How Will You Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today?

How Will You Be Better Tomorrow Than You Are Today?

What would you do differently? Really, think about it.

Chances are, over the course of our careers, we have done a lot of good. We’ve impacted lives positively, delivered on commitments, achieved results. But, if you’re human (and honest) you’ve also made some mistakes. Or, perhaps you just didn’t do your best work on a few occasions. Our ability to demonstrate learning agility and gain wisdom which, in time, becomes our currency, is one of our most critical skills as an effective leader. How should we look back and assess our performance? What can we do to remain mentally and emotionally nimble, ready to accept and own our mistakes? How do we ensure we are better tomorrow than we are today?

Be Self-Aware Without Being Self-Conscious

Do you have those times when you’re on autopilot and you get to the end of the day and it was all a blur? And what about that ‘driving home like a drone’ feeling after a long day? You know, the one where you pull into your driveway and you don’t know how you got there. We can’t afford to be that way on a regular basis, but sadly, we are sometimes so locked into our old methods and behaviors we are like bystanders. Sleepwalking through our work, while detrimental to our performance, is even worse for our personal growth. The first step toward us managing our own growth and expanding our portfolio of wisdom is setting our internal monitoring system to ‘record’. Too often leaders are caught up in what they have to do, running, chasing, striving to achieve. Often, these same leaders don’t stop and think about how they are doing their jobs or, in fact, what they are doing. Sometimes, a simple internal inquiry is all it takes to begin building a habit of self-speculation and analysis. ‘How am I handling this?’… ‘How would I rate my performance right now?’… These kinds of basic internal evaluations can provide us the pause we need to course correct or confirm we are on the right track.

Being self-aware doesn’t mean questioning every action you take. Over examination of our own actions can result in analysis paralysis and soon you become neurotic. Leaders are required to act. Standing still, over-analyzing or becoming mired in self-doubt and criticism will not help you lead. But it can be healthy to do a ‘post-mortem’ on your day or even a conversation. Take some notes. Record where you got it right and one thing you can try differently the next time you’re in that situation. And, remember to pay attention to how you feel when you nail it. Recognizing what success looks like and recalling the sequence you used to achieve that alchemy can be a powerful away to build repeat performance.

Master Your Skill of Pattern Recognition

There are hundreds of ways you ‘do what you do’ and don’t even think about it. Sure, I’m referring to habits, but more than habits, I am thinking about your tendencies, biases, reactions, perspectives and comfort zones. Just as in our daily lives, in our roles as leaders we’ve developed some tools that work for us as well as some patterns within which we operate. Recognizing your patterns is an early step toward ‘catching yourself’ before you repeat old mistakes. The saying ‘past is prologue’ is a powerful harbinger. It can be a death sentence if we aren’t careful. Just like another saying, ‘those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it’, recognizing our patterns and past can help us stop the cycle.

The next time you respond to something incorrectly, get riled or agitated when you shouldn’t have or, perhaps, fall into a trap of behavior you know you’ve experienced before, take a moment. Do some behavioral forensics and ask yourself what led to your slip up. What were you focused on when you made the mistake? What caused you to miss the warning signs that preceded your misjudgment? Perhaps changing your pattern is the key to correcting a mistake next time.

Be Ruthless In Your Willingness to Self Correct

Unless you are carved out of pure gold and you bleed blue chip stock options, you’ve probably had a rather mortal pathway through your business career. That means you’ve achieved much you can be proud of, and you’ve also stepped in a big pile of it a few times. Hopefully you are all too aware of your less stellar moments and you’re comfortable owning up to them in a healthy sort of way. In fact, I’m going to suggest that if you haven’t said some version of ‘I’ll never do it that way again’ than you aren’t being critical enough of your own track record. And, for those of you working in environments where performance reviews are done annually and your line manager sits with you and gives you a grade, don’t wait for that. You should be grading yourself. Ruthlessly. You should be willing to call out your worst plays in the game and ask yourself what must change so you don’t make the same mistakes again. From these self-examinations comes improvement and from a repeatable routine built upon these improvements comes wisdom.

