For many years I have heard and talked about what it would be like to have a team of A players reporting to me. While I have had one or two reporting to me at any one time, having an entire team of A players always seemed to elude me. Recently, I finally was able to change my team so everyone on it are A players. Once this happened, my entire world changed.
As you move up in an organization, the skill sets that make you successful in your role change dramatically. When I was early in my career it was my drive, technical capabilities and ability to produce large amounts of quality deliverables that got me noticed. Slowly as I moved up in my career I got the chance to manage other people. I found early that what it took to manage some people was very different than others. I had some people who did not have the skill sets or drive to succeed on my team, I had others that had terrific technical skills, but sometimes lacked the drive to produce high quality deliverables and other that seemed to possess both.
As a manager, my time seemed to gravitate to the people on my team that either needed guidance due to my technical abilities or I needed to follow up on to make sure they were making progress on their projects. These activities were such a large part of my time and thinking, that the A players on my team would often get less of my time. My A players would come up with ways to meet their goals, drive initiatives to achieve those goals and keep my informed on the progress. Having these A players was a breath of fresh air that freed up time for me so I could focus on getting the rest of my team up to speed.
After suffering with B players for far too long, I took the initiative to find other spots in the organization where my B players would be more likely to achieve success in their careers or they left the company. I focused my hiring efforts on obtaining A players that I thought had more to offer than my technical capabilities alone. These were people that were in many ways smarter and just as driven as I was.
I quickly figured out that my technical capabilities had little to offer these people. We would talk about the work, but I often found that I learned more than I taught. I had to keep up to speed on the status of projects, but my team pushed these projects hard and rarely missed deadlines. When they did miss a deadline they not only had an explanation, but a way to overcome obstacles and get the project done. I quickly felt lost wondering what exactly my role is and value to the organization.
My role and activities changed dramatically. I found that much more of my time was spent talking with other executives to remove obstacles that my team was encountering. When they got stuck due to capital, resources, political nonsense, or something else they could not control I quickly jumped in so they could focus on what was important. We would have many conversations, but they were more strategic in nature. We would align on what we were trying to accomplish versus how to get it done. My role went from that of a manager or functional guru to give advice to that of an encourager and facilitator.
I can see why so many managers have a hard time hiring people that are smarter than they are. There is a comfort being the smartest person in the room that can dish out advice on a moment’s notice. Not only does it give you a feeling of importance, but those above you may see you as vital. What managers do not realize is that it makes it much harder to achieve the results you want when you are the bottleneck.