Going for What You Need, Not What You Like
Many things, to be sure, but one I find stands out time and time again. It is the ability to focus on what needs to be done, not whether you like the person tasked to do it.
George Will, in his book on baseball, Men at Work, written twenty years ago, noted that players on great teams don’t necessarily like each other, but they absolutely respect each other. It’s a key point. So many of us forget it far too often.
The great manager remains focussed on the task at hand, whether that task is large or small. Integration of two IT platforms following a merger is a major undertaking for most enterprises, fraught with risk. It is typically also fraught with competing views, incomplete analysis, hidden vested interests, and snakes in the grass long forgotten if ever previously noted. It takes a special kind of person to drive this process. Many such people come with their own personality quirks and gift for embarrassing others at the worst possible moment. (Not unlike great talents in practically every field!)
Watching such a person at work, others will from time to time be driven to ask, “Why does the CEO allow this person to remain on the property? Is he not the most annoying person you ever met? Half crazy. What DOES the CEO see in him?”
What indeed, other than someone who can get the job done.
Over 200 years ago at Valley Forge, George Washington stood behind a thoroughly obnoxious, clearly ambitious, foul-mouthed Prussian whose claims to deserving the rank of General were more than a little suspect. Why? Not because Washington needed to work on his German. Because Washington needed someone who could create military order out of colonial farmer chaos. Washington knew that he had no idea how to make it happen himself. But he did know that without it he would never be able to engage the British regulars in a fair fight. Months later, when the army broke camp, Friedrich von Steuben had given Washington a real army, stunning everyone with its ability to go head to head with British at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in June.
The is more to it, however, than just recognizing and empowering the talent needed to get the job done. Ask any head coach who had the privilege of being given Terrell Owens as a wide receiver. Talented beyond belief. But also gifted in an ability to radiate disrespect for those around him, and making it impossible for the team to function as a team.
Perhaps, then, it is as Will put it in his book. Great teams are built on talent, not collegiality and rah-rah team spirit. At the same time, though, there must be a culture of respect. Forging and enforcing a culture of respect was another part of what took Washington to greatness. And it may hold the key to getting great results from people you would never ask over to the house for beer and pizza.