Getting comfortable with self-examination means getting perspective. I’ve often shared with my direct reports that I play a bit of a game with myself, particularly in group meetings, during which I ‘put a camera in the room’. I imagine I am filming my actions in order to do two things - assess myself for improvement as well as ensure I remain aware of how I show up to others in the room. This isn’t as self-absorbed as it sounds (really!), it is simply a device I use to achieve a balance of remaining present within myself while not being too in my own head. Again, self-awareness without self-consciousness. Once this technique is mastered, you can time shift a little… meaning, you can fast forward and get out of ahead of what you say, and what you plan to say. This is incredibly helpful in meetings during which emotions can be high or when you are speaking to a group and you want to nail your message and delivery. But, these are topics for another time….

Recognize The Right Thing Done The Wrong Way Is Still Wrong

A couple of decades ago I was a developing multi-unit manager who had just been promoted within a high-growth organization a couple of years after previously having been promoted. Within a few short years my span of control was 70 times what it had been and I was responsible for a lot of people, performance and, in point of fact, results. My ‘up to now’ was being stretched and I had a lot of learning coming at me in real time. And things were about to get tougher.

So, I’ve been given this second of two promotions in a few years and a leader much more senior to me is seated on the opposite end of a long table in a room full of people during a meeting taking place 24 hours into me having my shiny new title. We were engaged in a discussion about performance across the organization and one person’s name came up as an example of an underperforming manager. The senior leader at the end of the table looked over his papers, down the long table at me, and he made his desire very clear. He wanted this manager transitioned out of the organization. Period.

I had no issue with the directive, the performance of this professional had been subpar. The individual was a fine person, but their performance had been lacking for some time and, while I felt badly for them and for what had to be done, there was no ethical disconnect here, no malfeasance, nothing scandalous in the senior leader’s directive to me. As a human, I felt empathy for the manager. As a business leader, I was there to solve today’s problem. I knew my role.

So, over the course of the following 8 weeks I worked with the proper partners in human resources and other teams and I led a very detailed improvement plan this manager was directed to follow with the hopes they would transcend their poor results, but aware that they likely could not. At the end of that 8 weeks, the leader was no longer with the organization. I had facilitated a clean, clear, correct performance management.

And, I was dead wrong.

Was I wrong about the performance of this person being lackluster? No. Was there any reason this leader should not have been removed from their role? No. I had done all of the correct things and the reasons for doing them were also correct and justifiable. But I hadn’t done them in what I would today call ‘the right way.’

This was early in my years as a large-span leader and as a result, I took a very sterile, almost perfunctory approach to my management of this situation. I was professional and courteous, but I wasn’t caring. Deep inside I wanted to be, but I didn’t yet know how to be both direct and heartfelt. I had the image of the senior leader pointing at me from down the length of the long table, and hence, I managed the removal of this leader as the process of me carrying out a directive, not as the transition of a person from one stage in their career to another perhaps better suited to them. I had managed many professionals out of roles by this time in my career but this situation was a bit more complex and, because I lacked wisdom and context, my manner throughout the progression was cool and remote.

I’ll never do it that way again.

I remember this period of time often. I absolutely remember it any time I have to sit with a struggling leader and help them improve or move on. There is nothing that can change the fact that we are all responsible for our own actions and performance, so, I never have and never will apologize for curating talent. But, I now have the experience and courage married with a deeply-rooted commitment to dialogue with, coach and counsel the human, not just ‘speak at’ the professional. Crucially, experience in the years since has provided me with the fortitude to occasionally fight to keep some leaders longer before deciding they had to be removed. And, when a removal is necessary, I have often cried with leaders during their terminations while still feeling fully correct in the action being taken. With wisdom has come the ability for me to maintain my humanity and cherish the dignity of another person while looking them in the eyes and telling them they’ve fallen short.

I still make loads of other mistakes which I’m working on (I promise!), but I can tell you, I won’t make this same mistake again. To be clear, the senior leader who gave me the directive would not have called what I did a mistake. But, I knew I hadn’t done my best work. What if I hadn’t self-analyzed all those years ago? If life was just metrics and formulas I could have easily told myself ‘they deserved it’ and I’d still be having performance-based discussions in the same way. For me to grow into the leader that I wanted to be, I had to remain open to self-discovery and examination and apply lessons learned from past performance. Past does not have to be prologue and history does not doom us to repeat it.

