“No, JT, that’s wrong.”

Our Head of Manuscript was schooling me on book writing. And you know what? She was 100% correct.

I insisted on some changes to our process, but she went down the list, point by point, telling me why my ideas were wrong.

I’ve always been open about the fact that I’m CEO of a publishing company and I don’t know the difference between an adverb and a pronoun.

That’s no secret.

But even knowing that, I overestimate my knowledge sometimes. That’s why it’s so crucial to be surrounded by people who are smarter than me (like our Head of Manuscript).

Finally she said, “If we follow your plan, it will cut down on the time to publish a book, but the experience will be worse for our Authors.”

She was right, and I was wrong. And this made me so happy.

If You’re the Smartest Person in the Room, You’re in the Wrong Room

I’ve made a conscious effort to surround myself with people who are smarter than me.

They can tell me when I’m full of crap and when we should make changes in parts of the company I’m not as knowledgeable about, like writing and cover design.

As a Business Leader, the last thing you want in your company is to surround yourself with yes people.

That doesn’t do you or anyone else any good. Nobody who’s honest and intelligent will tell you how phenomenal you are all the time.

If you want a pat on the back, call your mom. If you want to build and grow a successful company, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

And no, I’m not saying you should surround yourself with a bunch of Stanford and Harvard MBAs.

Not at all.

People who are smarter than you simply means they know more about their area of the company than you.

That means they’ll question you. They’ll make you explain your points and ask you to walk them through your thinking.

And I get it—there’s a reason most people don’t do this.

It’s challenging. It threatens your ego. You’ll find out when you’re wrong. People will question your moves more than you’d like.

Sound annoying? It can be HaHaHa!

But here’s the alternative…

You hear people shout your praises mindlessly, ESPECIALLY when you don’t deserve it.

You tell them to take a terrible plan of action, and they respond with, “You’re brilliant!”

You give your Finance team a pointless plan that will lose your company thousands. “That’s a phenomenal idea!”

Your company becomes an echo chamber: people only tell you what you want to hear. Suddenly there are no checks and balances. You lose money, and quality people—the smart ones who will question you—leave because their voices aren’t valued.


That’s how you stifle your company and ultimately ensure that it fails: make yourself the smartest in the room at all times.

Do you want that, or do you want something more instead?

A Legacy Larger than You

Ask yourself what legacy you want to leave for your company.

If you surround yourself with people who are far smarter than you, your company’s success will mushroom out beyond you and the people around you.

Here’s exactly how that happens…

As the people around you watch your behavior, they will also be uninterested in being the smartest in the room.

Your example will encourage EVERYONE to surround themselves with people who are far smarter than them.

In that scenario, it’s a Virtuous Cycle: everyone’s plans and ideas are questioned, which makes you all better leaders.

Imagine how quickly and how big a company like that would grow.

But if all you want to do is be the smartest in the room—to protect your ego or flex your intelligence—have at it.

Your company’s growth will stop with you.

But if you want a legacy that’s bigger than you, surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

Are You Willing to Be Challenged?

I meet with our Head of Manuscript multiple times a week. Sometimes it’s so I can teach her about Leadership, sometimes it’s so she can tell me how wrong I am about the book-writing process.

She can tell me what’s going on in her department, ideas for how to scale it, and questions that have come up.

She is far smarter than me when it comes to writing manuscripts and owning that process.

And yes, if I’m trying to insist on something stupid, she can look at me and say, “JT, that doesn’t work.” Or, “JT, why would you want to do that?”

And you know something? When she, or anyone else in our company, tells someone I’m wrong, we listen EVEN IF WE’RE CERTAIN WE’RE RIGHT.

That way we can at least see WHY they believe we’re wrong.

It’s challenging being surrounded by people who are smarter than you. That’s always the goal.

If you want to protect your ego and have people singing your praises, never questioning your beliefs and your ideas, that’s great. This isn’t for you.

But if you want to grow a company that’s bigger than you and your abilities, then surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.