Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Mary is my friend, and I love her. Mary is a big part of my life, and to this day I think of Mary and some of my other friends from another time in my life every single day. That’s the truth, and I just wanted to say it.
The other day I was emailing with Mary, at one time I worked for her, then we worked together, then she worked really hard to get me to be her boss. It never worked out and I regret that to this day. What could have been and all of that.
Mary is unhappy because her career isn’t winding down the way she would like. She feels like she isn’t appreciated, isn’t understood, and works for people who just don’t get it. The details are irrelevant, I know Mary, and I know her organization and I know Mary is right.
So after a career of more than 25 years she is walking away a little wounded. For more than 20 years she has put her entire life into her job – truly there will be a lot of people, including myself, who will wonder how anything can happen without Mary. I suspect that Mary’s departure will usher in a new era; it will be too different for too many of us.
After thinking about it a little, I sent Mary an email with the following points and it occurred to me that this might help one of you so I am posting it.
Why Managers/CEOs/Presidents and Directors have to be the very best.
On a scale of 1-10 where 10 is best, a “person of authority” who is a 7 or 8 out of 10 will never hire a 9 or a 10. A 7 or 8 will most often hire a 6 or a 7 whereas 9s or 10s hire other 9s and 10s. This is why the very top officer of any organization has to be more than incredible, they have to be inspiring. Or as a friend of mine once said so poetically “They have to make you want to stand a little taller on the dock.”
Before we go too far, let me make an important point. A 7 or 8 out of 10 can be a fantastic person and employee. Fantastic. They can be #1 in their company for sales, or patients served, or on client satisfaction surveys. They can be everyone’s favorite person. A 7 or 8 can be a cabinet minister, but they can’t be Prime Minister. A 7 or 8 could be the best teacher the school has ever had, but that doesn’t make them a good Principal.
This is why there are fewer leaders than followers – because leaders are special.
The top job has to be a 9 or a 10 or your enterprise will suffer for it – sometimes for years and years until you get a new person at the top. Often when you hire the wrong leader, they alienate a lot of people and potential along the way, so getting it right is truly a critical decision.
The boss doesn’t have to know as much as anyone else – they have to be able to bring out the best in everyone else.
7s and 8s hire 6s and 7s for a number of reasons, and sometimes for all of these reasons. They hire less talented people so that they look good. They hire less talented people because they will not feel as threatened. Less talented people don’t have as many ideas, and their ambition is easier to manage.
A less talented manager who inherits a successful team will likely alienate the talent, and bring in their own people. Mangers who are 7s or 8s will dismantle success and put back together a worse system, but a system that doesn’t’ threaten them. Less talented managers like to have doers, not thinkers/askers/or seekers.
Leadership is about bringing out the most of all of your assets.
The CEO of an accounting firm doesn’t have to know as much about accounting as the most junior accountant – She just has to know how to get the most junior accountant to feel passionate about their job.
I have to give credit to both Malcolm Gladwell and Seth Godin for helping me understand this. Lousy Managers get hired because they have impressive resumes. Resumes tell people what your experience is, it doesn’t tell anyone anything about what kind of leader you are. In my opinion, resumes tell me what you CAN’T do.
When I want to hire someone, I ask to see something they have done. I want to see their work. I want to see a project they did, and I want to see that it is still working. I look for constant action with no breaks. I want to see a busy mind and a busy person. A red flag for me would be periods of idleness where the candidate didn’t produce anything. “So what did you do from 2009 until now?” would be a red-flag question.
Winners don’t sit idle. They are always doing something. Trying new things, tackling new challenges, swinging for the fences.
I want to talk to people who worked with you; I want to hear what they have to say about you. I especially want to hear that you are a good listener. I want to know that you understand this golden rule: Seek first to understand, before being understood.
I want people to tell me that things will not be the same without you. I want people to say things like “We could never have got that done without her.” I want to hear that you bring people together, that you are a team player and a delegator.
So what do you do if you work for a 7 or an 8 and you are a 9 or a 10?
First, detach. Accept that the only thing that is important is the contribution you have made, and understand why you made the contribution. It wasn’t for the 7 or 8 guy, it wasn’t because it was your job, it was because you really wanted to do it.
Then, get out before you get bell curved.
Get our before your spirit gets crushed.
Go lead and others will follow you.
Isn’t that the real issue? It’s not that you work for a 7 or an 8, its that you are a 9 or a 10.
9s or 10s are in short supply.