Priceless Lessons from a Business Legend

Herb Kelleher passed away in January at the age of 89.

He was the co-founder and long time CEO of Southwest Airlines. A pioneer in a difficult industry littered with failures.


From humble beginnings, Southwest Airlines has flourished. It now flies 120 million passengers a year and employs more than 58 000 people. It’s been profitable every year since two years after it was founded. Every year!


In 2016 it received 178 299 resumes from people who want to work there.


The company is an inspiration.


It’s changed the lives of millions of people. Has an eye-watering reputation for customer service. And it’s created incredible economic value. A $10,000 investment in the Southwest IPO was worth $10.2 million thirty years later.


What lessons can we learn from the life of Herb Kelleher?


1. Build a cause.


The goal was not just to keep fares low, fly to more cities and make money. It was to “democratise the skies”. “Give America the freedom to fly” was their mission. Inside the business people thought of themselves as “freedom fighters.”

Flying then was only really accessible to the business traveller and the affluent. A fact that’s hard to believe now. Thirty years later, three out of four Americans have flown at least once in their lives.


2. Simplify.


Low cost, on time and customer satisfaction. That was it. A simple, efficient operating model and a culture unique to air travel was the formula.


To beat the competition, he boiled the business down to these essentials and stuck to that. Employees could easily understand the strategy and play their part in delivering it.


Keeping it simple also made decisions easier. For example, which planes to fly? It was only ever the Boeing 737. Why? One plane makes training of pilots and mechanics easier and simplifies fleet operations.

3. Treat your employees like customers.


To deliver efficiency and a truly unique customer experience, people were the key. His logic was simple. Happy workers lead to happy passengers, thus giving the airline a competitive edge.

He said in 2001. “When you treat people right, then they will treat your outside customers right. That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us.”

4. Instil a sense of fun in the culture.


He lived by the mantra, “we take our jobs seriously, not ourselves.” At company meetings he would often dress up like Elvis Presley. Maintaining a sense of fun in the workplace was as important to him as anything else the company did.

And he set the example.

Herb Kelleher Southwest Airlines 2


Once the company got into a dispute with a competitor. It was over an advertising tagline, “Just Plain Smart”. Rather than litigate Kelleher suggested an arm wrestle with the other CEO.


They went through with it. Mr. Kelleher lost. But it was such a good experience that the CEO let Southwest keep the tagline.


5. Be obsessive about hiring the right people


This, he said, was a leader’s most crucial task. He put a premium on temperament. “If you don’t have a good attitude, we don’t want you, no matter how skilled you are,” he once said.


Attitude mattered. “What we are looking for foremost is a sense of humour”. One pilot never got the job because he refused to put on a pair of casual shorts during a group exercise. Another was dismissed for being rude to a receptionist.


They built this obsession into their recruitment. Even inviting longtime Southwest customers to help screen job candidates.


They had standards and they were serious about them.


6. Stay close to customers


Getting into the field to have direct contact with customers was important to him. He would often board flights to chat to passengers. By doing so he also set an example to his executives. This made it important to them too.


He knew that never losing touch with the customer was the lifeblood of the company. He once said, “customers are like a force of nature: You can’t fool them, and you ignore them at your peril.”


7. Make more leaders


Ensuring that Southwest was successful without him was to me his greatest achievement.


He did this by building leaders. Leaders with breadth and depth, able to make the business grow and thrive, even into middle age. Under Gary Kelly, the current CEO, Southwest has done exactly that! It has navigated fierce competition, a massive merger and changing customer expectations.


It’s true that Herb Kelleher was a leader of rare energy and abilities. One of a kind.


But from his big life we learn priceless lessons. They apply to any business large or small.

I hope they apply to yours? Good luck and please comment below.

We love hearing from you!

grant@leadershipworks.co.za

Setting Goals, Building Trust and Catching Buffalos

This is the final video in the series. Ian and I have been talking about the process of building a high performing team.

In the beginning it starts with decisions the leader must make around team membership and size. The qualities and skills of the people on the team define what kind of team it will become.

To be high performing you need people who are hungry. People who want to achieve and who have the discipline and endurance to actually carry out the tasks required for success.