Is your team on their own journey of self-discovery? Is your organization striving to build on its learning agility and emotional intelligence so that your leaders can improve daily? I have coached and developed leaders and teams toward continuous improvement that positively impacts results. Get in touch and perhaps I can help your organization as well.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with businesses and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

Managing Change In A Binary World

Managing Change In A Binary World

There two sides to every story. He said, she said… Pros and cons… The flip side of the coin... You’re either with us or against us... On the other hand….

The ways in which binary thinking pervades our daily lives are enumerable. Two-state thinking can be found in everything from cycles within our lives such as night and day and hot and cold to conditions in our business world like positive or negative and partner or competitor. We are conditioned to think of our world as if it has two states. It’s evolutionary. Friend or foe, fight or flight, feast or famine… we tend toward binary-ism.

But does this sort of polarity help or hinder us in the business world? How do we recognize the subtleties of achieving targets and goals which are the result of ten, one-hundred or more incremental steps? How do we understand the complexity that is present in going from a current state to a future state rather than default to an oversimplified version of reality that suggests we can magically transform our organizations from bad to good via one swift decree?

Measuring Change Is Incremental

When you’re discussing percentages you probably refer to a whole number. A ‘point’ or ‘percent’ tends to be an easy way for us to measure change, alteration, growth, decline, temperature - all sorts of things. In the world of finance, we often use basis points. That is, a measurement that drills down and measures each tenth of a point. Why? Is this just fancy speak so that the Wall Street types can sound smart on the financial news report? Maybe. But, there are also good reasons for it. Change doesn’t come overnight, in one massive shift. Nor can it be measured in all cases by full points or percents. The incremental nature of metrics, as well as changes in human behavior, mean we must sometimes be granular and use those basis points to track a trajectory. As we seek to understand which direction our operation is going, measurement and tracking at a very fine level of detail helps us see if the actions we are taking are having the desired effect.

When measuring or tracking your business, it is important to stand back and see the entire range of a given result, but it is also necessary to see all of the inflection points along the way. Defaulting to an oversimplified binary state of ‘broken’ to ‘fixed’ robs us of the understanding we need to understand how the fix was accomplished - and, how to replicate it next time.

Leading Change Is Incremental

If you lead a business unit or company, chances are you’re in the middle of changing or correcting something in your organization right now. Your revenue is X and it should Y. Your year over year growth is A and it should be B. You may be retooling a team, or reorganizing your processes and seeking lean strategies to bring greater efficiencies to your workflow. When you stand back and look at those issues and plot graph points for today and your goal achievement deadline, the delta between those two states can be daunting. Right now, all around us, in companies all over the world, there are impassioned directives of ‘what’ being given to employees and teams, and sadly, not a lot of conversation given to ‘how’.

‘What’ is binary. ‘Get your results from here to there.’ Yes, that clarity of purpose is important as the GPS system of our businesses needs to know the ‘from’ and ‘to’ for us to be able to go anywhere. But, those systems have checkpoints. They are also in constant contact with satellites and internal mapping systems that help in verifying all of those basis points on the path to 100% completion of the journey. I bet, per my examples above, that you’ve recently been given a ‘what’ by a more senior leader, or your board, or perhaps outside focus group feedback or Wall Street. But that ‘what’ alone isn’t enough to get your organization to the desired change. If you want to actually achieve your goal, we have to break down the details between the binary states of ‘here’ and ‘there’. The reason for this is my humble belief in the three elements that make leaders truly successful:

The most impactful leaders are those that can do three things - 1: Assemble solid teams into a vibrant culture 2: Create direction toward a compelling, mission-driven cause, and 3: Regularly and consistently break down the complexity of problem solving into sequences which are repeatable.

The last point has everything to do with resisting the lazy view of suggesting that ‘broken’ to ‘fixed’ is a one step journey. As they say, you can’t eat the elephant in one bite.

