I remember when I first began competing in judo how I dreaded facing Reggie in the finals of every local tournament. He was not a nemesis because he was a friend. If I thought of him as an adversary back then, I know now he was more of an advocate. What was he advocating? That we both be at our best. I do not know that Frazier-Ali, Lochte-Phelps, Gatlin-Bolt would describe each other as advocates but there is something vital about being engaged with someone who pushes you to a higher standard that accelerates and elevates the growth of both of you. If your mindset is on growth, the tension of this type of engagement can increase your focus on committing the effective effort that pushes your capability and capacity, and raises your expectations in the direction of excellence.
A CEO with whom I worked would always ask in our monthly talent talks after reviewing data about a given leader: “would they hire someone better than themselves?” A simple question. Perhaps an obvious “correct” answer. It also represents a critical challenge that reflects several things about a leader: 1) insights into their strengths and developmental areas, 2) confidence and capability in managing resources that are accretive in their impact, 3) understanding and recognition that their charge is to find the best and highest use of their own talents and the talent in others, and 4) commitment to increasing the organization’s capacity.
Would you hire someone better than yourself?
Whether you ask the question or not, whether you believe the answer or not, perhaps it should be an explicit expectation of all leaders. At least of all those who want to grow themselves and others.