My first job after college was as a management trainee for a large financial institution. My training was designed to last a full year and provided broad exposure to numerous aspects of banking. At the completion of the program, I was to be promoted into a leadership role—that’s assuming I performed well all along the way.
My final assignment prior to being eligible for “placement” was to take on the role of manager at a large and busy bank branch. The actual branch manager, Mike, was heading out on a three-week vacation and my challenge was to run his operation successfully in his absence.
Noting this was my final task as a trainee, I very much wanted to excel and to do my best work. To that end, I drove out to the branch before Mike took off on his trip so we could review all the responsibilities I’d be handling. The meeting went briskly. Mike answered all my questions, introduced me to the staff, and showed me performance reports that identified where I might devote some special attention to help elevate the team’s achievement. I felt ready to take on my assignment.
Our meeting had ended and I was on my way out of the branch when Mike called me back. He told me that he had forgotten an extra assignment that he hoped I’d have completed before he returned: he wanted me to hire three new employees—two tellers and a new accounts representative—to replace people who had just resigned.
In the moment, I was very excited to take on this added responsibility and to have the new workers on board upon Mike’s return. Driving back to my office, however, it occurred to me how risky—even reckless—it was for Mike to have given me full responsibility for choosing people for his team. Coming to the branch for the very first time, I understood none of its challenges, had no knowledge of the people already on the staff, nor had any sense at all of the expertise and qualities that were most needed.
It was clear to me that Mike saw neither the risks associated with my making poor choices or even the value of taking time to provide his informed direction. In that moment, Mike had his mind on vacation—not on the long-term implications of the hiring decisions I was about to make.
Alternatively, I could have identified final candidates for Mike to meet, interview, and select upon his return to work. Employees from other nearby branches could have been asked to fill in for a few weeks until this occurred. Instead, Mike insisted I rely on my own judgment—even though, after I was long gone, he would have to rely upon these same people to help him achieve numerous and challenging sales targets and service goals. It was amazing to me that Mike failed to see the importance of having equity in every single hiring decision—the value of being able to convey to his employees that he picked them because he wanted them for his team and saw in them great talent and potential.
FIND PEOPLE WHO WILL PUT THEIR HEARTS INTO THEIR WORK
Drawing from both my childhood and professional experiences, by far the most important lesson I ever learned about building high performance teams is this: Make it your intention that every person you select to your team will put their hearts into the work they’re about to do.
The more formative experiences of HeartMath co-founder Doc Childre underscore the importance of this practice. Inquisitive by nature, Childre spent much of his early adult years studying everything from vegetarianism to myriad spiritual practices. Including time he spent in the National Guard, and through other exploration and experimentation, he found a consistent theme: when it came to anything in his life that worked, it was because his heart was in it. His heart was connected to it. This was true of jobs, relationships, diets—when his heart was in it, it had a lot more staying power than when it wasn’t.
Childre’s insight provides exquisite guidance to anyone involved in hiring workers. Hire people with heart. Your objective is to find people who exhibit a clear passion for wanting to be part of what you do—people who display both a genuine desire to perform a role along with the talent or aptitude to succeed at it. You do this by being extremely thorough—vigilant—in the selection process, knowing your goal each time out is to hire people who will put the core of themselves into their work, not just a conceptual buy-in.
Everyone has some kind of work that they are good at and that makes their heart sing. Too frequently, however, we put people into roles that don’t match up to either those talents or passions. It’s irrational to expect anything but half-hearted effort, commitment, and effectiveness from someone who lacks genuine enthusiasm for the work they do all day. Never forget that there’s a remarkable difference in the quality of one’s craftsmanship when they love what they are doing.
And never doubt that there are people who are excited about and feel challenged by virtually every job there is to do in the world. When you realize there are people who passionately go about their day laying down asphalt, washing skyscraper windows, and nursing terminally ill patients, you realize that people are unique in what motivates them and in what roles represent the perfect fit. As 13th-century Persian poet Rumi long ago asserted, people are born with natural inclinations, and it’s the leader’s job to match those to the appropriate role.
Alain de Botton, Swiss author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, suggests that way too many people ignore the seriousness of choosing one’s work and, as a result, find themselves in positions that have little or no connection to their own aspirations and purpose. “I studied the world of career counseling and was amazed by just how casually people fall into jobs. Most of us are still in jobs chosen by our 22-year-old selves. We speak endlessly about waste: waste of energy, resources, of water. But the most shameful waste is of people’s talents.” By leading from your heart, you assure that your objective is to help people grow, contribute, and become maximized in their potential. Consequently, you must ensure no one on your watch ever “falls into” a position to which they are unnaturally suited.
It’s been my professional experience that too many leaders greatly underestimate the downside—and upside— in making disciplined hiring decisions and thus fail to take the process as seriously as they should.
Simply by hiring well—and by resisting the temptation to ever “settle” and put someone into a job where they didn’t belong—I created a performance advantage for my teams that only became greater once people progressed into comfort and competency in their roles. Regardless of what position I needed to fill, my objective was to always find someone who would wholeheartedly commit to it and thus excel in it. Relying on a highly disciplined selection process as the means to building an exceptional and highly engaged team is the critically important first step toward achieving superior performance.
An excerpt from Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century by Mark C. Crowley.
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