Category: general leadership

On Complementary Strengths

I’ve read and heard many places that most people hire people like themselves. (I mostly hear this in the context of why white men hire more white men, but I’m not touching that here.) I’ve also seen many studies that prove that diversity leads to stronger decision making and a better bottom line.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that the best team I’ve ever built started when I hired people very unlike me in strengths and habits.

Why? Because I have weaknesses. (I’ll give those of you who know me a moment to get up off the ground, since I’m sure you fell off your chairs at that public admission.) I’m very good at big-picture thinking and people management and team-building, but I’m weak at details and physical organization.

So you can imagine that if I built a team out of people just like me, no one would remember to book conference rooms for our meetings, and eventually our work space would be covered with piles of mixed-up papers. However, when I built a team out of people who were great at details but weak at the big picture and people who were physically organized but weaker at human interactions, mixed in a few people who were great at research, and so on, our strengths compensated for each other’s weaknesses.

Building a team out of people with complementary strengths leads to stronger work, but it can also be hilarious, as you find each other’s weaknesses amusing. Being able to laugh with (and occasionally at) each other also builds a better team.

On Delegation

Okay; so you’ve worked really hard, you’re fantastic at your job, and your reward is to finally get promoted over other geeks. What’s the hardest part of your job now? For a lot of geek leaders, it’s delegation. It always struck me as funny. Many geek leaders became leaders because they were very good at doing things, and the reward? You get to make others do them now.

These two skill sets are quite separate–especially if you’ve been a relatively solitary geek. And the hardest part of delegation? Letting go. Letting someone else do something that you’re probably better at doing than they are. Letting someone else do something in a different way than you would do it yourself. Letting someone even make a mistake! For which you will be held accountable! It can be frightening.

If you fail to let go, however, your team (department, whatever you want to call it) will only be as good as you are. You will also become a micromanager, and I can’t think of a single person who appreciates a micromanager. (Granted, some geeks require closer management than others, but that’s outside the scope of this entry.)

If you succeed in letting go, your team has the chance to become much stronger. Why? Well, I could cite the countless studies that say so, but doesn’t it just make sense that multiple brains will think of better possibilities? Will catch each other’s mistakes? Will compensate for each other’s weaknesses? The best thing about letting go is that you don’t have to think of everything yourself, allowing you to become a force-multiplier for your team. You will manage their tasks and projects from a high level, and you’ll be a resource for them if they get stuck or would like some brainstorming help. Your entire team will benefit from your skill and experience.

Letting go also pushes some geeks out of the comfortable nest. Conceivably, you’re giving them enough rope to hang themselves, but most geeks will fly rather than hang (mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean). Watching your geeks stretch themselves in order to achieve the goals that you’ve set and (mostly) succeed is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a geek leader.

So let go. It won’t hurt. Much.