Should I Keep Hiring People Smarter Than Me? Ask Madeleine

Woman Hands Typing In A Laptop In A Coffee ShopDear Madeleine,

I have been managing people for a couple of years now. I enjoy it, and the people who work for me are thriving. My problem is all the new technologies in my field.

I have a good business sense (recent MBA graduate) and I am comfortable with technology but as I continue to hire and manage people with advanced skills, I realize I haven’t the slightest idea how to help them execute their tasks—and I certainly wouldn’t be able to do the job myself in a pinch.

My newer staff members are young and, I feel, much smarter than me in a lot of ways. Is this normal? I feel like I’m out of my league. —Out of My League


Dear Out of My League,

Yes. This is normal. Do you think your CEO would have the vaguest idea how to do your job? No—she is focused on her job and using her skills and strengths to lead the company. That’s what you’re doing, too—although I can relate to your discomfort. As you ascend to senior leadership this is bound to happen. All the new technology makes the difference in skill sets stand out in stark relief.

The most successful managers hire the smartest, most talented, skilled people they can find, even at the risk that their employees will be smarter than they are. It takes a healthy ego to do this! Managing others and helping teams get the best results is a valuable skill in its own right, and your admission of your own lack of knowledge is a testament to your humility and self awareness.

Jim Collins conducted research (in his book Good to Great) about what makes a great leader and he found that it is a combination of humility and fierce resolve. Your concern that your people are better and smarter than you means you are on the right track. So, how do you manage your own discomfort? Here are a couple of ideas.

  • There is no shame in asking your people to give you a little tutorial so you understand their work better.
  • If that doesn’t feel right, invest some time on or even on YouTube to give yourself an idea of what is going on.
  • Make sure the people in your group are properly cross trained so that someone else can pinch hit if you unexpectedly need backup.
  • Focus on constantly upgrading your skills for the jobs you are responsible for—you can be a role model for constant development.
  • Breathe and remember that you can’t be good at everything—that’s why the best work gets done in teams.

Try not to worry too much, Out of My League. If your people are thriving it’s because you’re a good manager. Just keep your eye on maintaining that environment, where your people continue to shine and grow. That’s the job that matters most to you.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

6 thoughts on “Should I Keep Hiring People Smarter Than Me? Ask Madeleine

  1. Great question and great response. I can only reiterate, that as leaders of a team, department, or organization, it is our job to take the organization to the highest level possible. We can not let our “technical limitations” limit the group(s) we lead. So absolutely, if you can get and keep the very best of the best, do it! That makes you a great leader!

  2. “Out of My League” is a mistaken identity as well as a misunderstanding of appropriate roles. Madeline has it right in terms of different people with different skill sets doing different jobs. That’s how it works and often things work well, especially when teams are organized according to the talents needed to be effective and successful.

  3. As an MBA, you should understand that no one person can have expertise in all fields. It is best to fill out your team based on their strengths and based on the needs of the team. You wouldn’t expect your catcher to fill in for your left fielder, or your pitcher to be a designated hitter.
    Take advantage of people’s strengths, but cross-train as well, based on strengths and interests. That way you’re not stuck when someone takes an extended leave of absence.
    But as the manager, you should know a little about each of the roles on your team, or how can you lead them, or create a coherent project?
    Madeleine, thanks for fielding this question. Good summary.

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