Achieving Change Is Incremental

All of that takes us to goal setting and putting our plans into action. Over the course of many years I have led in-depth change conversations and goal setting sessions maybe 10,000 times. I have sat, stood, met with and planned along side leaders in many sectors as we created goals, plotted paths to achieve them and listed action steps. It is a process I find extremely satisfying, if at times a bit infuriating. For all leaders and owners of businesses or business units, I insist upon a quality check for our action step creation and goal setting that is designed to specifically guard against oversimplified binary thinking. I often refer to this check as a ‘get up and go do it’ filter. Here’s how it works:

Perhaps I am working with an area director who has responsibility for a territory. Their customer conversions are down and the leader has been tasked with understanding the issues and plotting some action steps for change. Now, let’s say one of the action steps that has been suggested by the director is to ‘improve the online marketing plan targeting new customer acquisition’.

Now, stop.

When I hear a leader prepare to memorialize an action step like that I ask that leader to get up and go do it. Show me how you ‘improve the online marketing plan…’. That leader will probably look at me with some sort of incredulous expression resembling ‘what, you want me to really go do it now?’. And, our discussion begins. Here’s my point - Verbs and details matter. Goal setting is a part of a root cause analysis process which is downstream from problem solving on the issue we have identified. During these examinations, we often default to over simplified binary thinking. That ‘broken’ to ‘fixed’ mentality creeps and in we commit to some high level change in our systems which probably isn’t granular enough to really address the problem. If we run the ‘get up and go do it’ check on our action plan, we discover that anything you can’t literally pick up the phone about or walk to and put your hands on isn’t detailed enough. If an action step toward your goal can be broken down into a smaller step, don’t write it. We often make the mistake of writing aspirations which we call action steps. This is true when people want to lose weight and they set a pound loss goal or a calories per day target. Those examples aren’t granular enough for true behavioral change and they aren’t behavioral. Where’s the verb? That person would do better to write down the steps of 1) Packing a workout bag which goes with them to work 2) Calendaring from Noon to 1PM everyday for a workout and 3) Listing the exercises they will do during that workout. These are actions that can truly be put on their feet and now fitness isn’t an aspiration, it’s a repeatable routine.

Begin To Watch and Listen For Binary-ism

In our professional spaces, we are all guilty of utilizing and allowing binary or polar thinking. Each of us can see improvement in our own leadership and the leadership of our teams if we simply become more aware.

Call out your teams when they take an approach which is too broad or general when planning for change. Challenge them, and yourself, to take change deltas and break them down into steps, granular checkpoints which become a roadmap leading you from today’s performance to tomorrow’s favorable trend line.

In addition to becoming aware of how we process change and behavioral deltas in a binary way, we must also recognize how our binary minds influence our relationships and collaborations. This topic is a complex one that I will save for a future writing, but understanding our two-state mindsets is a big part of us learning how to build powerful relationships, create constituencies and align our skills with others in order to achieve real change. Much of our pubic world these days, in news and government, is built on reinforcing these binary beliefs. As business leaders, we can make a positive difference by challenging ourselves and those around us to think beyond a two-tone understanding of issues and appreciate all of the gradients in between. Doing so will propel us to enhanced problem solving processes, and perhaps, make our workplaces and the world around us a little better too.

Do you or your team need to dig deeper into your change management process and improve your business planning or calls to action? Are there results-oriented aspects of your operation that would benefit from your leaders being more skilled at understanding the details within the delta between your current state to where you’d like to be? Get in touch with me and perhaps I can help. I have led individuals and teams in goal setting processes, growth strategies and helped leaders in many sectors build repeatable processes which enabled continued improvement.

 

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with businesses and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

How Does Being A Vulnerable Leader Enable You To Achieve More?

Strength, courage, fortitude - there are so many descriptors that one thinks of when we imagine those we would like to follow. In our proverbial march through the darkness which can sometimes be our working world, we want captains to which we can grant our trust. Their shoulders should be broad enough to carry our worry and their voice should be clear, giving us the confidence to feel safe in troubled times. But there’s another important aspect that we should expect of our leaders. We’ve grown more aware in recent decades that leaders should possess a certain degree of humanity and empathy in the way they govern. The focus on emotional intelligence within the world of business leadership isn’t just a ‘feel good’, these attributes have increasingly become de rigueur as we’ve learned that leaders must think and feel and truly care for those in their organization.

