Hiring Employees: Skill or Leadership?

Our industry is full of micro-geniuses. I once hired a kid  that failed out of Purdue University's Computer Science program as my head network engineer.

Not sure why he failed out, and I still don't particularly care. I hired him because he was an absolute genius, and he made it through the gauntlet of tests and labs required to work for me. In fact, he scored higher than 92% of all other applicants of all time.

But hiring geniuses should come with a warning label. The more brilliant the star, the more concentrated their skills. The super-geniuses, in fact, may be missing a whole slew of skills including, but not limited to:

Social skills
Empathy with customers
Ability to meet deadlines

I once had a company whose lead engineer invented some type of classified technology that makes all satellite communication possible. My contact at this company would repeatedly tell me stories of how brilliant this guy was. They would also lead to stories about how one day he was out with a weed whacker trimming the grass by his driveway, and he got so enthralled thinking about how the weed whacker worked from a physics standpoint that his wife had to come outside to remind him that he had been standing in a torrential downpour in a dangerous thunderstorm for the last 25 minutes.

He had no idea. He was too lost in thought.

Like I said. They should come with a warning label.

There are also natural born leaders. These are people who can thrill, motivate, and command respect from everyone they meet. They are the leaders of our military and of our great multinational companies. They are the power behind non-profits that feed and educate the world.

Given the two extremes, which one should you hire? The genius or the leader?

Both have their pros and cons. The genius has to be isolated from sensitive employees and customers. The leader certainly will not have the skill set that the genius has.

The simple answer is that you hire the genius for technical needs and leaders for management and executive level positions. Why? because leadership can be taught 100 times quicker than technical genius. An ancient Chinese proverb states:

You will become red when you are close to crimson, and you will become black when you are close to black ink.  So, surround yourself with positive, uplifting people.
Thus, when you take a genius and surround him or her with leaders, they themselves will begin to lead. Give them training and teach them the wonders of interpersonal relationships, and they will quickly become a valuable asset.

Of course, you have to have leaders on staff to begin with...

Reprinted with Permission from How To Supercharge Your Computer Service

Comments (2)

Ted BouskillSoftware Development Manager
Top Expert 2009

I'm going to respectfully disagree with your article.

Leadership, Managerial, Technical Skills, Problem Solving et cetera can be enhanced with training and by working with others.  I've managed to enahnce people skills with technical geniuses that were lacking in that category.

However, top notch Leaders are as rare as technical geniuses because I believe they are Leadership geniuses.

In fact, I think many people confuse Management with Leadership.  Managerial skills are far easier to teach but read this article on top Leadership Qualities:

Vision, Integrity, Dedication, Magnanimity, Humility, Openness, Creativity, Fairness, Assertiveness and even a Sense of Humor.  Those are NOT easily taught and are core values that a person has from very early life.

Yes you can train most people to be great employees, but real leaders are as Napoleon Bonaparte said "Dealers in Hope" and that is a rare gift.
I'll say this: anyone can learn about configuring servers, deploying an enterprise-class IT solution, connect seven continents together over the Internet; anyone with a drive to learn will learn.  What's more difficult to change is someone's personality.  I would rather have someone who may not know that much off the bat, but is driven to succeed, has a great personality, works well and motivates others, sets an example, and shows up on time, than a genius who just gets the job done but is otherwise a mixed bag to work with.

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