Recently, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor talked with Charlie Rose to discuss her new memoir, "My Beloved World."
There was moment in the interview about 12 minutes into the interview that resonated with me. It was an answer to Rose's question "Have you had great mentors?"
She answered simply and confidently:
"Tremendous mentors. And each one of them taught me something very important. Every one of them has hired people who they thought were smarter than they. I understand you do the same thing. I have been told that…I’m told by the President that he does that. … to have the confidence not to be challenged by people who are smarter in a negative way…not to be afraid of them but to grow yourself from them is wonderful, wonderful characteristic."
Rose added: Also, you have to be careful you don’t intimidate people. One who has power has to make sure that the power doesn’t intimate someone so they don’t tell you what you need to know to do your job best."
She replied, “I actually have a beginning conversation with my law clerks each year. And I sit them down and tell them “I don't hire yes people. You will have failed me if you think I am wrong and don’t challenge me to think different.”
It's common wisdom that is generally uncommon in the real workplace.
Whether conscious or unconscious, some manger's hire people who they feel won't eclipse them. Many years ago, an executive consultant told me, "... she would like to hire you but is worried you will outshine her." I replied that, an insecure manager may be the scariest of all the leadership types."
If you read enough Marshall Goldsmith and other leadership coaches, it's obvious that what keeps managers from reaching higher levels of leadership are personality traits that undermine your ability to motivate and garner respect.
Yes, there will be ambitious people nipping at your heels, but if your focus is on creating great work and great teams, then hire up.
Here's a link to the interview: