Finding the right mix for your leadership team
Everyone in a leadership role should think deeply about their management team. Is your leadership team staffed with the best possible people for each specific role? Do these individuals they round out your team and provide a valuable and missing component to the skillset of your team in totality? Do you hire people who compliment your skillsets and fill any gaps you have with knowledge, experience, or abilities? Do you even think about it? Do you have a philosophy when hiring and building a team?
All the above philosophies are acceptable, but as leaders, you better have a strategy. A large percentage of any leader’s role should be building and fostering your team of direct reports. I believe 80% of my job is hiring the right people. As you get closer to the frontline that percentage probably comes down some, but everyone in a leadership role should consider at least half of their job being building an appropriate team.
I look at building a team like building a football team. I want different skillsets and experiences to give me the most comprehensive team possible. I like to find the best possible person for the role, but the best possible person is subjective. First and foremost, they need to be able to perform the job I expect of them. However just as important is what they bring to my team. I look for diversity in style, substance, and experience. I believe the strategy team I have built at U.S. Xpress is incredible and the best in the industry. They are all great at their jobs, but I also think a lot about how the team is made up. On my strategy team I have three visionaries, three steady and dependent executors, a contrarian, and three facilitators. I love the mix. I think about it often. How they work together and how the team meshes.
Visionaries: The visionaries are the people who think about new and innovative ways to approach problems. They push the envelope on what’s possible and they help us get out of the same old approach every time. I like my visionaries to be outsiders. Meaning, I like to put visionary leaders in roles where they may not have direct experience. I want analogous experience and possibly even directly complementary experience but bringing them from a slightly different set of experiences helps to foster that outside-the-box thinking. Keep in mind that visionaries can be difficult. They may have a dreamer quality and must be managed but they can also be your most valuable team members when managed appropriately.
Steady executors: The steady executors are the people who you give a task to and they will execute it flawlessly. The follow through is great and they know how to develop game plans to work towards a defined goal. These people often come up within the organization and they most always come up within the same vertical that they ultimately manage.
Facilitators: The facilitators are people who make the team work. They understand how to communicate and align interests among their peers and direct reports to get the most cohesive response possible to a problem. They can come from either within or outside the organization. They can be found in many different areas but are more often over back office support functions because they need the facilitator skillset to get all the disparate departments to work together.
Contrarians: The contrarian role is incredibly important. Without them you will never reach your full potential. They question the status quo and give you a unique perspective. However, this is very tough to find because most contrarians tend to trend negative in relation to the direction of the rest of the group. That’s not effective. Differing views and approaches must be given in a constructive nature. We could use another contrarian, but they’re hard to find.
I also think about my team in terms of strengths. I do not get overly concerned about a team member’s weaknesses unless it’s a direct component of their job responsibilities. Their strengths are what I want to focus on and cultivate. I look at the team in aggregate. Weaknesses for one individual are just gaps that need to be filled by another team member. I also focus on adding members to the team that fill my own weaknesses. My philosophy for myself and my team is to not focus on fixing weaknesses in an individual. This is time consuming and not usually successful. I hire to fill that gap.
Do you put this level of thought into your team? If not, you should. Are you heavy in one area? Do you have gaps in experience, knowledge or capabilities? Do your team members have the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of the team and possibly even you?
Once you have a strategy, think about the caliber of your team. Some questions to consider:
- Are they the best subjectively that you could find for each position?
- Do they perform at a high level?
- Do they have a strategic plan for their team?
- Does your team make you a better leader and manager?
- Do they consistently perform at a high level?
- Is the aggregated team well rounded?
- Are weaknesses addressed and strengths highlighted amongst the team?
- Do you have multiple team members who can take over for you if you were no longer able to continue in your role for any reason?
If you can answer yes to all these questions then you have built a quality team, if not you should make upgrades and adjustments immediately.
I don’t think many leaders can answer yes to the above questions. In fact, most can only answer yes to one or two. My experience is that most teams are made up with knowledgeable, hardworking, well intentioned, consistent performers. And I mean that as an indictment. This is great on the frontlines, but not necessarily in leadership roles.
You must always be looking to upgrade and be ready to adjust. I tell my team that I want the best person possible that I can find for each one of their roles, and I mean it. If I think I can upgrade a member of my team, I will. That may sound harsh, but it’s what we must do to grow and improve.