of needing to raise more capital at an expensive rate. Had we followed this path from the beginning, the outcome would have been far different.
Always be honest
Fake it till you make it is a mantra for some startup founders. I believe in stretching the truth as much as the next guy. But never tell a bold faced lie. Especially when it comes to verifiable facts. One of my partners could not tell the truth if his life depended on it. Even when the truth was better than the lie, he would still lie!
He would lie about the financials when speaking to potential investors. So by the time I got involved with the conversation, my numbers were real, but not what they had previously heard. As you can imagine, this caused many issues and many failed deals.
His logic was that he would say anything to get them interested so they would move onto the next step. Once they got into 2 or three phone calls, they would like us, and like the business so much, they would forget about the little lies. The point he failed to realize was that he created mistrust which killed many deals.
All of these issues caused by how we choose our partners, affect the success of the company. Most of these people were smarter than I was. But we did not share the same vision for where we were heading or what we were trying to achieve with the business. This led to a lot of confrontations, arguments and wasted time.
Some people will tell you that confrontation is good in business. It is not. It is a time and energy waste. It also shows a disconnect in the vision. Debating strategy, results and opportunities is very healthy in business. But that is not done through confrontation. That healthy debate is achieved by surrounding yourself with people who share a vision of what success looks like.
Don’t surround yourself with smart people. Surround yourself with people who can help you succeed. People who share your vision of what success is.