But, why should we care about our bosses showing their soft underbelly to the rest of us? And, how does being a vulnerable, authentic, transparent leader contribute to your firm going farther, doing more and achieving the goals you’ve set?

Knowing How Our Leaders Feel Enables Us To Push Harder

I’ve previously discussed the importance of honesty being an enabler for those who report to us. A senior-level leader or manager of line-level employees has an enormous impact on the performance of their teams simply through being open about the challenges we face. This kind of unfiltered truth empowers the right kind of team. But there’s more to being vulnerable than just stating the facts about how we are trending or how many points we need to make up in our comp growth. Your direct or indirect reports want to know how you feel. Why? Because they want to know how to feel. They are watching you for cues. It’s one of the reasons we all look at the flight attendant when the plane we are on hits choppy air. ‘Okay, she’s smiling and chill… I can go back to watching Kung Fu Panda.’ But, what do I do if I look up and my flight attendant has fear in his eyes? Not a good feeling….

At town halls and roundtables I’ve hosted over the years or at those being facilitated by leaders more senior to me, there is one question which is the number one most asked: ‘What keeps you up at night'?’ Why do so many professionals what to know this answer from their superiors? Because those employees are trying to decide what they should be losing sleep over. What matters? It’s us looking at our flight attendant and deciding when we should adopt crash position.

The flow of us sharing our vulnerable transparency looks something like this:

  • Being transparent about how we feel as leaders helps our teams calibrate and explore their own feelings.

  • Understanding their feelings helps them decide how to respond to them.

  • Responding to and categorizing these feelings is a critical part of our teams getting on with the business of doing their jobs.

  • Our teams doing their jobs well allows us to achieve our goals.

The entire process starts with us, as leaders, helping our teams explore those emotions and our vulnerable transparency is the spark that lights that fire.

Vulnerability + Mission Objectives x Alignment = Achievement

Over an 11 year period I had the good fortune of working with Starbucks Coffee Company and experienced what many of us during those years believed to be a sort of Camelot period of our working lives. Incredibly healthy company culture? Check. Reward and compensation models light years ahead of many competitors? Check. Quality and brand standards that were the envy of many other companies? Check. Those of us working in that organization experienced personal and professional growth and felt proud to play a role in a blisteringly fast-paced growth story. But, the train ride wasn’t without bumps. All organizations have problems and difficult quarters. The way in which they choose to handle them is what makes some firms truly world class.

During a particularly critical period for Starbucks, our quarterly results were even more scrutinized than was typical. The company was opening a lot of stores - five per business day at that time - and hiring, training, building… it was fever pitched. By this time Starbucks had built a model that worked and had strong processes, though some weren’t perfect. On an average ticket which is derived from coffee beverages, you can imagine that profitability and margin efficiency are benchmarks that must be protected. Flow through is critical and pennies on the dollar make a huge difference across thousands of units.

During this particular period of time, Starbucks was experiencing some strain achieving flow through targets and this wasn’t a good look for the street. Some difficult calls had to be made - not of the layoff or shortchanging quality variety - but some spending and cost control measures were needed. Who would lead this effort? Orin Smith, our COO, that’s who. Orin was an extremely skilled operations leader and he had worked with the finance teams to do the math and knew what action needed to be taken at store level. The controls and margin improvements would be mandated for every store in the enterprise. Communicating and executing such a strategy isn’t easy. There were considerations for cascading the plan, assurances for the mindshare required of all leaders in the organization as well as processes for ongoing measurement of how well we had implemented the directives.

How did it start? With Orin’s voice.

On a series of calls and voice mails delivered to the leaders all across the organization, Orin spoke personally about why these actions were necessary, how we would go about them, and most importantly, how he felt about the plan. Partners (Starbucks speak for ‘employee’) from every store heard their COO express his understanding for how hard this would be and of his conviction that this was the right thing for us to do as well as the need for us to be aligned. As efforts continued for weeks, Orin gave regular updates and continued to express his thanks and his understanding that these tactics were not a walk in the park to execute. I can remember his voice and his message to this day - vulnerable, transparent, clear, imperative. Orin wasn’t punitive. He knew the partners across the organization didn’t create this gap, but he needed every one of them to help close it. And they did. The company achieved that quarter. And the next. And many more after those. One could argue it was Orin choosing not to just send an email memo that made the difference. He expressed his own concerns and fears, espoused his faith in our ability to alter our course and together, we achieved our goals. It’s a model I emulate to this day.