But as Patrick Lencioni writes, they must also be humble and smart.

This means they are open to learning from others, place the team above themselves and show good judgment when dealing with people. Leaders of high performing teams are both wise and courageous with team selection.

They know this is their most important task.

When it comes to team size, between 5 and 10 is the ideal number. Too big and you lose the ability to meet often, to go deep into issues and to be agile and responsive.

Clear Goals and Trust are the next big building blocks.

We talk about these in the video and once again we turn to lions to bring lessons back into business. In particular we draw our biggest insights from those lion prides who pursue big, dangerous quarry like the African Cape Buffalo.

Goals create focus and they concentrate effort. Skilled and committed people concentrating their effort on a few big things leads to breakthroughs.

But often in teams there is the temptation to have too many goals.

I come across teams with as many as 10 or 15 priorities. Our adage is too many priorities mean none at all. By clear we mean the few vital things the team must achieve with excellence or nothing else it achieves will really matter.

Trust relates to team members’ confidence to speak up, to disagree, to own up and to be vulnerable.

Despite being so obvious and widely spoken about, many teams still struggle with both of these concepts.
Not only have most teams not clarified the few vital things, but there is also not the level of trust in place to have the kind of open, free-flowing, often heated and spirited debate, so necessary for making decisions that generate commitment.

This mixture of goal confusion, ambiguity and low trust is a proven recipe for mediocrity and low morale. The exact opposite of high performance one is trying to create.

High performing teams have mastered this challenge. Not only can people accurately describe the goal, they can also describe in detail their part in achieving it too. And they are not afraid to speak up, to disagree when it’s required and to encourage others to speak out too.

Not that they are disagreeable, quite the contrary.

It’s that they are so committed to the team and so badly want the best for the business that they are slightly paranoid that something important will be missed.

Building a high performing team is easier than it seems.

It does not require a new theory or great intellectual insights. But it does ask for courage from the leader and a real commitment from the whole team to doing something special and in the process avoiding the well-worn path of playing it safe and mediocrity.

We hope that you will enjoy this short video … as much as we enjoyed making it.

We also always love hearing from you.

What question would you like answered when it comes to building a great business culture, leading an organisation, or setting up and sustaining winning teams? No question is too big or too small. We will do our best to answer all of them in a meaningful way or at least to point you in the right direction.

Please comment below. We would love to hear from you!

To view the full series, and for more articles and resources, please visit www.leadershipworks.co.za or www.ianthomas.net.

Or you can follow us on our travels on Instagram @grant.ashfield | @ian_s_thomas.

What do lion prides do with passengers?

Tackling the thorny issue of poor performance and unmet expectations is vital if a business team wants to be successful and breakthrough to the next level.

Ian Thomas and I discuss this question in the 2nd video in the series.

The key is to deal with these issues early, directly and of course kindly. It’s a mistake to wait.

Waiting does everyone a disservice. People want to know where they stand and they rely on you to tell them and guide them.

I am a beneficiary of this. Ten years ago, after a consulting session with an Executive Team the CEO invited me for a chat. He got straight to the point.

No elaborate preamble or attempt to soften what he was about to tell me. I recall his words clearly. “We like you. We want to work with you, but today you disappointed me. We have not hired you to tell us what we already know. Your job is to bring us deep insights from your experience, to challenge us and to force us to talk about the things we would rather avoid.”

That was it. Simple and clear. I had to get better if I was to keep working with them. It was a turning point for me and our business.

This was unusual. Mostly senior leaders allow too much time to pass. The real issue I think is the discomfort with the conversation. We hope that the other person will somehow gain the insight by themselves and take the steps to change, without us being in the uncomfortable situation of having to challenge them.

In a lion pride the issues are so much sharper and real.

Here if you don’t contribute you don’t share in the rewards of the hunt and ultimately you fall out and die. It’s stark but its true. The sustainability of the pride relies heavily on the contributions of each individual but the individual is not more important than the pride.

Contribution and performance defines membership.

Are you moving too slowly to tackle behavioural and performance issues on your team?

Are you avoiding the uncomfortable conversation about someone’s performance or behaviour?

Take action today!

