Leadership-Made-In-Africa: Assembling The Winning Team

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Dr. Modupe S. TAYLOR-PEARCE

Aggressive competitiveness is the motor that powers the business world. As it accelerates on a daily basis, enormous pressure is put on leaders of organizations and institutions to constantly improve performance and increase output. Success is as fleeting as last year’s annual report. As one milestone is achieved, the challenges of the next are already looming on the horizon.

In order to not only survive but triumph in business, a leader must surround him/herself with a dynamic team. If you are starting a new business or a new business unit, then you will have to recruit the members of your team. In most cases, however, you will inherit a team.  Herein, it is your job to analyse the team, decide whether there are any components that will hinder your progress to the “Promised Land” and make the necessary adjustments. Either way, note this: your success as a business leader will be determined, in most part, by the quality of the team you assemble around you. As my mentor used to say, “Even Michael Andretti cannot win the Grand Prix driving a Honda Civic” – no matter how good you are of a leader/motivator, you will not be very successful if you do not have the right team on your side.

Picking the successful team rides largely on four key factors.

(1)PICK PROVEN ACHIEVERS

As a leader, your job is NOT to maintain the “status quo”.  Your task must always be to take your business unit to the next level. For this, you must have a vision of what the next level is and your team must be capable of “making it happen”.

In order to “make it happen”, you must look for people that have demonstrated an ability to do so.  When you are talking with a prospective direct report, ask them to give you concrete examples of achievements that they have engineered in their prior positions.  Look for people that can tell you that they took their area/department from position A to position B.  Ask them probing questions to ensure that what they did was not simply to maintain the momentum that their predecessor had begun. Let them tell you how they made it happen. This information will tell you volumes about that person’s chances of success. You need people that are not afraid of change, and not afraid to initiate change.

In business, as in life, many people have good ideas. However, people that possess the courage, stamina, charisma, drive, perseverance, and discipline to implement these good ideas, turning them into a reality, are truly rare. These are the kinds of people you need on your team.  They are the ones that can turn good ideas into staggering success.  Seek them out. Recruit them. Groom them. Train them. They are your diamonds in the rough!

(2)DON’T ATTEMPT TO “CLONE” YOURSELF

Business Leaders often make the mistake of recruiting exact replicas of themselves. They look for people who think like them, reason like them and have almost identical ideas about running a business. Why do they do this? Because they feel that it will make for a smoother-running team that will be on the “same page”.  They believe that it will minimize internal conflict, and therefore help the organization to function better. Pity. Common mistake. Costly mistake.

The first problem with picking “clones” is that it leads to groupthink. If you all have the same perspective and thought process, then the decision made by the group will be identical to the decision you would have made by yourself! In that case, what is the point of putting a team together in the first place? You might as well make all your decisions alone.

It is important that there be some amount of conflict within any team. A team that has no conflict is stagnant and non progressive. Either nobody cares, or everybody has the same blinders on. Your job as the leader is to manage the conflict that should occur from time to time within the group. When leaders choose to clone themselves in a group, it is sometimes because they cannot be bothered to do that which is part of their job – resolving/managing conflict and gleaning innovation from the flow of varying ideas. By setting up clear goals, and setting up clear sub-goals for each of the team members, and keeping them focused on the goals, keeping conflict at an acceptable level is quite doable.

(3)PICK PEOPLE WHO ARE BETTER AT THEIR JOB THAN YOU ARE

Many successful people will attribute their success to the abilities of the people that work for them. This is not simply an exercise in modesty. Achieving success in business is gruelling work. Each day brings with it new concepts to be understood, new ideas, and new frontiers to be explored.  In addition, there are customers, suppliers and competitors to deal with, each of whom wants to gain an edge in their business any way they can. Surrounding yourself with smart and intelligent people – experts that are more knowledgeable than you are in their various fields puts you in a good position to handle these challenges.

Firstly, it means that you won’t have to waste valuable time on re-training. Undoubtedly, the successful business leader invests time on training his team in certain concepts and procedures. The difference in training a team of experts, however, is that their grasping ability is at a peak level. If you find yourself having to explain the same concepts multiple times over, you’re probably wasting your time.

Secondly, picking the most competent people will also decrease the amount of time it takes for you to ascend the promotion ladder. Why? My former boss said to me once: “I cannot promote you until I know that you have trained one of your people well enough to take your place. If I were to promote you now, I would create a competency void in your present position. That would not be good for the organization”.

He was right!  Having smart people in your team makes it easier and quicker for you to groom replacements when your time comes to move up to the next level.

(4) CHARACTER MATTERS

Integrity & Courage are integral values that must be present in your team. Both build trust, which is essential if your team is to work well as a unit. They positively affect the ability of your entire organization to work together. These principles define the character of a person. Some people feel that they are moral principles, while others feel that they are prudential principles. But those who do not feel them at all are the wrong people to have in your organization. Remember that the principles to which you and your entire team adhere without exception, are the only ones that will be reflected throughout your organization.

The Ultimate Winning Team

When Jesus began his three-year ministry, he needed people that he could entrust with the sacred duty of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth. Following the principles mentioned above, he handpicked a team of twelve men. Being who he was, Jesus was able to discern their capabilities for the job, without subjecting them to job interviews. All twelve men were proven achievers. Some were in the fishing business while others were in the business of tax collecting. They knew what it meant to work towards results. The disciples were by no means “clones” of Jesus. They were as different from Jesus (and each other) as was humanly possible. Although Jesus trained them equally, the differences in their characters and perspectives are clearly portrayed in their writings, which make up a large part of the New Testament. Each man had great intelligence, which was brought forth by the Spirit of God. It enabled them to stand and speak in front of Kings and other elite of society. Finally, they were men of strong character. Jesus saw in them integrity and courage. Even Judas Iscariot, who is normally portrayed as the evil crook who betrayed Jesus, possessed attributes that Jesus admired. His inability to live with the guilt of his grave mistake is testament to the fact.

IN CONCLUSION…

Of course, bringing together the right team is no easy task. It might take you weeks, months, or even years, to get the pieces in place.  As a leader, you must have the patience, and the persistence, to seek out and bring these people on board.  The keys to success provided so far are just a few of the elements that will determine your success.  Once you have the team assembled, you must lead them.  This involves another skill set entirely, that is not discussed here. But rest assured, no price is too high, to get the right team in place. Success breeds success. Mediocrity breeds failure. The quality of the team you assemble will be your enduring legacy in the organization. There is little else that you can do in your early months of your new leadership position that will play a bigger role in determining your success.

 

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