You are the architect of your life. The vision and grand purpose of your life must be decided and committed on by none other than yourself if you are to maximize your life’s meaning. If you’re in the wrong leadership role, you’re probably the first to sense it. Are you still learning, growing and moving closer to the greatest version of yourself?
Here are three signs that you’ve found the leadership role that is truly best for you.
1) It Keeps You on Your Toes
Great leaders love a challenge. Innovators have an insatiable urge to build and create. Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve found the right leadership role when you feel driven to solve problems, take strategic risks and push your business to greater performance. When you engage with your work out of obligation and fear of risk or challenge, you leave at the end of the day feeling exhausted or anxious. When you’ve found a role that dares you to level-up your own leadership capabilities, you’ll begin to anticipate activity that drives production. You’ll feel pride, fulfillment and a sense of invigoration. You’ll go home thinking about the mission, not because you’re worried, but because the work has tapped your skill set and engaged you at the core of who you want to become.
2) You Trust Your Team
When you take a leadership role, you should feel that your executive team is communicating and cooperating in all the right ways to bring the company’s vision into reality. Strong trust in your team is rooted in a performance-based culture of excellence. Some companies try to build a foundation of false harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. They fill their office space with ping pong tables, snack rooms and kegerators to appear competitive with Google-style employment perks and to lure top recruits. But no one works for Google because of the free food. When your team is driven by excellence in its craft, by excellence in the rigorous disciplines required for disintermediation of an entire industry then, and only then, can you have harmony from the top down and from the bottom up in professional life. Moreover, you’ll be working in culture of excellence where colleagues can trust and rely on each other to grow, expand, provide more value to your clients and become more. This is the way to prosperity.
3) You’re Working For Something Greater Than Yourself
Everyone wants happiness from their professional role. This includes a sense of security and appropriate compensation. A big paycheck, even if it’s from a big name, might provide partial fulfillment. The most fulfilling roles are those where you genuinely feel connected to a mission that’s larger than yourself and you are being pulled to grow and expand in your capabilities. Productivity drives progress and lifts humanity. A great company always has a vision for serving humanity at its core. Look for companies whose vision matches yours, and you’ll have an enduring source of energy and passion for the work. You might find value in doing the role even if it comes with a smaller paycheck than you’re used to.
Every entrepreneur with a genius startup idea needs a strong founding team to help make that vision a reality.
How do you get the right founding team together so you can reach your startup dreams? Start with awesome people you can trust. The foundation of every great team is trust – trust that each member is committed to the grand purpose, eager and capable of getting stuff done to the highest quality.
I co-founded HotJobs.com with a small team of dedicated entrepreneurs on a mission to transform the job search industry. We were headhunters and had acutely developed abilities in recruiting and assessing the best talent. We had worked together in the trenches and we had trust. We built an absurdly talented tech team. We hand-selected and inspired a best-in-class sales force. Our founding team created an indomitable culture.
More importantly, we got the classified help-wanted ads from the newspapers to online and into the digital world to create massive efficiency. We helped millions of job seekers in the process. Our team power-built the fledgling startup to 650 employees, $125M in revenues and a $1.2B market cap after its IPO. Although we might not have realized it at the time, we had a founding team with all of the right ingredients to make our startup dreams come true.
From my experience co-founding, recruiting and building all-star executive teams, I’ve come across some essential players that can make any founding team achieve the growth and scale they desire.
Every startup begins with a grand idea, vision and purpose. The visionary is the guardian of these powerful forces. This person often serves as both CEO and Chief Inspiration Officer. If your team is in the railroad business, the visionary is the one who discovers unchartered routes and decides that your trains should go to those new markets.
The analytical, detail-oriented operator is a necessary counterbalance to the visionary. This person is working behind the scenes, figuring out tactical execution to drive the unit economics of the business and achieve performance results. This person will ensure operational excellence and that the trains run on time.
Your engineer is a master craftsman building an outstanding product. This person’s skill set is in tech and product design – he or she is your Data from Star Trek building the trains and the tracks.
Even the best and most innovative products don’t sell themselves. You need a master dealmaker to lead distribution. This person has a knack for creative relationship building and can orchestrate the marketing and sales deals that fund your operation with the right pricing model. The Dealmaker makes sure the trains are full of passengers with sustainable profitability.
The Team Builder
Your team builder is your Chief People Officer. This role is becoming increasingly more important in the knowledge economy. The team builder ensures you have the right people in the right seats doing the right things in the right way and enjoying the journey.
The biggest reason why someone will succeed or fail as part of any organization has everything to do with whether their personal DNA matches the cultural DNA of the organization. This makes the role of the Chief People Officer the most important advisor and partner to the CEO.