Begin by writing down what you expect. And yes, write it down. It’s important to be specific. Avoid generalising. This is not about their character. It’s about their contribution and behaviour – be crystal clear before going on.

Check your intent. You are doing this out of love and respect. The other person wants to grow and improve as much as you do and you are a necessary part of this process for them.

Don’t sugarcoat. Be direct and sincere. Offer help and support but don’t take on responsibility for their choices and actions.

Then follow up and follow through with rigour.

In the next video, Ian and I talk about building trust and goal setting. These are the next vital steps in building a great team.

For more articles and resource visit www.leadershipworks.co.za  | www.ianthomas.net. Or you can follow us on Instagram at @grant.ashfield | @ian_s_thomas.

Lions have mastered this skill… how about you?

In a lion pride, team selection and membership is an essential part of their survival. For lions, especially when they are hunting big prey like buffaloes it is a life or death issue.

Having the right team members on the hunt not only ensures their success but also guarantees their safety. Here there is no place for complacency, confusion or personal positioning and ego. It is about getting the job done and ensuring the wellbeing of the pride.

In organisations the consequences of getting team membership wrong is not so immediately felt. But it’s essential nevertheless.

In fact it is the # 1 executive skill.

Who should be in the key seats around the table is a skill every leader has to master. It is essential to be rigorous about people decisions. If you get this wrong, especially at the top, the whole organisation suffers.

Recently my friend Ian Thomas – best selling author of Power of the Pride, and team expert, and I caught up to talk about this subject. Ian has spent his life studying lion prides and bringing the lessons back for business people.

In this short three-part series we talk about team membership, dealing with passengers on the team, trust and goal setting. We hope that these are useful, fun, and helpful to you!

Getting Team Membership Right

In the next video we will focus on dealing with passengers and poor-performance.

With the right people in place you can now focus on accelerating your growth and building a healthy organisation – one that is future focused, outward looking and entrepreneurial. Vital qualities that every CEO I talk to deem essential to their success.

For more articles and resources visit our websites. www.leadershipworks.co.za and www.ianthomas.net. Or you can follow us on Instagram at @grant.ashfield and @ian_s_thomas.

Please comment below. We love hearing from you. We will send each person who comments a free copy of Ian’s book – The Power of the Pride. * limited to the first 10 comments

Leadership Works Is Your Organisation A Great Place To Work

Is your organisation really a great place to work?

I recently hosted a discussion with a small group of people aged between 21 and 34.

The group, made up of employees from junior and middle management, was talented and ambitious with the potential, the CEO told me, to succeed at the highest level in the company.

Her worry was whether they would stay and if the culture of the business really supported the growth and development of talented people. “A lot of our best people leave once we have trained them, it’s very costly and frustrating to keep starting all over again.”

It’s a problem many companies face.

The purpose of this discussion was to build the awareness of the Executive Team.

They wanted insight into how this group felt about the leadership of the company. They wanted to know if this really was a great place to work, why they had joined and what would cause them to leave.

This Executive fully appreciates the extent to which politics, confusion, turf wars, enlarged egos and dysfunctional behaviour at the top breaks down employee morale and productivity and how much this contributes to suppressing (and depressing) talent, causing them to leave.

This team is vigilant and determined to build a healthy organisation.

Respect, trust, confidence and pride in the culture are the hallmarks of a great organisation and the CEO in particular wants to know that these are present in her organisation.

To the credit of the group, once we kicked off, no one held back. From the start the discussion was animated, engaging and free flowing. Soon we were oblivious to the executives sitting around us, who were scribbling notes and listening intently.

Ninety minutes flew by and at the end definite themes had emerged.

1. Right now in their careers opportunity, guidance and autonomy is vital.

They need real work and responsibility that challenges them and leaders who will support them on the way. Few people, even the most talented, are able to be successful on their own.

But they also need space. They need to make mistakes safely and they’re not able to grow with managers constantly looking over their shoulders and interfering.

Peter Drucker said “that most of what we call management, consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” There comes a time when senior managers need to get out of the way and let people get on with it.

2. This generation is strongly motivated by the need to make a difference.

They want to make an impact and they want their work to have meaning. For many this includes being role models for their community – to show other people that it’s possible to come from very little materially and get somewhere in the world.

