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Are You the A-Team

The A-Team Logo, courtesy of Wikipedia
The A-Team Logo, courtesy of Wikipedia

Ten years ago, a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum-security stockade to the Los Angeles underground. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem… if no one else can help… and if you can find them… maybe you can hire… The A-Team.

If you read the above paragraph and did not hear the music in your head, stop what you are doing and watch this:

The A-Team always had to think — and fight — their way out of any situation. Their ideas never worked as intended, but a plan always came together. Their improvisation was a byproduct of what made this team so successful. The individual — and sometimes combative — personalities of their team makeup provided them an edge for any scenario.

Balanced Investment Strategy

Switching from nostalgic television shows to finances, when was the last time you looked at your Roth IRA, 401k, 529 plan?

Comparing the risk vs reward of financial products, including tresuries, bonds and stocks (courtesy of investopedia.com)
Comparing the risk vs reward of financial products, including tresuries, bonds and stocks (courtesy of investopedia.com)

Most do-it-yourself investment products, such as a company’s 401k, will let you set your portfolio matrix based on your aversion to risk. Talk with any financial planner, and she/he/they will tell you the only rule for financial success: Diversify your portfolio to take advantage of both bull and bear markets.

Now, look at the personality makeup of your team. Perhaps you are web or app engineers, or architects, or you are attorneys, veterinarians, or plumbers, it doesn’t matter. If you want your team to thrive, your need to diversify your team’s personalities.

Are You The A-Team?

“Mad Dog” Murdock (AKA the Risk Taker)

Do you have someone on your team who not only thinks but lives “outside the box?” This member is like the small-cap equities and emerging market stocks in your portfolio — higher risk means aggressive-growth when they’re right. And higher potential to fail.

Maybe this teammate is impulsive, inexperienced, or young. This person benefits your team by providing a unique perspective, but she/he may not have access to all the facts or data, instead of relying on gut instincts. This teammate might suggest making a hot-fix in production or perform some precarious or untested procedure. Full of enthusiasm, this person’s ideas and solutions seem daring, and are.

Never outright dismiss this person’s ideas. “This won’t work” or “that’s not a good idea” should never be the end of the conversation — rather, it should start the discussion. If you wholesale shut down this individual’s suggestions, you risk alienating a valuable team contributor and limits your cache of solutions in the long run.

There is a lesson in everything. This teammate does not have the experience, data or perspective to make a more prudent suggestion. However, this teammate brings a fresh, unjaded mindset which should contribute to a more well-rounded decision.

B. A. Baracus (AKA The Risk Adverse)

Perhaps you have a teammate who always points out the flaws or edge cases in every solution. She/he/they are reticent to follow any solution without thinking of every angle. This teammate is your Money Market, Government Treasuries, or bonds. These investments are stable. It almost guarantees you to not lose anything on a bad investment. Inversely, you won’t gain much, either.

This teammate will help you navigate catastrophic solutions. And may even directly oppose your risk taker. The conversations between these two teammates is paramount to your team’s success, so long as you keep their conversation constructive. Like Hannibal cajoling B. A. Baracus to “get on the plane”, the team lead will need to push or guide her/him/them out of her/his comfort zone.

Handled wrong, you risk alienating this teammate. Instead, use language to compare the risk to reward and share with this person the safeguards he/she should help add to the mutual result.

Templeton Peck “Face” (AKA The one who can get things done)

This teammate balances equal parts temerity and caution. But this person’s real asset is her/his/their ability to get things done within an unreasonable timeframe, often leveraging some friend or group outside the team. She/he/they knows everyone and has a go-to person for any situation.

This teammate is your large-cap or blue chip mutual fund, pulling ideas or favors from a wide pool of resources. This teammate commingles value with peril — earning the image of reliability, the passivity of infallibility, or the expectation to be the team’s workhorse. The risk you need to counteract is to always be thankful for this person’s thoughts and efforts. Ensure this teammate has support when (not if) he/she fails and does not get burned out or feel taken for granted.

Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith (AKA The Team Leader)

Cultivating the A-Team, like creating a solid investment portfolio, takes patience and finding the balance between the risk taker and the risk-adverse. Rarely was each member in full (or even partial) agreement with each other’s suggestion or methodologies. And like any financial portfolio, had the team comprised only high-risk Murdocks or all safe-bet B. A. Baracus, they would have failed.

The beauty in Hannibal’s leadership was his ability to show confidence in Murdock’s schemes while also lending validity to B. A.’s skepticism. Decisions culminated by weighing each person’s feedback. Hannibal held each team member accountable and often questioned their reasoning. But he never questioned their abilities, and he ensured each member worked toward whatever death-defying scheme the team had committed to accomplish.

A people manager, like a portfolio manager, will need to vary the ratio of temerity vs caution with each project, sometimes within each task of a project.

Your Piece of the P.I.E.

10% Performance, 30% Image, 60% Exposure
Your “brand” by the numbers: Performance, the easiest to control is the smallest piece of the equation. Performance informs or contributes to Image. At 60%, Exposure is the most essential piece of the pie, but ironically is also the most difficult to achieve or maintain.

Hannibal’s ability to conceptualize comprehensive solutions can become a leadership pitfall. Career success can fall into three categories: Performance, Image, Exposure.

Similar to comparing your team to a well-balanced financial portfolio, your goals and actions, too, need to be fine tuned.

Exposure is the largest piece in this equation (60%), and it can be the arduous to achieve — how do you market yourself and your abilities? What steps or tools do you use to influence others to recognize you?

At just 10% of the whole, Performance contributes to Image, which should be 30% of your “brand.”

This means that if you have some modicum of exposure, maintaining your image becomes paramount to ensuring you are recognized for the attributes that will carry your career. If your image is better suited for the job you have now, you may need to consider ways to modify your performance in order to affectively update your image.

Being known as the man (or gal) with the plan is great when one is an individual contributor, such as an architect, or a high-level executive like a CTO.

As a people manager, however, being the one with all the solutions contradicts the role of a coach. It is my responsibility to empower my team of engineers to ideate our team solutions. And to keep their accomplishments in the spotlight.

I have seen many times where a manager takes credit for their team. In some cases, the manager takes credit for the entire team’s performance, in other instances for coming up with the idea. In either case, this has the potential to demoralize the very team that you are in charge of growing.

As a manager, I attend meetings with other leaders and executives. Therefore, my exposure dwarfs that of my team. I receive accolades for my team’s hard work. And it has become my job to ensure the focus stays on my team.

My image needs to shift from the one who can solve all the problems to the one who influences and imparts my perspective onto my team contributors who will solve all the problems.

That’s my plan at least. And I love it when a plan comes together.

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Drew Schillinger

Drew Schillinger

I am a Zen-gineer, coach, manager, and mindful leader whose goal is to encourage and help my teammates succeed in all their endeavors.

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