Leadership isn’t easy, but there are a lot of people who can tell you how it’s done! You can find about 69,000 of them on Amazon.com. Read a few, and soon you will be ready for the fitting of your halo and wings.
Last year I answered a question about Leadership on Quora.com. I have a special place in my heart for this website. The questions that people ask and answer there can range from tough to touching. The question I picked was, ‘What are the top 10 interpersonal skills found in great leaders?’ It was irresistible because I’ve met a lot of people who seem to believe that a team is only as good as its leader, and that is just not so!
Here’s my ‘Top 10’:
- They are team players.
- They are coherent (neither rigid not diffuse) in all their interactions with others.
- Depending on what they are leading, they are either highly inspirational, in which case people are drawn to follow them and their vision, or they are excellent at shepherding people toward the goal. Occasionally you find people who are good at both.
- They take initiative, especially in innovation companies – they seize the moment, and go for the opportunity.
- They clearly get that other people have a point of view that may not be an exact mirror of theirs. (They might not like it, but they definitely get it.)
- They aren’t consumed by greed. Their ambition and desire to win extends to their team, organization, stakeholders, and especially their customers.
- They aren’t know-it-alls, even though they are generally smart.
- They know how to be able depend on other people – their trust is highly desired and valued.
- They respect all living things. (That includes ‘silicon-based life forms’ – the technology that runs the company.)
- They openly express their faith in their team, that together they can achieve the vision.
After I posted it, I had to ask myself if I was only feeding into the perfection myth, but they checked out OK, especially #7 & #8.
Leaders need to acknowledge their imperfections, and that is actually the perfect team’s scenario. Every thing you do not do well calls for someone on your team who does do it well, and who loves having the opportunity. This gives the team, as an entity in and of itself, a much greater chance of being perfect than a ‘perfect’ leader ever could, or should.
No, leadership is not a formula, or a style, or a canon. Neither can it be adequately described as a series of traits or bits and pieces of experience. Leadership is intertwined with situational context, and thus leadership is a team sport. In the end, all that matters is that, collectively, your team is pulling together to achieve its mission.
There is a way to describe what any team needs, in terms of the people who are attracted to fill those needs. Each has a Role. Not a ‘role’ – like a job title or a set of responsibilities – but Role in the language of Teamability™: the manner or mode in which a given person seeks to make a meaningful contributions to meet team needs.
When you understand that you cannot do all of these things well, you may feel angry, or cheated, or sad in your imperfection. Or, you may suddenly realize that your moments of greatest joy and fulfillment have come when you were entirely immersed in contributions that were aligned with Your Role – and that in those moments, you were grateful for the others on your team who were also experiencing joy in performing their own ‘life’s mission.’ When people and teams are functioning this way, they generate tremendous positive synergy and performance, producing real business value for an organization.
This article originally appeared in InnovationDAILY, June 30, 2010, titled Why Interviews Suck. I thought I would update it, but on rereading it, I couldn’t change a word. The fact is, interviews sucked then, and they still suck. The only new thing is that with the economy improving ever-so-slightly, you may be more likely to be on one side of the table or the other. Or both.
Notice that I am making a statement, not asking a question. There is no question about it. Interviews suck. And it doesn’t matter if you are the interviewer, the interviewee, or someone else who’s been sucked into the process.
There are three simple reasons.
First, interviews are very much like blind dates. Both sides get a lot of hype upfront, and most of it is inaccurate or misleading. Think back to the last time you bought-in to: “…and he’s so good to his mother” or “…but she has a wonderful personality.” Is that any different from “…he’s an undervalued property” or “…you’ll really grow with this company”? The bottom line is that interviews are a form of assessment, and no matter how structured or ‘fair’ you think you are being, they are neither standardized nor objective. Even if you are using ‘behavioral interviewing’ techniques, the information you retain about each candidate will still have been filtered through your personal frame of reference and unconscious biases. And just like the date who seemed like a perfect ‘fit’ – until their quirks, or their temper, or some other ‘undocumented features’ began to show up – there are people who have become experts at getting hired by NOT being themselves during the interview process. (Did you know there are dating coaches and interview coaches that drill people in how to ‘get lucky’?)
Second, for various reasons, the scales tend to tilt in favor of people who are least likely to be great team players. Poorly defined job scope? Insufficient resources? Unrealistic performance expectations? A great team player will raise relevant issues for discussion. A bad team player will tell you just what you want to hear. To make matters worse, all parties to the interview process have the same desired outcome, which no one will openly admit: they just want to get it over with!
- For HR or a staff recruiter, the harder the hiring manager is to deal with, the stronger this desire becomes.
- For an external recruiter, the desire to close and move on is variable: retained search, “No problem”; contingency, “Excellent choice! When will my check be mailed?”
- The interviewer(s) will push for rapid progress to the ‘right’ decision, despite the fact that the same process has proven faulty in the past.
