On the other hand, you must admit that you have a healthy ego. What would happen if everyone you hired had an ego like yours? Would anything get done? Would there be non-stop debate with little real progress? Would your employees be at each others' throats jockeying for control? Would they question every decision you make?
What's the alternative?
I guess you could hire people who aren't quite as smart as you and don't have as strong an ego as you do. That way, they'll look up to you and you can do your job: Lead. They will follow.
Of course down the line a bit as your company grows, these people will need to hire. If they have the same philosophy, the next set of hires will be less smart than the previous. A few more iterations like that and you have a company filled with mediocre people. This doesn't sound like the path to success. It's certainly not the philosophy that was employed by companies like IBM, Microsoft, and Google.
But if instead, you decide to hire people who are as smart as you are, or, if it were even possible, smarter than you are, what's going to happen with all of these egos? Hmm.
What do you think of when someone says Jane has a very strong ego? Is this someone who is overconfident and unwilling to take direction or ask questions?
Not for me. I find that people with truly strong egos are so comfortable with themselves that they can take criticism and apply it to make themselves better, have the confidence to know that they can learn whatever they don't know, and have the core ego that will allow them to ask questions when they don't understand something without fear of looking stupid.
If you can find people like this, you're on your way to success, assuming you can manage them. More on that later.
Let's take a quick look at the first part of that statement. How do you find superior people with these types of strong egos?
As backwards as it may sound, as a first step, I like to contact references. I can tell the references what I'm looking for and get their takes on how the candidate would fit. I can actually ask the reference what questions I should ask the candidate to ferret out the qualifications I'm looking for and to best assess the candidates' strengths and weaknesses.
Next, I like group interviews. First, it shows respect for the candidate's time. Rather than going from person to person where the preliminaries include asking the same up front questions, these get done one time with the entire interviewing team. Instead of several individual interviews lasting 30 minutes to an hour each, you have one interview lasting one to two hours.
Yes, it may be a bit intimidating. But this is the real world and if the candidate is going to fit our strong-ego requirement, s/he will rise to the occasion.
In a group interview, the candidate gets to meet the team s/he will be working with, see the team's internal interactions, and determine if s/he will fit in to this group. At the same time, the team can ask questions and one interviewer can build on another's questions. This can be very productive and in some technical interviews, I've actually seen interviews turn into dynamic design sessions. The candidate left excited about the creative opportunity and the team couldn't wait to have their new team member on board, joining in the next design session.
Before ending the group interview, once I'm convinced the person has the skills for the job, I talk directly about ego and self-confidence; about taking criticism and applying it to become more successful; about our philosophy that if your ego is strong enough, no one's feelings get hurt when ideas are criticized. I often test their responses to criticism and try to assess to what degree they'll defend an idea. My team members usually jump in both confronting and defending the candidate.
Then I do a sneaky thing. I lay out a challenging situation - maybe a technical design, maybe a marketing plan: a situation that would involve the candidate were s/he hired. In the course of describing this challenge, I purposefully leave something major out and watch the candidate's response. If the candidate confidently asks a question without fear of appearing stupid, we're on. Otherwise, if s/he nods his or her head like they get it all, I point out the fact that they didn't ask critical questions and thank them for their time.
It may sound a bit brutal, but it works.
Now, once you've found your '10s', you need to be able to manage them and earn their respect. Managing people with the strong egos we've discussed requires a different approach. We'll look at that in my next post.