Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

Surround Yourself With People Smarter Than You

Einstein image via Flickr by Sebastian Niedlich

Einstein image via Flickr by Sebastian Niedlich

Helpers do what you say, while good help does what you need, without you saying anything. People who can help you the most are actually smarter than you, at least in their domain. Top entrepreneurs spend more time putting the right team in place to accomplish their objectives than they spend on any other components of their job.

Some entrepreneurs are so in love with themselves (narcissistic) that they insist on answering every question, and making every decision. That’s not only impossible, but also counterproductive. Effective entrepreneurs team with or employ people who can provide the answers directly, pertinent to their particular area of expertise.

True leaders also know how to move out of the way to let others do what they do best. If you’re working too many hours and following up on every detail you may want to look closer at your team to ensure you’ve surrounded yourself with the right people.

In short, if you can find people with more passion, more knowledge, and more desire to succeed than you have, it will push you to be better and take the organization to new levels. Here are some key characteristics to look for:

  1. Gets things done. Smart people know what’s required, or can figure it out, and are confident enough to make decisions without you. Getting things done is crucial to running a business. Often people with advanced degrees have academic smarts, but are not closers. You can’t afford to make every decision, or follow-up on every action item.
  2. Recommend their own ideas. How often do the people around you recommend sound ideas that you never knew were possibilities? If you’re teaming with people who are smarter than you, you should be frequently surprised with their new ideas and solutions. You will be constantly learning from them.
  3. Passionate and positive. The smart people you want are as positive and passionate about your business as you are. They take ownership and responsibility for their actions. They convince you with their actions and questions that they understand the big picture. They speak confidently and deliberately, rather than defensively.
  4. More listening than talking. Look for team members who are active listeners, where you can see yourself seeking them out for answers, rather than always the other way around. It’s great to team with inexperienced people who are growing so fast, that you can envision working for them soon, or having them take the helm of your business.
  5. Avoid the narcissists. Their energy, self-confidence, and charm make them look smart, but they resist accepting suggestions, thinking it will make them appear weak, and they don’t believe that others have anything useful to tell them. Narcissists will take credit for all successes, and always find someone to blame for their failures and shortcomings.

One of the most important jobs of every entrepreneur, and definitely one of the toughest, is to find and nurture people who are smarter in their roles than you. Resumes don’t provide much of a picture in this regard. Supplement this with networking input, references, and your own personal interactions.

If you are looking for a potential business partner, count on building a relationship over several months, before you really know the person. The business relationship at that level is just as important as a personal relationship before marrying (no overnight affairs). If you are hiring, make sure you have multiple interviews, and input from multiple people on the team to balance your view.

In my view, one of the most important aspects of being a successful entrepreneur is surrounding yourself with people smarter than you. Don’t let your ego get in the way. It’s the best way for you to grow the business, as well as yourself.

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

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