An organization’s greatest assets all go home at night. A great team builder knows what gets their people to come back: 1) Performance excellence on an individual level – people feel they can achieve their best work, and 2) Team affiliation, camaraderie and a sense of belonging.
A leader’s core values are made up of his or her unique life experiences, beliefs, motivations, biases and critical thinking. Once the CEO and Chief People Officer have a clear understanding and are in sync on the core values (the pillars of a company’s culture) make sure to learn the core values of each person, especially on your leadership team before you hire them. This way you can continue to raise the bar and replicate the organization’s DNA with people who amplify your culture.
Your founding team is your Fantastic 4. You’ve beat the odds together and your team is on the cusp of reaching your startup dreams. You’ve already been in the trenches together, but now comes the harder part. Sustaining the same level of high growth will be an even greater trial you’ll face together – and this time you’ll need more than just your founding team. The added challenge will be to identify and secure the right A+ executive leaders who can can fit within the culture you’ve already established, and take your business to the next level.
If you want to make the best hires to complement your founding team, keep these two critical concepts in mind:
Hire for Culture Fit & Core Values
Hiring for technical chops alone is one of the gravest and most common mistakes CEOs make. Keep in mind that there are other defining characteristics that are of huge importance in a hiring decision. The biggest reason why someone will succeed or fail at any company has everything to do with whether his or her personal DNA matches the cultural DNA of the CEO, the founders and existing executive team. Candidates’ personal DNA is made up of their core values and unique personal experiences, capabilities, biases, and critical thinking. An executive search is not just about finding top leaders, it’s about securing an executive leader who is uniquely qualified to succeed at your company. That shift towards tailor-matching the right leader for the right role at the right organization changes everything.
Build Clarity & Commitment Around the Mission
How do you determine if a new hire is a good culture fit with your organization? You first need to build clarity around what your organization’s grand purpose is. If you and your co-founders were successful in reaching Series B round funding – then you’ve probably got a winning mission already. Be sure that the new leaders you hire understand your mission and have the same devotion to it that you as a founder do. You can accomplish this by making sure his or her core values are in line with your company’s greater purpose. If the the new battles you face together are in service of your mission, your growing executive team will be as unstoppable (and hopefully even stronger) than the groundbreakers who started your organization.
Breaking up is hard to do – in relationships and especially in business. Most of us have been there: someone doing an important role in your business is failing; the needs of the business have outgrown his or her personal growth curve. But he or she is a really nice person or you have a deep history with that person and don’t want to betray the trust or loyalty he or she has shown you.
Why is it so hard to navigate conversations with someone who is underperforming? The crux of this problem is the need to be liked more than being respected. The desire for harmony over performance excellence often stems from this same affliction. When leaders are looking for external validation, they become susceptible to false logic and can come up with poor reasons to maintain loyalty from that person for the sake of being liked. The leader does this at the subjugation of truth, honor and building a true meritocracy. What’s worse is that other people see what’s happening and know that the leader is showing weakness rather than the necessary commitment to the company mission.
Problem solving this situation requires some courage, honest introspection and the discipline to re-commit to the company mission and purpose over personal feelings. What gives leaders the requisite moral authority is their dedication to the mission. Achieving your mission is what will create the greatest good for the world, your business, your team and all of the individuals involved. Practice the fortitude, self-confidence and personal commitment necessary to drive performance excellence over the need for harmony. What’s more is that there is an opportunity here to honor truth, wisdom and the personal loyalty they have earned. Treating a person with dignity and grace at the end of the relationship is the sign of a true leader.
Have honest conversations with the team member who is failing. Get him or her out of harm’s way. Stepping aside from the role they are struggling with may be the only way to support both the person’s individual growth and the growth of your company. The right or wrong leaders in the right or wrong roles will make the difference between creating and destroying value. Securing the right executive leader with both technical chops and culture fit will give you keys to the promised land.
The most important responsibility any top leader will have is to make good decisions. Every challenge or triumph a business will face will be decided by its leaders’ ability to make a tough executive decision using strategy and sound critical thinking in order to serve a greater purpose.
As a headhunter building all-star leadership teams composed of only the top 1% of A+ executive talent, and as a CEO and co-founder of my own high-growth companies, I’ve come across three underrated abilities that elevate executive decision making:
Exercise Critical Thinking Over Judging
Critical thinking is a skill of all great leaders. The biggest transition people make in their careers is to grow from being an individual contributor to the responsibility of a group of people. And the biggest leap in executive capabilities happens when a leader moves from being driven by personal significance to committing to a mission of serving others.
Individual contribution and performance can improve on a linear basis. Team performance and productivity increases on an exponential basis. The thing that holds leaders back from their best executive decision making, their biggest saboteur, is the need to judge. Making a judgement and practicing critical thinking are not one in the same. “Judgment” is often confused for “judging” rather than the productive endeavor of critical thinking.
