Did you watch the 2007 film Lions for Lambs? If you didn’t, consider yourself lucky. Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 37 on a scale of 100 because of a meandering storyline and clunky dialogue. Interestingly, it was a terrible film with an A+ cast. The stars of Lions for Lambs included Robert Redford, Meryl Streep, Tom Cruise, and Michael Peña. That, my friends, is a colossal waste of talent. In my years in leadership, I’ve watched many great organizations flounder because they elevated talent above vision, not vision above talent. To be clear, the first step in assembling an effective team is to make sure the team has a goal – a purpose – worth pursuing in the first place. Pairing a star-studded cast of industry talent with a stinker of an organizational vision will not miraculously elevate the vision to blockbuster status.
Now let’s assume your vision is compelling and you are ready to build a team to support it. Your next task is to find the right people to do the work. Right does not necessarily mean the most experienced, best credentialed, or even the most innovative. Right means those best suited to align with the purpose, the organizational culture and the mix of skills of the existing team. In my own work on the hiring side of the house, I look for passion not pedigree. Potential hires who’ve done their homework and can articulate how their gifts and energies fit within the organization, will always have my vote over the savant who seems far more interested in talking about all they’ve accomplished than elevating the organization and purpose. I also appreciate team members who’ve overcome setbacks and adversity. Those who are battle-tested model resilience for the newer members of team. Sometimes resilience is the only thing that will get an organization beyond a disruptive event.
Congruence Not Competition
It’s in our nature to desire top billing in the workplace. Those who are not constantly driving for an increase in salary, power, and office square footage, are often not leading organizations. Every organization needs drivers, those born to lower their shoulders and lead the charge. That said, those of us called to lead should never fall into the trap of hiring team members cast in our own image. When I build a team, I want the personalities and skillsets represented within the team to fit and work together. While I love “unstoppable” A-types like me, I recognize that some of the best members on my teams bring something entirely different to the table than me; they complement the skills and personalities and complete the team. Here’s an important caveat: Never use “culture” or the quest for “congruence” to opt-out of building diversity in your teams. These hires are essential for every organization. There will be times that a potential hire’s background and experience will be so different than your cultural norm, that you’ll wonder, “Can this person thrive here?” You won’t know until you make the hire. Diverse hires are not just about creating equality and opportunity for many (as important as that is), it’s about bringing new work and lived experience and fresh perspectives to your existing team.
With a formidable team in place, gather the team together regularly to talk about culture, purpose, goals, etc. Whether members of the team are answering phones or leading product development, everyone shares responsibility for moving the brand forward. So, leverage all your talent by giving the talent license to articulate what they envision for the brand’s future. The next big idea or sublime fix to a current challenge may be right there in the mind of a team member.
Imagine how great Lions for Lambs could’ve been if the A-listers in the picture had the greenlight to massage the script.