Leaders, your most important job is to build and manage a great team — part 1 of 3 – understand the importance of building a great team

First who, then what. Jim Collins

Twenty years ago I interviewed a friend who started and now manages a large company. He has 200 employees in the U.S. and about 15,000 in China. He designs and manufactures those obnoxious inflatables that you see in people’s yards on holidays – Santas at Christmas, scarecrows at Halloween.

Even today, I remember part of our conversation.

When I asked him his secret to building a successful business he immediately answered: “Hire the right people and take care of them.” I thought there must be more to it, so I asked him the same question in a different way. But his answer remained the same: Hire the right people and take care of them.

In my 40-year professional career, I’ve never managed a large organization or a sizable division,  but I’ve led small organizations and I’ve read extensively in the area of leadership. I embrace the same conclusion as my friend: The most important element of leadership is to hire the right people and take care of them.

Carefully read what these notable leaders say about the importance of choosing good team members.

  • “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare. If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” Patrick Lencioni
  • “How you select people is more important than how you manage them once they’re on the job. If you start with the right people, you won’t have problems later on. If you hire the wrong people, for whatever reason, you’re in serious trouble and all the revolutionary management techniques in the world won’t bail you out.” Red Auerbach, longtime Boston Celtics president
  • “A leader’s most important decisions fall into two categories: big bets on people and big bets on strategy. The people decisions are arguably more important because they heavily influence the strategy decisions.” David Nadler
  • “Given the many things that businesses can’t control (the economy, competitors) you’d think that companies would pay careful attention to the one thing they can control—the quality of their people, especially those in the leadership pool.” Larry Bossidy

Choose great team members. When you played sandlot baseball as a kid and you were able to choose your teammates, if you picked the best players you won. If you didn’t, you lost. The same goes for adult games; pick the best team members and your organization will prosper.

Next week we’ll think about how to choose good team members.

Three weeks from now I’ll write about how to develop your team members.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

 

Enjoy the benefits of hospitality

In one of his letters, George Washington wrote that he and Martha had not had dinner at home alone for twenty years. Every night for twenty years—7,300 days in a row—they had guests and visiting dignitaries to entertain. (from: A. J. Jacobs, My Life as an Experiment, page 15)

Granted, this anecdote is rather extreme. If I insisted on entertaining this frequently, I would live as a single adult.

But, I think Mary and I (and probably you, too) go to the other extreme: we don’t extend hospitality enough. 

There’s a Spanish word that expresses the joy and benefit of hospitality—sobremesa—the time spent around the table after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with; time to digest and savor both food and friendship.

There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal with other people. Eating together is one of the oldest and most fundamental unifying human experiences. It can simultaneously fulfill physical, emotional, and relational needs.

It will help establish and deepen friendships

If I share my food with you it’s either because I love you a lot, or because it fell on the floor and I don’t want it. (That’s a joke.) Truly, I can’t think of another setting that’s better for solidifying friendships than gathering to eat. It slows down our pace, narrows our space, focuses our attention, and creates a relaxing ambience—all of which are beneficial for deepening friendships.

It’s good for business

Since humans first walked the earth, we’ve known that sharing a meal can be good for business. For instance, a recent study revealed that it doesn’t take much to get a doctor to prescribe a brand-name medication—just a free meal. The study found that U.S. doctors who received a single free meal from a drug company were more likely to prescribe the drug than doctors who received no such meals. Meals paid for by drug companies cost less than $20 on average [Even Cheap Meals Influence Doctors’ Drug Prescriptions, Study Suggests, Peter Loftus, WSJ, June 20, 2016].

I’ve never understood why some organizations are so stingy with the amount of funds allocated for business meals. I once worked with a group of six senior executives at a $75 million-a-year business. They were frustrated that the CEO, in order to save money, eliminated their budget for business meals, which saved the company a whopping $24k a year. I suspect that poor decision cost the company ten times as much in lost revenue.

It engenders good will

Treat someone to a $15 lunch and they’ll be your friend forever. Well, that’s an exaggeration; but it is true that even a small amount of money and time will generate a lot of relational capital.

A weekly family meal can become a wonderful family tradition

I enjoy watching the sitcom, Bluebloods (on CBS). It follows the lives of three generations of New York City police officers. In every episode, there’s a scene showing their weekly, Sunday afternoon family meal in which they gather around the dinner table to talk, argue, laugh, and pass the potatoes. Every family would benefit from this tradition. [Note to my family: Are you reading this post?]

I double-dog-dare you: initiate and host meals and enjoy the sobremesa.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Getting into another person’s mind

Several years ago I attended a concert at the Nasher Sculpture Center in downtown Dallas. About 80 audience members stood in a circle around the musicians. A baritone soloist and six disparate instruments performed Eight Songs for a Mad King by Peter Maxwell Davies. Completed in 1969 it is one of the most distinctive and disturbing musical compositions of the twentieth century. The eight songs document the imagined events from King George III’s famous and well-documented descent into insanity.  

It’s a disconcerting 30-minute composition. Hard to listen to. The vocal soloist sings, shrieks, yells, and gesticulates. The instruments play chaotically. There are few melodic figures and no formal structure. 

After the concert, the audience was invited to a reception. I struck up a conversation with a fellow audience member. Midway through the conversation she asked me, “What did you think of the Davies’ composition?” My response: “I didn’t like it at all. It was too esoteric; it was hard to listen to; musically it made no sense.” She calmly and gently responded: “Don’t you realize, the music was portraying the mind of an insane person. It represented how a mad person thinks.”

I’ll never forget her gentle rebuke; it was both instructive and challenging. I think of it often. 

One of the hardest things to do in life is to “get into another person’s mind” and think and feel as he or she does. We live in our own minds 24/7 so it’s hard to imagine how other people experience the world. 

  • When I board a plane my mind is peaceful. What is it like to be afraid of flying?
  • What goes on in the mind of someone who suffers from bipolar disorder?
  • How does a special needs person view the world?
  • Being Stoic by nature and choice, I find it hard to imagine how an emotionally robust person interacts with the world.

Let’s experiment with this concept. Think of someone you know well and try to mentally enter into his world; try to think and feel as he might. Consider their fears, insecurities, blind spots, emotional imbalances, hurts, personal history, family of origin issues, hopes, and dreams. What does he think and feel when he enters a new social environment?

While it’s hard for us to imagine what life is like experienced through another person’s mind, we should try. Otherwise, we’ll not truly understand other people and our empathy will be misinformed or lacking. 

Here’s a video of a performance of Davies’ work. I’ll give a wooden nickel to anyone who can watch the entire video.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.