From their leaders they also need inspiration … more ‘why’. More knowing that what they are doing serves a real purpose. For any person, feeling that one’s work is neither appreciated or valued is demoralising, but its especially so for this generation.

3. “More feedback please!”

“Tell me how I am doing. Be direct and honest and please don’t shield me from consequences or the truth. Mostly don’t ignore me. Please don’t hire me and promise me great things and then ignore me.”

These words were spoken passionately and over again and were perhaps the biggest takeaway for this Executive Team.

One of my favourite management maxims, “Know me. Value me. Focus me” sprung to my mind.

To give of their best, everyone, especially this generation, wants clear direction and expectations, to be known and valued for who they are and to believe that what they do makes a difference and matters, especially to someone in authority.

I left the discussion with the overwhelming feeling that in our own striving, those of us in our 40’s and 50’s must not let this new generation down.

We are blessed with talent in our companies.

Our job as leaders is to see it. Nurture it. Release it.

As always we love hearing from you. Please comment below and let us know what you think. Is your organisation really a great place to work?

First Who Then What Team Right People

Do you have the right people on your team?

A few years ago I had the privilege of working closely with Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall.   Having the right people on the executive team is a subject he has researched deeply. It’s the whole basis of his work, captured in the maxim, “first who then what.”

It’s also a subject we are often asked to advise on by the leaders we work with.

The question is vital.  I see many organisations trying to achieve a significant performance improvement and culture shift – without really taking seriously the most important question of all, who is sitting around the table?

Team selection – applying the ‘first who then what’ principle – is arguably your most important job as the Chief Executive. At the top you’re not just selecting your team, you are creating the cultural blueprint of your organisation.

This is because what happens on your team, the tone you set and the behaviours you display, are magnified across the whole company.

I’m working with a newly appointed CEO. She inherited a team of 17 people. She knows they need to be fast, agile and responsive. But this team is too big, too unwieldy, too bogged down by consensus and other dysfunctional behaviours, so she must make changes.

(See our previous post on team size;  Is Your Team Small Enough?)

We spent time together talking about what kind of team she really wants.

She wants an executive that learns quickly from mistakes, bounces back from setbacks, where people argue and debate, not to improve their personal position but to find the best answers to support the cause.

She wants a team where people bring data, evidence, detail and logic to discussions but who are also fiercely passionate about the mission and believe in the work. She wants people on the team who enjoy the confidence and admiration of their peers and who have the respect of those they lead.

She realises now that whether they ever become this kind of team at all is a result of who is on the team in the first place.

‘First who then what’ is critical to her plans.

Patrick Lencioni has recently written about this subject.

His latest best-selling book The Ideal Team Player describes 3 essential human attributes for team membership. He asks if the people on your team, or those that you are about to employ, are humble, hungry and smart with people?

  • Put differently, do they think more of others than themselves and are they able to be vulnerable?
  • Are they eager to help? Do they love getting results and do they work hard?
  • Do they exercise good judgement with people and group dynamics, aware of the impact and effect of their words and actions?

Why team selection is so important is because people with these attributes are much more likely to create a true high performing team, which displays all the performance characteristics we wrote about last time.

In conclusion the qualities that people bring with them into your organisation and onto your team are essential and as a leader you should be selecting for these things as much as the person’s skillset and experience.

To help my client, the CEO, with her decisions, I have shared these attributes and the six characteristics Jim Collins describes for the ‘right people in key seats’ with her. It has benefitted her greatly.

Making changes will be uncomfortable, delicate and demanding. But to get the business onto a different path she knows it’s her most important task and it’s one that she has to tackle head on.

Please comment on the post below or send me a mail,  (grant@leadershipworks.co.za) and I will send the ‘right people in key seats’ characteristics on to you.

Next time I will write about a subject I am very passionate about. Lions.

In a lion pride, team selection and membership is an essential part of their survival. It’s a life or death issue. Prides that thrive have powerful individuals and everyone benefits.

I will talk with Ian Thomas, author of Power of the Pride and he will share his deep wisdom from a lifetime spent watching lions and working with teams.

matches pass passion along leadership works top teams

Do you have a real team at the top?

