Jack Ma is one of the most successful businessmen in the world. Despite very modest beginnings (he was an English teacher who reportedly earned only $12 a month teaching at university), Ma founded Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce colossus, where he now serves as executive chairman.

So, what was the secret to Ma's success?

In a recent interview at the World Economic Forum, Ma shared his experience:

"At first, I knew nothing about technology. I knew nothing about management. But the thing is, you don't have to know a lot of things. You have to find the people who are smarter than you are. For so many years, I always tried to find the people smarter than I am.

"And when you find so many smart people, my job is to make sure the smart people can work together."

Basically, Ma's advice consists of two steps:

1. Hire people who are smarter than you.

2. Focus on getting them to work together.

In a world where most would rather be known as a leader than a manager, there's a lesson to be learned from Ma's philosophy.

Why good managers bring success

While it's obvious that you want to hire the best, let's not underestimate the value of getting the best to work together.

Any team is going to bring along varying viewpoints, working styles, and ideas about how to get a job done, but the problem is that many high performers bring along something else: their egos. Because of their previous success, these individuals have even stronger opinions, which makes it difficult to get them to support one another's ideas, to disagree and commit. Sometimes, team members even consider themselves in competition with one another, which can be extremely self-defeating.

But a good manager can make all the difference.

Good managers know their team members' strengths and weaknesses.

Good managers can identify which situations will cause conflict, which they are skilled at overcoming. They also realize that conflict isn't always bad--if kept under control.  

Good managers bring out the best from each member of the team, knowing how to motivate each personality to achieve optimum results.

It's not easy to accomplish these feats; it takes patience and emotional intelligence. But these are qualities you can learn.

So, remember: If you want to effectively manage a team, check your ego at the door. You won't be the smartest person in the room, but the fact is, you don't need to be.

Instead, focus on what makes your people smart--and use that to do great work.