A Leader Who Is Vulnerable Is Rewarded With Many Allies

Those of us who have led and spent any time understanding our own styles and tendencies probably know how we respond to pressure. When in the trenches, we each have coping mechanisms, ways of processing information and filters for stress. In hierarchal organizations it is sometimes necessary that not every challenge be shared outward. But, in cases when it’s permissible to share some of the inner workings of an obstacle or deficiency, some unintended benefits can be derived.

Think about the skills on a team you’ve assembled. What are their collective talents and what specialties exist within their midst? Chances are you have some potent superpowers within your team. Additionally, some latent powers and abilities could exist which haven’t been fully explored or leveraged. When you, as a leader, share your concerns, the details of a problem or call out a challenge your group faces, you create an opportunity for the skilled people around you to join in the fight. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking ‘this is my company/business unit/market area... I have to solve this! I’m responsible!’. That is unnecessary martyrdom. While we know we bear the burden for the area we lead, we must remember we hired our teams for a reason. How incredible would it feel to share your fears and burdens with your team and lighten the load on your own shoulders? Then, why aren’t you? Often, when we lay out a problem and our feelings related to it, our teams engage their super powers and solutions we never dreamed of begin to manifest. You were right when you told yourself that you’re responsible, but being responsible for your organization doesn’t mean bearing sole burden for your challenges. If you’ve assembled the right team you should be able to bring them inside your problem and they will circle around you, fortifying your position and marching with collective might toward victory.

Are you leading a team, either as an experienced professional or a new line manager and you’ve recognized an opportunity for that team to be more open and vulnerable? Are there results-oriented aspects of your operation that would benefit from your leaders being more skilled at exhibiting emotional intelligence and authenticity to their reports? Get in touch with me and perhaps I can help. I have led individuals and teams on journeys of self discovery and helped them be more well-rounded in their pursuit of guiding their teams toward consistent results.

 

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with businesses and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Do You Have The Courage To Build A Truly Multifaceted Team?

Sports dynasties are the stuff of legends. It can be awe-inspiring to look back on truly great teams and list the talented players that made those champion seasons possible. But, do we think that the athletes on those squads were all carbon copies, cut from the same cloth? No. In fact, those teams were amalgams of many skill sets and personalities. Were these teams a harmonious mix of temperaments, easy to manage and develop? No. The same energy those squads used to win, could have torn the teams apart. Building a multifaceted team is a critical skill and a dire necessity for leaders who want to win in business. But it’s not easy to do. Finesse, discernment, psychology, a relaxed style coupled with firm direction - These are just a few of the tools and skills that the leader of such a team must use in managing these myriad skills and personalities. 

Here are few things to consider when assembling the team you want to help you win year after year. 

1. Skilled teams are made up of big personalities

If you want to build a management or leadership team that is going to ‘crush it’ for you year over year, be prepared to have some interesting dynamics. Think you’re going to have a dozen wall flowers who do everything you command and never have ire for one another? Think again. Skilled people have egos and they have ideas that they want to express. They don’t take things at face value. They are in the improvement and growth business so that means they demand the right to take things apart and make them better, precisely because they have the skill to do just that. You have to be a skilled leader to lead a skilled team. They are going to test you. They are going to challenge you. They are going to make you, and each other, better. But, you need to be ready to handle the energy, intellectual horsepower and dynamism of such a team. Want a team that has an ‘A’ game? Better bring yours too.

2. Winning teams are capable of more than you (and they) imagined

No matter the company, industry or bull market, our results aren’t constant. There are difficult periods we must manage and complex problems that must be solved. When you’ve assembled a truly world-class team, the solutions to these challenges are often right in the room, if you take the time to elicit them. One of the wonderful surprises of building a strong team, even with the aforementioned egos you must manage and high-level maintenance they require, is when the chips are down, these groups can do some pretty impressive things. Down several points on the year and you’ve got one quarter to make it up? Give your team the ball. A global crisis has hurt revenue and you need some genius ideas on which to build a recovery? Give your team the ball. Even paying top labor dollar and running at your fastest to keep up with the sprinters on this powerhouse team you’ve assembled, you will more than get your ROI when you run into situations in which you need to pull a rabbit from the proverbial hat. As long as you have the good sense to use the talents in the group.

