The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question: Career wise, is it better to be book smart or street smart? is written by Tien Tzuo, co-founder and CEO of Zuora.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, does it matter if you’re book smart or street smart? No. I know successful leaders who are book smart but not particularly streetwise, and others who are street smart but not academic at all. Both types were able to accomplish amazing things. Why? Because they surrounded themselves with personality traits that complemented their own.
Think about the successful pairing of the high school jock and nerd. The nerd helps the jock pass classes, become a scholar athlete, and develop the academic skills he’ll need to make his way in the world. Likewise, the jock helps the nerd keep his lunch money, meet new people, and develop the social skills he’ll need to interact successfully in a diverse business environment. Both can now go on to become serial entrepreneurs. But neither one can simply transform himself, or herself, into the other. With that in mind, here are three related traits every entrepreneur will need to become an effective leader.
For you book smart types, “To thine own self be true,” as Polonius said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If you can’t take an honest look at your own strengths and weaknesses then you can’t surround yourself with complementary talent.
Are you good at strategic thinking but struggle to execute? Can you see a path to success, understand market dynamics, and create dynamite presentations but aren’t sure how to marshal your teams to actually get something done? You’re book smart. Are you a doer who acts first and figures out how to get it right as you go? Do you read people and situations really well and know how to bring them together to make something happen? You’re street smart.
Complement your talents
Now that you understand your strengths, complement them. Don’t hire based solely on resumes (book smart) or instinct (street smart). Ask questions to ensure your candidates have the actual background or experiences you need. And make sure everyone involved in the hiring process understands what you are looking for so they can validate your assessment of the candidates. Remember, you want these people to tell you things you may not immediately like or agree with.
Listen. Listen. Listen.
This is by far the hardest trait to develop, and it doesn’t matter if you start out as book smart or street smart. Listening closely to those who come at the world from a very different place is hard, especially in the high-stakes, high-stress environment of business decision–making. And taking their advice is even harder. Never dismiss any opposing opinion out of hand. If you have an immediate reaction of “it’ll never work” (book smart) or “that’s idiotic” (street smart), stifle it, ask for more information, and gather other opinions.