Your great team, without you

“I want to fill my team with leaders”

Jeffry, an old friend, who is now a Director at one of the Silicon Valley tech giants called me asking for help finding people to recruit into his organization. That was his reply when I asked him about the kind of people he was looking for. “Leaders, I want LEADERS”. Jeffry repeated.

“Big mistake.” I replied after listening to his challenges for 20 minutes.

Jeffrey has been having trouble retaining his smartest people. At the same time, there are people in the team that he no longer wants in the team, but have been keeping in the team because he cannot find the right people to take their position. Jeffrey’s rating from his team has been falling over the past two years and he thinks half of his team is not fully engaged at work.

To explain my solution to Jeffrey’s problem, I drew him a pyramid and split it into three. The top portion had the leader, the middle had potential leaders and the bottom of the pyramid was supported by what I called the ‘pillars’ of the team.

Jeffrey zoomed in on the potential leaders. He liked the idea of filling his team with just Potential Leaders.

“Hold on Jeffrey, start by building the base”. I interrupted him. Jeffrey already had a good base. The people in his team that Jeffrey wanted to replace with, because they lacked the leadership skills were the ‘pillars’ of the team. They had been with the team for a few years, know what they are doing, enjoy their work and are happy where they are in the organization. Jeffrey’s problem has been that these people are not willing to go outside their comfort zone. He had tried his best to push them into the leadership roles, but it just backfired when two of them quit and others started rebelling. “Your first job, Jeffrey, is to stabilize the base of the pyramid”. I advised. “Start with giving the space and time for your ‘pillars’ to do their work. Make sure that they get time for cross-training each other, so that they can back each other up.”

Next, focus on the Potential Leaders. Jeffrey already had one person, who he referred to as the young ‘hot shot’. The hot shot was itching to take on the organization’s leadership and the hot shot has been doing a great job in covering for Jeffrey whenever Jeffrey was on vacation. “He is like a tiger. He is smart and capable of leading the team, but if I don’t keep feeding him, he will eat me”. Jeffrey said, confessing that he was afraid that the ‘hot shot’ would find a leadership role somewhere else or worst still, he might do something to get Jeffrey into trouble, forcing Jeffrey to leave and then take Jeffrey’s role.

“Jeffrey, it is time for YOU to leave”. I gave my final verdict. “You said you already have two other ‘potential leaders’ in addition to your hot shot. Now it is time for you to transition off your responsibility to the hot shot and find another gig”. Jeffrey was silent. He had spent 9 years in the team, hiring each of his team members and developing the team into what it is now. “Jeffrey, even the President of the United States gets only 8 years”. I tried to cheer him up.

It has been a few days now, and I got a follow up email from Jeffery. This time he was not looking for leaders; he was looking for leadership roles. I have already put Jeffrey in touch with some of the best recruiters in the valley.

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