About 10 years ago, I was asked to volunteer and assist with several projects at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. Projects with these MBA candidates range from providing feedback on assignments, mentoring students through experiential projects, and my favorite, mock interview day. We would work with the students on situational interview Q&A and provide our feedback on areas they did well and ways to improve their responses. I loved helping out and we were able to hire multiple employees from this program who I still stay in touch with to this day.
During the interviews, we allowed the students to ask us 2-3 questions on any topic they wanted. Most of the times, the questions asked back to us were very common questions…“tell me about a time where you had to think outside the box” or “what do employers like you look for in a candidate”. However, there was one student whose question I will never forget. She asked, “if you could summarize the successes you have had professionally and create a Greatest Hits Album, what would be the 5-8 titles of this album and why”? She had asked a question that really caused me to think through the response, and allowed us to have a productive conversation on the cause/effect of the things I did well and the mistakes I had made and learned from.
Here is a sampling of what I would consider my greatest hits and an appropriate music genre/potential artist or group I would associate this title with:
People First…Always (80’s Dance Music – Bell Biv Devoe): If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. It is that simple. This is not to say that you should make personnel decisions that will negatively impact your business but great leaders put these people decisions into perspective. Ensuring each member of your team knows their well-being is in your best interest will improve employee engagement and reduce turnover. Be intentional with your team and their careers and they will be more apt to support your cause through good times and tough times. Assign each high potential member of your team some type of project to develop their skills outside of their current job description.
Experience Does Not Equal Proficiency (Classic Country Music – Hank Williams Jr.): I have played close to 1,000 rounds of golf in my life, and am still not really that good in swinging the golf club. The same can be said for people in their careers. Hiring the right person is the most crucial role for any leader. Make sure that you are accurately describing the position you are hiring for and ensure that the candidate you land on is someone you can learn from. Steve Jobs said it best when he said “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
Selection, Not Elimination (90’s Alternative Grunge – Pearl Jam): This has to do with hiring as well. Hiring managers and recruiters typically spend too much time on eliminating potential candidates versus selecting the right candidates to move forward. I always looked for employees who left their position in better shape than what they inherited and maybe were not a perfect fit for the role now, but had the determination to succeed if we worked together on developing into the role. I will likely take a chance on someone who was the right motivational fit for the company and give them an opportunity…however you have to be committed to their development throughout their career and not just in the on-boarding phase. This was an area I was extremely deficient in as a newly promoted manager because I felt I needed a potential new hire to “check all of the boxes” before hiring them. Companies with poor organizational and developmental cultures also tend to write people off based on one interaction or experience instead of constructively talking to the development areas and investing in their improvement. Destination companies focus on selecting the right people and tirelessly working to develop their skills.
Purpose and Process (Modern Country Music – Zac Brown Band): The last few blog posts have really tried to position this shift in thinking for teams and leaders. Every member of your team and company should know the purpose of your organization. From there, you should create processes to allow your company to make the right decisions. This same concept should also be applied to the meetings you are running. Over the next 30 days, set a purpose or agenda for every meeting, and while running the meeting, if people start to sway off course, bring them back together around the purpose.
Always Selling and Training (Modern Day Pop – Taylor Swift): Every role I have had required me to be successful in selling and training. My dad used to tell me that no matter if you were a doctor, a lawyer, a wire lather or janitor, everyone is in sales. Your ability to conduct a job is only as good as your ability to sell and convince others that you could perform the tasks necessary to excel in the position. I could not agree more with this statement, and will add the component of training as it relates to leadership roles. Your focus on the training and development of your teams will improve personal and business efficiencies. And while the methods with which we teach continue to evolve and expand with different generational employees entering the workforce, the foundational principles of what we learn are still the same and should constantly be evaluated and monitored. I love the Kirkpatrick Model as shown below. Most companies employ tactics in level 1…Best-In-Class companies measure output in levels 2-4. If you are conducting training today and not evaluating the change in behavior next week or next month, then the training is a wasted exercise.
Humility and Character (70’s Classic Rock Music – John Denver): This title is non-negotiable for putting on a Greatest Hits compilation. The most effective leaders I have seen through the years use the term “we” when describing their teams. A leader’s own importance is secondary to the individuals on their team. Effective leaders are consistent in their day-to-day interactions and humble in their learnings, understanding that the team is so much more important than the individual leading them. Successful business character traits including respect and loyalty (character is always earned through actions and never implied) are equally important to be visible from the position of CEO to the people in the trenches. If one of these traits is compromised, team challenges typically follow. Leading with humility and character both at work and outside of work will usually lead to success.
Know your Value (Inspirational – MercyMe): There will be challenges….there will be people who question you, doubt you, and love to feed into a drama filled corporate environment. Wake up every day convinced that you are making an impact. When others begin to devalue your role or contributions (and this will happen to everyone), don’t let them bring you down to their level. No person is perfect 100% of the time so make sure the days you wake up happy to go to work outnumber the days you are dreading going into the office. Surround yourself with good people, in and out of your company, and gain their advice. A CEO I know, who was in his new role for less than a year, was promised and told great things by his new employer. After this short stint in his position where the promises were not coming to fruition, he left this great company feeling he would be happier serving another organization who was more in touch with where he wanted to be. He knew what he was worth and was not going to let anyone convince him otherwise, which will bring him great respect in his next career choice.
I love working with High School and College students at TCU (Thanks to Ed for this great opportunity). The excitement and enthusiasm most of them have towards learning is infectious. I wish that the candidate who had asked me the “Greatest Hits” question years ago was looking to join our field as she is someone I have remembered and felt would make an immediate impact in any company she joined. She is extremely successful in the finance world and I know she is creating some of her own greatest hits with her team and people she influences.
Well Done > Well Said