The Enliven! Blog

Helping Harness Human Capacity

Surrounded by Smart People… and Loving It

In a cogent column in the November 20, 2010, Winnipeg Free Press, John McFerran addresses the topic “It’s safe to hire people smarter than you.” The article encourages ambitious leaders to select as part of their team people who are “smarter” than they are. The idea is that there is more to be gained than lost by surrounding oneself with good, smart people. Examples are provided of wise leaders who have done this. McFerran is of the opinion that wise is the leader who is able to admit that not all the knowledge of the enterprise, or the reasoning ability, or whatever intelligence is required, needs to reside between the ears of the manager!

This is wise advice indeed, for several reasons. Firstly, it opens up the possibilities that key information and new ideas will flow freely in the organization, regardless of rank. Status or role need not be a barrier to the exchange of intelligent critique, comment and creativity. Secondly, it positions the organization for success. Ann emphasis on developing a smart team will result in a ROI, or return on investment. It will also result in a ROS, return on smarts!

McFerran’s advice is ever timely. Some virus seems to infect the brains of those of us who are in charge of something. That virus affects the wisdom portion of the brain, spreading the false message that we are weak when we admit we need help. Wrong!

I would suggest that the process of finding smart people can be aided by defining “smart”. Following the work of Bob Wiele (not me, though the spelling is very close), intelligence can be categorized into a number of useful descriptors. These categories are recognizable to the naked eye, as well as through scientific measurement.

The categories of “smart” are: Creativity, Understanding, Decision Making and Personal Spirit. Starting with the last category, they are defined as follows:

  • Personal Spirit is the ability to view situations, people and problems in a positive light, determined to exercise whatever control is available, resulting in initiatives for positive action. This is as much a skill in thinking as is reasoning or understanding. Think of the benefits to an organization if one or two “personal spirit smarties” were allowed to infiltrate the thought streams of planning, working and implementation.
  • Creativity is the thinking skill used to create new options, whether through brainstorming and problem solving, or through challenging assumptions and visioning. Even the intuitive brain gets put to work, by recognizing that an “aha!’ flash of insight is a form of creativity to be valued.
  • Understanding is the skill set used to understand both information and people. In many organizations, the understanding of people lags behind the processing of information. Do you have a listener on your team, and can your team provide empathy to persons in need of it? Who among you is good at expressing feelings when conflicts cloud judgement and obscure cooperation?
  • Decision making is the preferred activity of many organizations, as it leads to action. If your team members have the skills of finding the root issue, using logic and listening to experience, that is great. All the better if you have people who consult their heart and their values in the choices that are made.

To make your organization more fruitful, spend five minutes underlining the smart skills above which your organization most needs. Then check your observations with others in your group. This will be the start of admitting that you as leader will be happier, smarter and more successful in your mission if you make recruiting of smarts a priority.

Your organization is both smarter than it thinks (has unused assets) and is as smart as it thinks (will act smarter if it intentionally uses these assets)! Sometimes these assets are as easy to find as the person next to you!

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