Last time I promised to write about how to start to tap into the gold mine inside your organisation.

The first step is to build a real team at the top.

When your company’s executive team are not on the same page about what’s best for the whole organisation and they put their own interests, needs and functional areas before the priorities of the larger organisation there is a problem.

A bank executive told me recently, when there is no cohesion and unity at the top, the stage is set for interdepartmental rivalry, backbiting, confusion and infighting everywhere else. This behaviour he insists does not serve the overall best interests of the bank and neither does it help the customer.

The journey to a healthy organisation begins then with the Executive Team.

When your executives, the people with the greatest influence on behaviour in your organisation, start sharing information, support group decisions, dismantle the walls that once protected their turf and outlaw political games and hidden agendas, the message about how to behave is clear to everybody else.

How your leaders behave plays a vital role in ensuring that people don’t turn instead to cynicism, apathy and escapism.

Almost every employee has a deep need and desire for a cohesive and unified team at the top. They want to be inspired, to respect their leaders and to not have to take sides and fight unwinnable wars on issues that should have been resolved above them.

For many this deep need remains unmet and it’s a huge contributing factor to why large numbers of people are not emotionally engaged in their work.

At the initial offsite with the top team the first really difficult question we ask executives is, which team is your first team?

It’s not a trick question.

Which hat you wear as you sit around the Executive table is vital to how you show up and behave. Surprisingly, many Executives have not thought much about this.

For most it’s first their functional area or business unit – the team that they lead – that gets their main loyalty. This is where they are most comfortable. Where their knowledge and power base is.

Yet in a healthy organisation – there needs to be a clear Team Number One.

This is a small group of people – the Executives – who have the total interests of the business at heart and who are guided by one overarching leadership question, “How do we unlock and release the future full potential of the whole business”.

This means they are also completely dedicated to stopping the turf wars, ambiguity and every other barrier and bad behaviour that gets in the way of survival, growth and winning in the market.

They know that the stakes are high.

They know that the competition is organised and that every ounce of human creativity and intellect has to be focused outward and not wasted on internal struggles and needless empire building.

An executive I worked with – a very straight and direct man – used to challenge his team by asking; “do you want to be Executives or do you want to be Branch Managers?”

A stinging question, not intended to demean the latter but to remind his Executives of their main purpose … to build a real team at the top.

A Team Number One, that positions the whole business to meet customer needs and to set the example for getting people to submerge their egos and co-ordinate seamlessly. This team works tirelessly to make sure they don’t squander more human capability and goodwill than they actually use.

This is the first step to building your healthy organisation.

Next time we will write about the actual characteristics your Executive Team needs.

In the meantime please visit our Resources Page and download “Do We Work Well Together?” Ten questions that will make you think deeply about your team and what you look like to the people around you.

As always we love hearing from you.

Please comment below. We’ve just received fresh copies of Patrick Lencioni’s best-selling book, The Advantage and will give away three copies to people who comment.

Leadership Works 2017

What is your most important priority as a leader in 2017?

Every business we work with today is experiencing major competition and change. Under this constant pressure everyone is striving to stay ahead.

Despite this, many leaders still limit their search for competitive advantage to conventional and largely exhausted areas like marketing, strategy and technology.

It’s not that these aren’t important. They are and always will be. But the obvious is being ignored. In every organisation there is an untapped gold mine sitting right beneath every leader.

Becoming a healthy organisation is how to access this gold.

As Patrick Lencioni asserts, instead of trying to become smarter (most organisations have enough of this already) leaders must shift their focus to becoming a healthier organisation, allowing them to tap into the more-than-sufficient intelligence and expertise they already have.

One of our clients is a well-known South African company.

They have great marketing, a distinctive strategy and the very best technology and systems in the world. Their products are stunning and they have terrific employee benefits and perks.

Yet there is also mistrust and fear. They are bedeviled by silos, turf wars and internal competition that wither away goodwill, damage trust and cause good team members to disengage.

