“Confident leaders are not afraid to surround themselves with the brightest people at their disposal, including potential rivals.” Hire people smarter than you, in short, is what Stefan Stern, Fin. Times, Oct. 3, 2006 at 8, could have added in his column on seven principles for a leader. A related Stern principle is to understand your weaknesses as a leader, since those bright bulbs you hire can make up for your dimness.
It all sounds glowing, but I doubt that many GCs actively try to hire lawyers who put them in the shade. Few people are comfortable with brighter-than-they subordinates.
Also, from my consulting to general counsel, I have only rarely sensed that any of them feared displacement by someone who reports to them. Far from that, they worry that no competent replacement exists among that group (See my post of July 31, 2005 on succession planning.). Perhaps that shortage evidences a failure to hire people smarter than themselves