L.A. Reid on Surrounding Yourself with Top Performers

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Want to make a rookie leadership mistake? Only hire people who you are certain will never be as good as you. That way, you will always be indispensible, right? This happens all too often and, in my experience, I’ve never seen it turn out well for the leader. Don’t believe me? Maybe L.A. Reid can convince you.

If you’ve listened to any music in the last thirty years, then L.A. Reid has affected your life. As a three-time Grammy Award-winning Chairman and CEO of Epic Records, Reid has played a role in the success of such artists as Bon Jovi, Rihanna, Meghan Trainor, P!nk, Justin Bieber, and Mariah Carey, just to name a few. He is also the CEO of LAReidMusic Publishing, former Chairman and CEO of the Island Def Jam Music Group, and was a judge on the television show The X Factor. Basically, Reid is a really successful businessperson.

In a recent interview, Reid discussed his hiring philosophy. It is as applicable in the music industry as it is to every other leader.

I try to find people that are arguably smarter than I am. And then I have to be confident that I won’t lose my job because of it. And by the way, I actually have. I’ve hired people that are so good that they’ve taken my job, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted people so good around me that when I’m off they’re on, because none of us can be on 100 percent of the time.

Consider how self-assured a leader must be to enact such a mindset. You are purposely surrounding yourself with your possible replacement. An insecure manager will see this as foolhardy and an unnecessary risk. They will stunt the development of those on their team and compartmentalize information. They’ll also learn that a team full of mediocre performers will result in a mediocre work product, regardless of the greatness of the leader.

The secure leader understands the aphorism a rising tide lifts all boats. Talented team members make everyone more successful…including the leader. You get credit for the accomplishments of those on your team. Share the credit (of course), but imagine how many wins can take place under your tutelage with an entire team of high performers. Your reputation becomes synonymous with achievement. This leads to both your promotion and the promotion of those you lead.

When looking for people to join your team, hire the best. Look for passion, drive, and intelligence. Find those who are willing to challenge you but are also interested in collaborating with the team. Then, once you hire them, put your energy into keeping them motivated and challenged. Support their growth and don’t be stingy with the compliments.

I’ll leave you with an example of L.A. Reid overcoming his self-doubt to hire a true talent.

We go out and I pitch [Jay Z] the idea of being president of Def Jam. There was this 48-hour period when I wasn’t sure he would take it [and thought] what if he does sign and then he comes into the building and oh my god he’s Jay Z. I just hired Elvis. So I called Doug Morris and I said, ‘No one’s gonna want to come to my office.’ [Morris responded]:‘You think that when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you shrink? You got it all wrong, when you hire Jay Z it’s going to make you grow.’ And I realized in that moment that’s what it means to surround yourself with people that are arguably greater than you are. And I did and my company had a run, it was such a run you wouldn’t believe it I mean we got on fire instantly. And he was right.

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