(This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
He’s 68 years old, but he’s still got it! I’m talking about Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president and hockey star.
In an exhibition hockey game a few weeks ago designed to increase awareness for vaccinations, Putin took to the ice and really put on a show. According to the New York Daily News, Putin competed against “Russian hockey stars, “businessmen” and other politicians” and skated away with the game’s scoring title after netting nine (or was it nine? People aren’t entirely sure) goals. And although he fell short of his record setting mark of 10 goals from his last appearance, he still put on an impressive performance, leading his team to a 13–9 victory.
That previous 10-goal performance from 2019 was also a special night for Putin. According to a tongue-in-cheek report from Quartz’ global finance and economics editor Jason Karaian, it appears that the Russian leader — who took up hockey at the age of 60 — “had the game of his life” and “really took charge of the game.” Sadly, he did suffer a bit of a stumble over a red carpet that was inconveniently placed on the ice for a ceremony, and I’m sure that the person who put it there is perfectly fine. But no matter, Putin’s team back then still walked away with a 14–7 win. And I’m sure the celebratory congratulations from his teammates and fans make up a fond memory for the Russian leader.
Silly, isn’t it?
Imagine being an opposing player on the ice who shuts down Putin’s goal-scoring efforts. Or even being on his side and outscoring him. Unthinkable. I’m not saying his reaction would be deadly, of course. Or maybe I am. But at the very least it would very definitely be a career limiting move.
But this isn’t about Putin. It’s about leadership. It’s about running a business, not a dictatorship. Surrounding yourself with people that are afraid to contradict or even challenge you may be OK if you’re running a dictatorship, but it’s not OK if you’re running a business.
“The best decision I made was to hire people that are smarter than me,” a friend of mine who runs a successful software company in New Jersey told me recently. This guy is not Putin. He doesn’t need to be the leading goal scorer. His goal is to ensure that his company grows and stays ahead of the competition. And to do that he relies on the insights, opinions and decisions made by his team even if they are in conflict with his. “They are constantly challenging me and keeping me on my game,” my friend added.
True professionals are always looking to be challenged by people better than them. They enjoy the competition. They learn from losing. They are open to criticism. They know that the only way to succeed is to rely on the honest thoughts from people around them. My business has succeeded because I’ve hired people a lot smarter than me to help me run it, and they’re not afraid to put me in my place. Your team shouldn’t let you be the leading score goal scorer. They should make you earn it.
Thanks for letting me share my thoughts. I’ll be in Siberia in case you want to get in touch.