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6 Things Smart Leaders Do When Hiring People Smarter Than They Are

People are everything. But even good leaders get it wrong sometimes.

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BY Alexa von Tobel - 10 Apr 2018

Out of size. Last puzzle piece.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Any good leader knows that your most critical decision is how you hire and who you work with. People are your best capital, and your biggest asset. And if you get it wrong, it is literally the difference between success and failure.

Elon Musk once said that a company "is only as good as its people and how excited they are about creating." The smartest leaders are really comfortable hiring people who are much smarter than they are, who will push them with diverse thinking.

Yes, finding and hiring talent is a skill you have to develop. Here are six key critical steps to being good at it:

1. Have a talent philosophy

It's no surprise I often work with people who I consider to be much smarter and much better and more talented than me. And I actively look for people who are different from me and have differing opinions. I'm not looking for people to tell me I'm right or that my ideas are the best. We all should have people to tell us that we're wrong and make our ideas better.

2. Stay current in the market

Not only do you need to know the best recruiters -- I love places like Rich Talent Group -- but you also need to understand the changing landscape. I'm singling out Jana Rich and her team because their roster is living, breathing and changing. This is an evolving world. The industry's evolving. The talent is evolving. So what worked in a role yesterday doesn't necessarily work tomorrow. But in addition to working with a top-notch recruiting firm, whenever I run a process I always spend a significant amount of time asking our own team who they think are some of the best and brightest, which always leads me down a different path from where I would go if I hadn't asked those questions.

3. Run a tight process

Hiring shouldn't be a willy-nilly little bit of this, little bit of that. Have a list of thorough questions and a grading process that everyone shares. Ask for other views, and set up a hiring team that will do the interviews up front so that you get consistency.

4. Put in the energy

Do interviews on video or in person. Not only are you looking for how people are answering questions verbally but you're also looking for all the nonverbal cues. What they did say? What didn't they say? What's their body language telling you? How are they responding -- or not? And make sure your focus is at its best. The day after an all-nighter is not the time to screen talent. You can't execute this crucial piece of the process if you're barely paying attention yourself.

5. Look for self-awareness

One thing I often look for in talent is that they have a really good sense of what they're good and bad at. It's totally OK for people to be bad at things. It's not totally OK for people to have no idea what they're bad at. I love to ask, "What feedback have you heard from multiple people?" Because if you're married, you've heard it from your boss and your spouse. And if it's something you're really bad at, you've heard it over and over. I need people to have a good sense of where their weaknesses are.

6. Onboard your talent

Set them up well and set them up for success, and have a 30-60-90 day plan once they're in the building. That includes being extremely clear about roles, accountabilities and responsibilities. Check in to make sure you're doing your end of the bargain -- which is supporting them.

People are everything. Keep this famous Steve Jobs quote in the back of your head -- "We're here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?" -- when you're embarking on a search.

And -- most importantly -- when you know in your gut you made the wrong decision, it's on you to change it quickly. Listen. One of my best board members once said to me, "when you're hiring senior talent if you get it right 70 percent of the time, you're doing a solid job." And so that's why your 30-60-90 day plan is so critical. It's on you to be honest to the organization when you got it wrong.

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