The first foundation slab to be placed upon the concept of building or ‘team creation’, has to be an inviolable admission of the elected, nominated and dejure leader, that he/she is not ‘Mr/Ms Know All’. Based on this thought alone, a leader would be interested to collect and build a team. Leader’s performance is gauged and is mostly dependent upon the quality of followers.
In the political arena, the elected leader has, in a single party or even a coalition government, the absolute right to choose and create a team of choice. The leader is free, if he wishes to be, to remain impartial and balanced in selecting the team members. In the politics of coalitions format, political expediency takes precedence over talent, skill and abilities. Invariably talent is expunged and crucified. Political leadership succumbs to accepting mediocrity in all its manifestations and forms.
In contrast, in the corporate and business world, the CEO, by whatever other nomenclature that may be in use and is recognised as such, doesn’t possess such authority to select and nominate a team of choice. This can happen only in situations where a new enterprise is being established; even then the promoters, particularly, in our culture dominate CEO’s choice and selection; the freedom is not absolute. In some cases of my own experience, examination and review, the team is thrust upon the CEO.
In the corporate environment it is a rarity for the numero uno to independently choose a team of their own preference and choice. They are required to make do with what they inherit. In making this point, it is not to suggest that normally all inherited teams are not of good quality. In fact, in most cases, the number of talented oversteps the presence of the less efficient or even incompetent.
Intelligence demands (and may I remind readers that intelligence is not to be confused with cleverness… this trait is foxy and hence not desirable as a human trait. All clever men are birds of prey, is an old proverb) that a CEO who walks into a going concern, with an operating team in place, must give enough time to personally assess the competence of the human resources, before moving into action for removal, replacement or even change in assignment.
The incoming president/CEO/MD/GM usually gets inundated with an information overload, that is passed on by the staff members, without even asking for it, regarding’ other colleagues’; mostly it is communication of the negative type, where some are made to look good, than they actually are; while some are blasted off as nincompoops, which they may or may not be. A good leader must listen to what is being said/shared, but never should any action be initiated, taken, unless corroborative evidence is not found independently, which must also arise and be found without duress or influence.
In a going concern, whenever there is a change of the helmsman, the new incumbent ‘inherits’ a team . The members may not be entirely of the CEO’s preference and liking. In case of such inheritance, the CEO is generally advised by the hiring board as an ‘instruction or a passive remark’, not to indulge in enmasse replacement, not to fire people, and in worst case scenarios the ‘sacred cows’ are identified, as the ‘untouchables’ in the positive and preferred sense. These untouchables could be running a surreptitious spy and espionage wing, under the influence and directives of the owner, promoter or the chairman. These informal but highly active and dangerous lines of communication between the ‘untouchables and the guides’ operate subterranean. In the event such leeches and parasites are not identified on a prior basis to the incoming CEO, the discovery later of these elements is actually a painful learning through the hard way.
On these pages, a few years back, I had written about a personal experience with a senior colleague; who in the very first meeting chose with intent and motive, to remark, “In this organisation, failures are rewarded”, without battling the eyelids, I softly said to him, “I can see that”. Thankfully, he either did not understand the potency of the quip or just turned a blind eye to it. The possibility of being dense cannot be ruled out also. Later in life, I learnt, not with concrete evidence but based more on hearsay, that he was a ‘plant’. God alone knows, if he was. Politics is the art of possibility, an axiom that corporate leaders use and rely upon most, than do the politicians.
The CEO/leader must decide on his/her own, of who would constitute to be the team members. If the CEO him/herself is deficient, and is a product of the board’s nepotism or favouritism, then little should be expected of any worthwhile change, that will be done or undertaken. A submissive leader/CEO is desired, where the ‘status quo’ has to be maintained or in the most tyrannical corporate strategy, he/she is to be used, for preservation of vested interests of the board/ownership. In such cases, the inherited team lasts longer than the life of the complaining CEO.
Leadership exists only where there is followership. The most difficult aspect in life is about choice; choosing between available options. The desirable alternatives grow only on imaginary trees. They are hence most difficult to be had. The CEO’s demand independence of thought and action, however costly it may be and wherever it may lead to. No, the CEO is expected to sink the ship, with biases, prejudices or nepotism/favouritism. The leader knows, it is the followers quality that will give success, hence they remain cognisant of its importance and that it cannot be compromised.
Extreme care must be exercised in selecting the team. “As a man thinketh so is he; and as a man chooseth so is he” ( Emerson). If the CEO/leader is open minded and enlightened, the selection will be of people who are better qualified, more knowledgeable, more competent and more open than the Leader. Such behaviour and action can only be expected from a leader, who, personally, doesn’t suffer from ‘insecurities’. “It is your own conviction which compels you: that is choice compels choice” (Epictetus). Leaders must keep in distinction that the pleasure of the preferred is always greater than the regret of the portion left.
Following his victory as president, Abraham Lincoln surprised and shocked all his followers, admirers and critics equally, by selecting and nominating his staunch political adversaries on to critical cabinet positions; when confronted, why he did so? Lincoln, a man of great vision, foresight, dignity and humility said, “They are the best brains. I want to use them for my country”. This kind of clarity must exist in the thought pattern of any leader.
As stated, clever leadership serves itself only -- clever individuals are collectively disliked by the non-clever; and between themselves they affectionately hate each other. So, no leader must take ‘clever persons’ to be part of their teams. The need is to have the best, in all respects. “If all the good people could be clever; And all the clever people could be good; The world will be nicer than ever; We thought that it possibly could” (Elizebeth Wordsworth in The Clever and Good).
Leaders must select a team of people who are self inspired, needing little or no direction, and should mostly be self propelling units of energy/performance. If hiring is done to supervise on a micro basis, then the leader has failed miserably in his/her hiring strategy. Business skills are essentially non-transferable and hence, those in possession must be hired and valued for their stay and commitment.
The CEO, in the marketplace must wage a battle for seeking talent; following which the booty must be of accomplished men and women professionals. In the presence of a talented team, the Leader merely has to navigate the organisational direction and leave it to the team members, to keep moving the oars in unison. If this is achieved, the team is ‘made’ -- for winning and for sustainability of success.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist