Working with the right people

Working with the right people is all about attraction. Positively charged ions. Magnetic connections. Sparks fly when you’re surrounded by your dream team.

But who are they and how do you find them?  When I was a young, doe-eyed university student in the early days of heading up a student organization, I struggled to attract the right people. No one was committed enough or willing to develop the skills necessary to get the job done. (Hey I had a lot of growing to do too and plenty of mistakes to learn from!)  I couldn’t understand why until I realized that all I was doing was drawing in “interested” not “quality” people.

Sixteen months later, with a little bit more experience under my belt, I orchestrated a ground-breaking campaign to establish an innovative grant-making body with committed annual funding at the largest post-secondary institution in the country. Big stakes. Possibly an unachievable goal. What I was endeavoring to do was definitely no pub night. Yet I reached out and amazing people came to me in droves. So what changed?

I learned about leading others and discovered four key criteria that would enable me to collaborate with the right people and build dream teams.

Trust: Arguably a key ingredient in any functional professional or personal relationship. When you establish trust as a leader, others are more willing to sign on and commit. I garnered a bit of a reputation in my university days which got me a successful confidence vote. People knew I wasn’t a power hungry ego-maniac like so many other student leaders (sorry but it’s true!). I worked harder than anyone else, took on the least glamorous tasks and developed necessary skills at a rapid rate. People could see my determination and my own personal growth.  It is amazing how that kind of investment of self, attracts others. Likewise their commitment enables you to entrust them with the responsibility of a role instead of merely a task.

Mastery: I always gravitate toward people who are masters in a subject, skill or practice in which I would never personally claim to be an expert. I have my superhero power and they have theirs. What makes for a great team is that we do not duplicate strengths but instead complement one another. I look for people who can do it “better” than I can. (Otherwise seriously wouldn’t I just do it all myself?) In the last 3 years, I have engaged 10 very different people to support a critical project for (what I call) an anchor client. This allowed me to collaborate with people who have extraordinary work ethics, brilliant ideas, fierce risk-taking abilities and extremely unique expertise. None of them were like me and most of them were quite different from one another.

Initiative: I have always maintained that I do not manage, I lead. If you are looking for a manager, then we aren’t destined to work together. Managing others is a concept we really need to eliminate from our consciousness and replace with the idea of leading others. It might seem like semantics but the reality is that managing people is about fitting them into a pre-determined mold that benefits mostly you, your agenda, your company/organization, etc… instead of guiding them toward creating mutually beneficial possibilities. To that end, I love a person who can anticipate needs and take initiative because for me, that means playing an equal role – not a lesser one. It also means that they are confident in their own abilities and comfortable enough with their own autonomy to take risks, to pull it off and in the event they fail, to fix it and learn from it. (Gasp could there actually be something positive about failure?)

Aspiration: I have a highly acute BS-detector (one of my superhero powers) and when someone tries to convince me that our collaboration is the be all and end all for them, whatever chemistry we had disappears. Tell me about the mountain you want to climb or book you plan to write. Talk to me about your professional aspirations, the next step on your journey that you hope to be able to leverage our work together in order to achieve. My team should be one of many stepping stones and knowing that allows us both to maximize our time together. Is that different from what most managers want? Yes it is. They want someone to commit forever and give up their first-born so that all can remain stable and easy. I seek fluidity, fresh ideas and new people – all the time.

While there is more work involved in creating these kinds of dream teams, I believe the results are far superior.