Surround Yourself By People Smarter Than You

I recall when Ross Perot ran for President in 1992.  I was 18 years old and fresh with optimism and a little scared that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing or where I was heading.  I remember hearing that he attributed much of his success to surrounding himself by people that were smarter than him.

The guy’s net worth was close to $3.5 billion and he was running for president so that was likely enough of a reason to heed his advice. But more than anything, it resonated with me.

I’ve applied this advice in my career over and over and the more I do, the more I believe.  None of us are perfect so the way to get closer to perfect is to compliment yourself with people that have skills that you don’t.

I’m a very high level strategic thinker but I don’t like getting mired down in the details.  I have always have staff that work for me that are great with the details.  I come up with the high level direction, they make it happen. And keep me out of the weeds.  And out of trouble!

My staff meetings closely resemble a spirited high school debate as opposed to a bunch of folks sitting around telling me what I want to hear.  We are respectful, but there isn’t one person that won’t tell me I’m wrong.  I highly value my own opinion, (who doesn’t?), but I don’t need a bunch of folks that share my opinion. I need the devil’s advocate.  I need the conservative, glass half-empty and “what if” people.  I need the “what if we tried it this way?”  I need help remembering that if we go this route, “we might piss some people off”.  Now that’s collaboration that creates great results.

How to achieve this in your work place?

1) As in most things in business, it starts at the top.  The management team really needs to believe that every person has value and brings some unique skill to the table.  The culture needs to value diversity, frankness and kindness.

2) The second element required is that there has to be a solid level of trust. It must be a safe environment.  That means that folks are loyal to each other and the group or organization.  I just read a great article that Deepak wrote, “How to Win Loyalty From Other People” (

He says, “Although money is often seen as a prime motivator, ultimately the bonds that hold an enterprise together are psychological. Important data gathered indicates that loyalty is one of the top three things that make workers feel satisfied.”  To promote loyalty, Deepak recommends:  1) getting rid of gossip, 2) be sympathetic and open to people you work with, 3) competition with co-workers is healthy, but rivalry is counterproductive.  Remind folks that we are all on the same team, 4) get to know your co-workers on a personal level, 5) share your success, 6) don’t keep secrets and 7) remind yourself that there is no “I” in “we. In other words, you can’t do it all by yourself. Be humble.

3) The third element necessary once you’ve developed a solid, loyal team with a strong foundation of trust is healthy communication.  I was in a leadership seminar, {Pat Richie of the Table Group, check out their web site,, and best-selling books}, a few weeks ago about increasing organizational health.  The small group I was in came up with the following on communication in meetings:

  • No one gets to exercise their “Miranda rights”.  In other words, if you are in the meeting, you are sharing your opinion.  Folks don’t get paid good money to sit around nodding their heads and doing the “yes man” thing.  If you have folks that aren’t contributing, tell them they don’t need to come to the meetings anymore.  I guarantee they’ll start being contributors if there is a risk they won’t be invited back.
  • Respectfully listen to everyone.  I mean listen.  Don’t sit there thinking about what you are going to say next.  In my meetings, particularly meetings with my staff, I make sure I do not sit in front of my computer and I turn my phone off. I try very hard not to take calls or let people interrupt while we are meeting.
  • Encourage spirited debate.  In our culture, people do not like conflict. So they don’t disagree with someone to their face.  They wait until after the meeting so there can be a bunch of side bar meetings where people then voice their disagreement.  Pat recommended that healthy communication needed to be almost to the point of being adversarial.
  • Finally, my group coined the term “violent agreement”.  In other words, the group needs to commit that when we walk out of the meeting, we are all in agreement with the decision that was made.  We’ll be a united front.  The discussion was had, everyone voiced their opinion, the boss made the ultimate decision and we’re all going to kumbaya.  Ok, well maybe not that sappy but we at least know we aren’t throwing each other under the bus.

There is value in every individual of an organization, from the intern to the CEO and everyone in between.  Employees are any organization’s greatest assets. Get the most out of yours by surrounding yourself by folks smarter than you, which compliment your skills and get the most out of them by promoting a culture of loyalty and communication.


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