Judging is egocentric, and rooted in a fear-based drive for self-aggrandizement or preservation. When you are busy managing the perception that others have of you, you judge. Someone who is stuck making judgments rather than thinking critically is someone who thinks he or she is the most important person in any given situation and is subject to getting stuck in myopia. Rather than finding creative solutions that turn lemons into lemonade, those who judge simply place blame on others and then admit defeat.
To preserve and advance the desire of the ego leads people to judge. Judging is an act of close-mindedness and playing small. It’s rooted in the primitive, reptilian part of our brains, where we’re wired for fight or flight. It’s fear-based and motivated by feelings rather than thoughtful analysis. Its purpose is to disguise or manipulate perceptions to appear as truths.
We’re all likely to fall into judging at some point. And we are also capable of overcoming our fears and exercising critical thinking. We practice critical thinking when we transcend survival-mode into instead being driven by mission and service.
When we are mission-oriented, we are driven by team purpose. We value others and think selflessly. Critical thinking is empathy based — instead of being a slave to our own emotions, we consider the feelings of others. We stay open-minded and solutions focused. We’re able to more objectively analyze a situation and make a fair evaluation.
Overcome Your Fear of Taking Strategic Risks
Being a CEO comes with the immense responsibility of continually driving growth by providing vision, purpose and leadership to your team. And while you’re constantly in service to others — in meetings, writing emails, answering questions and making important decisions — it still feels lonely at the top.
You might feel like an imposter putting on a brave face to hide your inner doubts. You can’t let yourself slip. People depend on you. Any wrong move could destroy tremendous value.
The pressures of executive leadership can at times feel overwhelming. CEO depression and anxiety are real. And harboring that anxiety without taking steps to overcome it only makes things worse.
Research on executive decision making has found that a CEO’s anxiety can hinder a company’s growth. A leader with anxiety will focus on potential threats rather than seeing potential opportunity. This kind of fear can prevent an anxious CEO from taking important strategic risks.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
While every decision should be thoughtfully evaluated, it has also been proven that calculated risks often precede high growth. Thankfully, our fears as CEOs are not insurmountable. Struggle, in fact, is a requirement for growth.
Here are concrete steps you can make to overcome anxiety and take strategic risks:
1. Be Purpose-Driven
Are your fears inhibiting you from fully actualizing your mission in business and in life? Leaders with the most influence lead with purpose. Napoleon Hill wrote that ‘definiteness of purpose’ is the starting point of all achievement. Clarity around your purpose gives you power. It gives you the courage and conviction to take risks that move you towards your grand purpose.
2. Take Massive Action
Taking massive action begins with simple steps. Try different things. If something’s not working, try something else. Restrategize and reinvent. You know Einstein’s quote about insanity; it makes no sense to repeat the same thing while expecting different results. Take note of what doesn’t work and create a new solution.
3. Bring Your Best Self
When you’re under extreme pressure, it’s easy to focus on your work and not on how to take care of yourself — even though self-care will help you optimize for better results. Remember the important instructions: if your plane loses cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Love and care for yourself by staying active, practicing good nutrition and getting enough sleep. Work on getting your brain chemistry right by finding healthy ways to promote good vibes (through exercise, meditation, good music — get creative!). As a leader, the best investment you can make is in your own learning, growth, health and wellness. Then you can maximize the contribution you make to others.
Learn to Master Your Mojo & Get in the Zone
Professional development at its core is a process of personal growth. All self-improvement begins with self-reflection. The biggest catalyst of growth for any leader is almost always the realization of a truth. And yet for many of us, a huge gap remains between our self-image — what we tell ourselves and portray to others — and our inner truth.
Ego and hubris are telltale signs of someone who has not taken the time to reflect and search for their inner truth. This person searches for personal significance from external sources — prestige and power over others. Someone with this inflated sense of personal significance is disconnected from reality and exhibits three qualities: they’re entitled, invulnerable and invincible.
But we can’t always be invincible. Those who can’t embrace this human truth never find self-love. Real confidence is self-love rooted in humility and a growth mindset. And the reconciliation between inner truth and self-image requires loving yourself.
Greatness in any field begins with a powerful inner state. This quality has been called ‘being in the zone,’ finding your ‘flow’ or ‘mojo.’ What this really means is that you’ve achieved internal reconciliation between who you truly are and the person you portray who is worthy of respect, admiration and love. When you are convinced of yourself and no longer preoccupied with seeking external validation, you have mastered your mojo.
Love is humanity’s greatest gift, and we are all still learning how to love. Once we have trust in ourselves that we are enough, this inner abundance creates external abundance. Reconcile the gap between inner truth and self image. This is the way to master your mojo and make the greatest contribution to your grand purpose.