3. Top tier teams like things direct and honest

I have never hired a highly-skilled professional for a team I have led that didn’t get a big smile on their face when I told them how difficult the job before us was. Great players see these types of situations as a chance to score and an opportunity to build legends. They relish being the source of that story that will be told years from now in the sales conference… ‘you remember the year of the factory shortfall, yeah, when the blizzard hit, and the fuel spike came, and the aliens landed and still the Central Sales team beat their annual target?! Like a boss…..’ Great leaders want those challenges. The most skilled people I have worked with aren’t afraid to hear about the bad, or the difficult or the daunting. Those situations are why they love what they do. If you interview a leader who asks how hard this will be or seems phased by the uphill climb the role entails, don’t hire them. Being honest with strong players is the most effective way to get those big brains of theirs churning on a path toward the goal. Clearly articulating a metric or a shortfall isn’t just courteous when you have ‘A’ players, it catalyzes. When you’re fortunate enough to have such a team, point to the goal line, give them a good defensive read and hand them the ball. More often than not, they will get you the win.

4. Highly-skilled teams are diverse, in every sense of the word

Much has been said of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership and particularly about the professionals he selected to surround himself with. In the often-cited book, Team Of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin brilliantly covers Lincoln’s courageous choices of seemingly opposing leaders for his cabinet. Easier choices could have been made by Lincoln, but he had the genius to know his cabinet and our country needed the talent and potency of the best people for the job - regardless of if they were going to be best friends or not. If a room full of sycophants is all a leader wants, one can simply hire just that. Sadly, though, taking such an approach means a watered-down, less effective overall squad. Poor leaders or ones who fear being challenged are the only managers who expect their direct reports to be parrots. The naked Emperor who thinks a team exists simply to nod and rubber stamp all they do or say doesn’t have much of a backbone. It takes vision and strength to hire smart people who may clash with one another as well as their boss. It is those strong wills and convictions that save a team, a company or a nation, when times get tough. Despite the current day trumpeting by some leaders who expect to never be questioned and thirst for constant tribute in the form of their underlings ‘sucking up’, the real courageous leaders know better. These leaders understand their legacy will be made rich because of their team, whose collective power is the sum of all of their efforts and talents.

5. World-class teams need you as much as you need them

How wonderful it would be if all of us who have line-managed could hire a great group of leaders and then hit the beach. True, that the measure of a really strong leader is how well their teams perform when the boss is away. But, that chief executive still holds a vital role. Sometimes you must be a filter, helping your expert leaders select which missions to take on. Other times you must be a lens, sharpening the focus of the collective talents in your midst. And, in some occasions, yes, you are a referee. As mentioned above, these incredible thoroughbreds you have chosen are all triple crown potentials. Sometimes they bite. You must be trainer, soother, facilitator and so much more. Like a General, you must also decide which challenges your elite squad will not expend energy on. Knowing how to best utilize your team’s talent and how to keep it fresh is part of your role. Selecting a high-performing group is never easy, managing them is harder still. But if you have the patience and energy to help these players join forces, you could have the makings of a dynasty on your hands, and that, is worth all of the effort.

Are you building a team or trying to assess current players to determine if you have what you need to take your company where you want it to go? I have selected world-class leaders, built talent strategies and assessed field teams in various sectors over the past 20 years. Get in touch and perhaps I can help you ensure you’re selecting the right people and building a talent roster that helps you accomplish all of your goals.

— Kimball Carr is a writer, owner and multi-unit leader with more than two decades of business experience across a wide array of sectors. He has produced work for print, film and the software world and has contributed his leadership to 3 of Fortunes best 100 companies to work for. As a consultant, he works with business and individuals and is currently the co-founder of Grom Coast Surf & Skate, an apparel brand and retail store built specifically for kids. — 

Photo by Kelli Dougal on Unsplash