April 28, 2014
Take a look at the people around you. If you’re a leader, you need to ask yourself, Who are these people? and How did they get there? To the degree that you have control over the makeup of your team, you must look to yourself for those answers. How did you choose these folks? Why did you choose them? What do your choices say about you?
In the comments below, I am assuming you have a fair amount of control over the people you select for your team. I assume you have the ability to influence how people move up through your organization and I assume you have the ability to filter applicants from the outside. If you do not have this power, what I have to share here is nevertheless helpful when you think about making connections and friendships with others.
Something I’ve heard again and again is that the best leaders surround themselves with others who are better than themselves. They choose people who are more talented, have more potential, and are smarter in various technical pursuits. One leader who did this was George Washington in the role of general as well as President of the United States.1
Washington was known for surrounding himself with experts. In each endeavor, he selected people smarter than he about topics required to succeed in his role. Thomas Jefferson described this as a “hub and spoke” system, with Washington at the hub. The spokes were cabinet members to whom he delegated the business of that department. “It was a system that maximized executive control while also creating the essential distance from details.”2
To succeed in this system, Washington developed three important skills:
- Washington developed the ability to identify talented young men with superior education in relevant affairs,
- He entrusted to these gentlemen the authority to conduct business in their areas of responsibility, and he developed strong relationships with them as surrogate sons, and
- He learned when to be a hedgehog that kept issues at an arm’s length and when to be a fox that burrowed into details.
Washington applied these principles in wartime as well as his presidency. Some of the most well-known people that Washington selected for his teams were James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Henry Knox, John Jay, and Edmund Randolph.3 If you know history, you might know that these people were not always friends or allies. At times there were bitter disputes over the size, role, and operation of government. (Does that sound familiar?)
Nevertheless, Washington, during his leadership as general and President, found a way to maximize the best of what each man had to offer and forge a team that largely succeeded.
That’s what Washington did. What do most leaders do?
Some, probably a minority, surround themselves with weaker people so as to make themselves look good. Who have you chosen for your team? Weaker people?
What do most leaders do? They surround themselves with “clones.” They pick people who are like themselves: Similar background. Similar thinking. Similar education. Similar skill level. It’s all quite understandable—they pick people they like. But it’s not effective.
What do you do?
- Strengthen the team?
- Weaken the team?
- Clone the team?
1: Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency: George Washington (New York: Random House, 2004), 197-198.
2: Ellis, 198.
3: Ellis, 198-199.
Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.
Photo “Clones” by Asha ten Broeke. Available at Flickr.com.