In their marketplace there is what they describe as ‘hyper competition’. It’s real and it’s relentless. Areas where they have dominated for many years are for the first time being seriously challenged by global players. Yet just when they need every ounce of resourcefulness, initiative and commitment on the inside, people are holding back,

Morale and productivity – which should be high – as it is when people pull together to unify against a common threat, is low and in its place is ambiguity, victimism and interdepartmental rivalries.

This is only good for their competitors. Good people are leaving (or thinking seriously about it) taking valuable skills and years of hard earned experience with them.

They are also troubled by a recent survey that reveals that very few people in middle management aspire to become senior leaders in the organisation. This gap between top management and those close to the front line is worrying and has a big effect on productivity.

Ironically the leaders are really great people. I know them personally – predictably they too are also not having much fun.

It does not have to be like this.

For this organisation the warning bells have sounded and they have begun to take action.

What is your most important priority as a leader in 2017?

Will this be the year that you tap into the gold mine inside your organisation? Take up the challenge and use 2017 to defy and attack the root causes of dysfunction, politics and confusion inside your organisation?

  • Imagine if you got everyone rowing in the same direction?
  • Imagine if everyone was crystal clear on the goals and what your business needs to do to succeed?
  • Imagine teams where people submerge their egos, co-ordinate seamlessly, support each other selflessly and do whatever it takes to succeed?
  • Imagine too a genuinely cohesive team at the top. Where all the executives are on the same page, setting the tone, standard and pace in a credible and unifying way for every other person in your organisation.

Nothing about this work is touchy-feely or soft.

It is as tangible and practical as anything else a business does, and even more important.

When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are released to concentrate on the customer, empowered to design products, solve problems and help one another in ways that unhealthy organisations can only dream about.

Yes it takes hard work, commitment and courage – anything that’s really worthwhile does. The rewards for everyone are immense and when you do you will be satisfied that you have fulfilled the most important leadership responsibility of all – to create an environment of success.

Next time we will write about how to start.

We love hearing from you. Please share your thoughts on this post with us below. Do you think building a healthy organisation is the most important leadership responsibility of all?

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Four Disciplines for a Healthy Organisation

Most organisations that want to get better are not struggling because they lack good products, market opportunities or clever people.

Rather they are struggling because they are unhealthy.

A healthy organisation has minimal politics or confusion and sets high standards of performance. Here talented people work together on common goals while success is measured not by personal victories but by the progress of the joint plan.

It’s the polar opposite of a company fragmented by internal strife and paralysed by its own poisoned culture.

In these unhealthy cutthroat places, infighting at the top occupies more time than solving problems on the ground. Serving the customer comes second to securing one’s turf. Sometimes people worry more about enjoying their perks than the real problems facing the organisation.

Henry Ford once said; “the internal ailments of business are the ones that require the most attention.”

Fortunately, these ailments have a remedy. Like most things worth doing the remedy involves disciplines. Four actually and each one is essential.

Discipline 1: Build a cohesive team at the top.

This has nothing to do with touchy-feely exercises or theoretical discussions.

Rather it involves the team committing to collective results and then building the trust and commitment necessary to have direct, open conversation with each other and to hold one another accountable.

Discipline 2: Create clarity for the organisation.

Most organisations have a deep and unmet craving for clarity.

Healthy organisations meet this need and minimise the potential for confusion by clarifying the answers to a few simple questions that deal directly with why the organisation exists, how people must behave and what is most important.

Discipline 3: Over-communicate clarity.

This discipline is the key to dealing with the disconnect between executive leadership and the rest of the organisation – a problem that plagues almost every business we work in.

It involves the senior leadership conveying what’s most important to the business and doing so over and over again.

The best leaders build commitment not only by conveying clarity but by personalising it too.

These leaders build emotional connections by telling stories, constructing metaphors and making themselves vulnerable. They constantly repeat the same messages so people believe they are sincere.

Vitally they understand that it is essential to not only communicate information but inspiration too.

The payoff is massive – building a community of people who want to perform together is the key to having a distinctive competitive advantage for a long time to come.

Discipline 4: Reinforce clarity with human systems

In healthy organisations systems are in place to ensure:

  • People who are hired also fit in.
  • Successful performers are rewarded.
  • Underperformers are managed.
  • New hires are effective right away.
  • The right people are promoted.