From truth comes wisdom. From wisdom comes limitless possibility. Make sure your executive decision making is always rooted in truth and wisdom.
The role of the CEO is the toughest role in the company. It’s the most important, and it’s the least understood. To achieve high performance leadership, CEOs must master an entire set of diverse skills. One of the biggest factors determining the success or failure of any CEO is his or her ability to recruit and hire well.
Recruiting is one of those leadership competencies that can be developed, cultivated and mastered. To merely dabble in something as important as an executive hire will likely leave you in a similar crisis as having dabbled in something else that is of critical importance—like tax planning, surgery, or electrical work.
Learning to do new things on your own is part of a growth mindset and is laudable. There are also things that become dangerous without the expert guidance of a master. Doing your own electrical work in your home without having the proper know-how can cause a fire or even death. You might dabble in home repair. But when your house is a fire hazard, it’s time to call in a professional. Recruiting executive leadership is one of those things that is best done with mastery.
Your Board might be sending you resumes and making introductions to potential candidates. While you feel obligated to meet those candidates, making a hire based on these recommendations is nothing more than glorified low-level recruiting. Level 1 and Level 2 recruiting consist of broadcasting openings and relying on a blunt, passive strategy of referrals and networking. There is a better way of recruiting and that is Level 3 Recruiting™. Level 3 Recruiting™ is about a refined selection process, precision extraction and securing the top 1% of A+ executive leaders
Even the best CEOs, without having mastered executive recruitment or bringing in help from an expert recruiter, hire the wrong people all the time. These are the five worst hiring mistakes CEOs make that can easily doom an executive search:
1. Confirmation Bias
Harboring confirmation bias can severely impact your ability to make the best hire decision. It can render you blind to any evidence that disproves your preexisting opinions about a person. Like begets like, and sometimes leaders make the mistake of looking for someone like themselves. You might like a candidate as a person (vs. as a solver of a particular type of problem set). This causes leaders to overestimate skills and capabilities on the basis of “understanding” how they tick. They have a blind loyalty to the new hire because they see themselves in the new hire. Using your gut is not as reliable as a clear process of unbiased evaluation. Keep an open mindset so that you can make a fair judgement call on a candidate with all the evidence available to you.
2. Unknown Potential
People make the mistake all the time of seeing something flashy on a resume that they give importance to that they shouldn’t. I call this ‘unknown potential,’ and it bears no importance in a hiring decision. Let’s say a candidate has a Nobel Peace Prize. That’s awesome. But you need to hire a CFO to align business and finance strategy. If that candidate has never held financial leadership, then the fact that he or she has a Nobel Peace Prize bears absolutely no importance in the context of your CFO search.
3. To Build Harmony
There can be no harmony without excellence. The way to have harmony is by focusing first and foremost on performance excellence for results. This is best achieved when you make hiring decisions based on a Core Fit Process™ and prioritize core values over technical chops. CEOs and founders sometimes try to build a foundation of harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. They try excessively to coach the new hire into success and to get everyone else to play nice with the new hire. This is a mistake. Ultimately, it is a commitment to both excellence and harmony, with excellence in priority, that creates high performance. In a culture of excellence, employees can trust and rely on each other. They don’t have to worry whether their teammates will come through. They don’t clash over poorly executed projects. Rather, a focus on excellence magnifies the definiteness of purpose and accelerates productive collaboration on a team.
4. Top MBA
It’s important to validate high skill, technical chops and execution capabilities rather than assuming that someone with a top degree can deliver results. Emotional intelligence and the ability to understand the unwritten social contracts necessary for getting work done do not come bundled with a top MBA. The variables that exist at one company where someone might have been successful are completely different than the variables that exist at any other company. CEOs should beware of political beasts who prefer to work on “strategy” and seek to align themselves with the most powerful people in the organization – all in an effort to avoid rolling up their sleeves and actually doing the hard work of execution. These masters of intellectual seduction will wield their Ivy League degrees to woo their strategic targets and gain the prestige they desire. This sense of entitlement and unwillingness to get real work done will ultimately destroy enterprise value at your business.
5. Crazy Good Technical Chops
It’s tempting to hire candidates for their crazy good technical chops. Keep in mind that there are other defining characteristics that are of huge importance in a hiring decision – core values, unique proven experience, capabilities, leadership gravitas, agility, biases and critical thinking. What makes a candidate uniquely qualified to achieve success and build enterprise value at your organization is a combination of Core Values and Core Competencies. Technical chops are undeniably important. We all want a Michael Jordan on our team. Michael Jordan himself said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Players with extraordinary skills must be able to perform those skills within a team so that the organization – not just the individual – soars. Select your hires based on their ability and desire to achieve your mission rather than their personal need for significance.
In the words of Jack Welch himself, “The day we screw up the people thing, this company is over.”