- And lastly, the candidates (depending on their employment status, how shaky they think their present situation is, and any number of other factors) want a job, a great job, the perfect job, or at least one that they can survive until they land somewhere else. All this pressure favors candidates who are easy to ‘fall in love with’ instead of the people who are the most capable of adding value to the team.
Third, the very best person for the job rarely gets picked. Why? Let’s go back to dating for a moment. Did you know that the surest way to hook up with the wrong person is to look for someone who matches your personal ‘want list’? (This is a fact based on research, not folklore.) Think about it: can a list of experiences, skills, and physical attributes predict the quality of interpersonal behavior? Certainly not! In order to get a positive I.D. on a ‘good team-player’, you need to know something about how the person will behave when working with others to overcome obstacles and achieve common goals. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get from interviewing.
First there are the interminable screenings to match candidates to a ‘job req’, i.e., the ‘want list’. And since screening is rarely done by the person doing the hiring, persons with slightly different – yet truly unique and excellent – qualifications usually get kicked to the curb. The longer and more complex the interview process, and the more people involved, the more likely the process will produce a lowest-common-denominator selection. (Example: we know of a senior level executive who worked for well over a year to convince a competitor’s top salesman to ‘jump ship’, only to lose this guaranteed star player in an off-target and humiliating (for the candidate) intra-departmental ‘stress interview’.) Bottom line: interview survivors may be the ones who best tolerate non-productivity, who thrive on petty corporate politics, and/or who blow the biggest smokescreen.
As the saying goes, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.” If you want productive teams, you need to be able to identify the best team players. Now there’s a way to do that BEFORE you make big investments in a questionable interview process and risk a long-term commitment to the wrong person.
Some aspects of interviewing may always suck, but the outcomes will be a lot better if you limit it to the candidates who really know how to ‘team’.
BTW, since I wrote this, I discovered a fabulous source for women’s businesswear, so if you need something that fits well and says professional for an interview, check out www.bluesuitsonline.com. If you’re on the jobhunter side of the equation in this economy, you need every edge you can get. Good luck!
Big-city high-rises often have exercise/pool areas that rival the best-equipped health clubs. I like to use the one in my building as a study. Late one evening, relaxing in the hot tub after a day of constant business activity, I was joined by two young professionals who were having a discussion – actually a debate – on the topic of ‘engagement’ surveys. One is a psych major turned HR manager and the other a product manager with a degree in marketing. I’m going to call them ‘Psych’ and ‘Product.’
Psych was asking Product if he could get her a copy of the Gallup Q12 – a set of questions that test for ‘employee engagement’* so she could use it to survey people in her company. Product pointed out that the Q12 is copyrighted material, and went on to lecture Psych about the value of such attitude surveys – or more accurately, the lack thereof. He must have taken great notes in class. He cited chapter and verse from product marketing literature, summing it up by stating categorically that although people might give you rave reviews, if they aren’t buying your product, who cares?
Psych was not convinced. She had been given an assignment by her boss, and was determined to follow through. I felt sorry for her.
If you are – or know – someone who feels compelled to measure ‘engagement,’ especially if the assignment has career-altering consequences, here’s a set of questions that you can offer without exposing them to copyright infringement litigation. Why am I doing this? Well, I’ve done 30 years of study and research on what makes great teams great, and I know there is a big difference between a person’s attitude about their place on a team (their level of engagement, if you will) and the underlying factors that influence ‘teaming’ behavior. The former will tell you about existing conditions. The latter will tell you why, and what you can do about it, thereby bridging the gap between attitudes and business results.
The technology we created, TGI Role-Based Assessment, measures the how and why of team synergy. If you’d like to know more, go to the Contact page at http://www.TheGabrielInstitute.com, say you read this, and you’ll get a special offer.
If you just want the survey questions, here they are. Tell people to rank them on a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). If you want to credit Dr. Janice and send her a link to your results, you’ll be making her very happy. She might even send you something extra special.
The TGI ‘Team 7’:
- I know the vision, purpose, and/or goal for everything I do at work.
- When problems arise – of any kind – they are usually resolved in a reasonable and efficient way.
- My job responsibilities are aligned with my desire to serve my team and my organization.
- I get respect and recognition from others in a manner that is meaningful to me.
- My manager ‘gets’ me – consistently listens to me, values me, and encourages me to grow.
- My coworkers feel like a real team to me. We share the load, we support each other, we have fun together, and we get the job done.
- I may not have the most important job in the company, but I know that I make a significant contribution.
I’m sure you know what you want, so I don’t have to tell you the ‘right’ answers.
Oh, and just in case you are wondering what happened between the two young professionals in the hot tub…
I just heard they are getting engaged.
* An “engaged employee” is described, variously, as one who is fully involved in and enthusiastic about his or her work; who acts in a way that furthers the organization’s interests; who will ‘go the extra mile’ for colleagues and customers.