This is about institutionalising clarity and making sure it is actually embedded into the fabric of the organisation.

These disciplines take both effort and time. But less time than you may think.

With commitment and persistence from the top along with a willingness to courageously confront the issues, an organisation will succeed in becoming healthier.

Very few organisations are truly dysfunctional – most just need the leaders to boldly set the tone, create the clarity and be an example for everyone else.

These disciplines are the blueprint for doing so. They are not a nice to have, they are in fact the most important strategic choice your business will ever make.

We love hearing from you. Please comment below – which discipline do you feel would make the biggest impact on your organisation right now?

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The Ideal Team Player

Teamwork is a subject that receives so much attention.

Almost every organisation wants more of it and is willing to invest in getting it – especially at the top where it is often in the shortest supply.

But do we know what qualities to look for in someone who will make a good team member?

The Ideal Team Player Book Patric Lencioni

Well this month Patrick Lencioni released his latest book, The Ideal Team Player.

It’s written in his usual style as a fable and it’s a wonderful read. In the book he describes the qualities of an ideal team player. I had a discussion with him about these qualities.

Question: Patrick what is your latest book all about?

This book is focused on individual team members rather than the dynamics of the team as a whole. I wrote it because while I’m confident that almost any group of people can become a team with the right amount of guidance and support, there are some individuals that greatly accelerate the process because they share three distinct attributes.

Question: What are these attributes?

The first and most important virtue of an ideal team player is humility.

A humble employee is someone who is more concerned with the success of the team than with getting credit for his or her contributions. People who lack humility in a significant way, the ones who demand a disproportionate amount of attention, are dangerous for a team.

Having said that, humble team players are not afraid to honestly acknowledge the skills and talents that they bring to the team, though never in a proud or boastful way.

The next virtue of an ideal team player is hunger – the desire to work hard and do whatever is necessary to help the team succeed.

Hungry employees almost never have to be pushed by a manager to work harder because they are self-motivated and diligent. They volunteer to fill gaps, take on more responsibilities and are eagerly looking around corners for new ways to contribute to the team.

The final virtue of a team player is not about being intelligent, but rather about being wise or smart in how to deal with people.

Smart employees understand the nuances of team dynamics, and know how their words and actions impact others. Their good judgment and intuition help them deal with others in the most effective way.

Question: What is the payoff for the team of these attributes?

The impact of ensuring that members of a team value and demonstrate these attributes cannot be overstated. Most teams that struggle are not lacking in knowledge or competence as much as they are unable to access that knowledge and competence because of dysfunctional behaviours.

A team full of people who are humble, hungry and smart will overcome those dysfunctions quickly and easily, allowing them to get more done in less time and with far fewer distractions.

Actually I’ve come to the conclusion that these three seemingly obvious qualities are to teamwork what speed, strength and coordination are to athletics—they make everything else easier.

Question: Of the three do you think any is more important than the other?

Yes, undoubtedly for teamwork the most important of these virtues is humility. The ultimate foundation of being a team player is a person being willing and able to put the team’s interests above his or her own. Only a truly humble person can do this effectively.

Question: Finally Patrick how do managers cultivate these qualities in their teams?

The most reliable way to ensure that teamwork takes hold is to hire only ideal team players. Of course, that is neither possible nor practical, especially considering that most leaders don’t have the luxury of creating their teams from scratch.

But all leaders can certainly do their best to try to recruit, select and hire people who are humble, hungry and smart when an opportunity arises to bring on someone new.

In my book I’ve outlined interview questions and assessment resources that can help managers and leaders mine for the qualities in potential job candidates. By interviewing thoroughly and checking references with an eye towards a candidate’s reputation and behaviour, a manager can hire people with a high degree of confidence that they’ll be good team players.

Patrick-Lencioni Interview LeadershipWorks

This book is a must read for any organisation that’s serious about teamwork.

All too often an organisation launches into the team building process without first thinking about this critical piece of the teamwork puzzle – the individuals and the qualities they possess.

We still have a few copies of the book to give away.

Please comment below – tell us what individual qualities are important to you in the members of your team and we’ll send a copy of the Ideal Team Player to selected contributors.