Building the A Team: Why Hiring People Smarter Than You is Essential for Success

In my career journey, there's been an important mantra that I've always held close: "Hire people smarter than you." This fundamental principle has always guided my approach in building successful teams. Why? Because I firmly believe that surrounding yourself with the best talent is the key to achieving success.

True leadership is about lifting the team up, mentoring, celebrating their strengths and value, empowering their growth, and inspiring them to reach new heights. There's a famous proverb that says, "A rising tide lifts all boats." This rings especially true in the context of team dynamics. Every member of the team plays a vital role, and it's essential to ensure that everyone receives the recognition and credit they deserve. Just like in sports, where championship teams are comprised of star players who work together seamlessly, collaboration and teamwork are the cornerstones of success.

Take, for example, the legendary UConn Huskies, NCAA I Men’s Basketball Champions of March Madness in 2024. Year after year, they dominate the court – resulting in six national championships. What sets them apart isn't just their individual talent; it's their unwavering commitment to teamwork. Each player brings something unique to the table, and together, they form an unstoppable force.

In the business world, the same principles apply. Building the ‘A Team’ means surrounding yourself with individuals who are not only smarter than you, but who also possess diverse perspectives, experiences, and expertise. As a leader, I take pride in hiring exceptional talent and fostering an environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas and insights, and specific area of knowledge and expertise.

doug-blog‘Be Big, Step Up, Step Out, Be Bold – daring to do our best work together,’ written by Judith Katz and Frederick Miller (link), brings a powerful message to drive and instill a vision for inclusion and growth, starting with the growth of our employees as individuals— ultimately fortifying the strength of our teams and strategy. We want our people to feel empowered to reach their full potential, to be more impactful, and to have the space to ‘Be Big’.  The book encourages us to ‘take up more space in the world, have more impact, and be more noticeable.’  “To ‘Be Big’ requires each of us to be bold, to challenge how we have always done things, to show up in a new way,” and it is this mentality that will drive our  individual and collective success.

Therefore, it is not just about assembling a group of smart individuals; it's also about cultivating strong leadership, and inclusion within the team. By supporting the next generation of leaders and fostering a culture of continuous learning and growth, we ensure that our organization remains agile, innovative, and adaptable to change.

Moreover, we recognize the value of diversity in all its forms – whether it's neurodiversity, varying cultural backgrounds, or unique life experiences. Embracing diversity not only enriches our team, but also allows us to better serve our diverse customer base and community.

In conclusion, building ‘the A Team’ isn't about surrounding yourself with followers; it's about empowering leaders. Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie famously said, “Never be so foolish as not to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.” This can be a challenge. It contradicts human nature, as we subconsciously fear being cast out, overshadowed, or replaced —a fear we must learn to identify and overcome.

By hiring people smarter than you, embracing collaboration and teamwork, and fostering a culture of diversity and inclusion, we can achieve remarkable success together. So let's raise the bar, challenge ourselves, and build something truly extraordinary. After all, greatness isn't achieved alone – it's achieved together.


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Doug Magee

Doug Magee is President of Day & Zimmermann Government Services. Day & Zimmermann’s Government Services Group is an integrated provider of mission support solutions to the U.S. Government and commercial clients. Whether the workforce is designing facilities, or operating and maintaining safe locations and assets, the Group’s combined services support the national security mission in the U.S. and abroad.