The most important thing a leader does is making the right hiring decisions. New hires must fit the culture, have emotional intelligence, be honest, have integrity and be eager to learn and develop. When I hire team members, I look for people who have different strengths than me. I want someone who will complement my skills and challenge me to think differently. Why? I already have me. I don’t need another me. My experience is that diverse teams provide smarter solutions and perform better than less diverse teams.
Steve Jobs said, “Hire smart people, then let them tell you what to do.” Most of the time you don’t need consultants. You need to listen to your people. I have found that companies can make significant improvements and grow their business by listening to their people; especially their frontline employees that interface with customers.
When you do hire and onboard a new employee, make sure she has a seasoned mentor. The first 30-60 days determine how this employee will acclimate to the culture and company and will set the tone for the employee’s performance. Mentors should also be used for employees that have high potential or have recently been promoted. Assigning a mentor can help ensure the success and development of these employees.
Speaking of high potential, high performing employees that you believe can take on additional responsibility, you must remember that some of these high-performing individual contributors don’t always make great leaders. The transition from an individual contributor to a leader/manager is not easy. New leaders tend to believe that their way is the only way to be successful. You need new leaders that understand that there is more than one way of doing the work and many approaches to be successful.
Growth comes through adversity and failure. The greatest lessons I have learned have come through challenging times and situations. Development usually comes through stretch assignments, mistakes and failures. I love the story of Tom Watson Jr., former CEO of IBM. He had called a VP to his office to discuss a failed development project that lost IBM about $10 million. Expecting to be fired, the VP presented his letter of resignation. Tom Watson Jr. just shook his head and said “You are certainly not leaving after we just gave you a $10 million education.” In those days, failure was not a problem at IBM as long as it was turned into a learning experience. When we stumble or fall, we need to fail-forward and fail-fast. We must learn from the experience and apply those learnings in the future.