The unrelenting drone of the skydiving company’s Cessna Caravan and a tightly secured helmet make it difficult to hear inside the plane as the pilot steadily climbs to the afternoon’s jump altitude. It’s your second jump, the first where you’re not safely tethered to your instructor. You and three other jumpers perform last-minute equipment checks, tugging on parachute straps to make sure they’re secure and carefully inspecting each other’s main and backup chutes.
Nervously, you can’t control some last-minute thoughts, “I hope the skydiving company’s parachute packer, Sarah, was having a good day.” Indeed, hopefully, Sarah loved her job and wasn’t thinking about her next gig or suffering in a stressful work environment where she’s not appreciated nor rewarded for doing great work. Your life depends on Sarah’s expertise, consistency, and execution. “OK, here we GOOOOO!”
So, what’s the point? Struggling to understand how to assess whether a certain colleague could be fully accountable for a key seat in a company, one of my EOS client’s leaders blurted out, “She has to be able the pack the parachute … every day … every time … without mistakes!” Just like Archimedes, he had a Eureka! moment. He understood in an instant what I had been trying to teach his leadership team about consistent, fully rooted accountability across the company.
3 Questions Entrepreneurial Leaders Must Nail:
Get it—Want it—Capacity
Everyone in any job must “get it” (G); she needs to have a solid grasp on all the primary requirements of the job, all the in’s and out’s. Second, she really must “want it” (W); she should wake up in the morning genuinely believing that she is meant for the job and feel that she’s energized when working in the role. And, finally, she must have the “capacity” (C) to do the job – the time, energy, reach, intellectual curiosity, stamina, intellect, technical expertise, etc. With this “parachute” insight discovered, we moved forward to assess all the key people in the business. To be privileged to work at the company, each colleague must fully G–W–C his or her seat. No exceptions. A strong YES to each question: Does she get it? Does she want it? Does she have the capacity?
For most of us, our work doesn’t equate to life or death, unless, of course, you are a doctor or nurse in a hospital emergency room. But, having the wrong people in positions at your company could very well result in less revenue, lower profits, more expenses, more rework, failed customer relationships, missed new business opportunities, and many other such undesirable outcomes.
When you place the right people—people who fit your culture fully—in the right seats (GWC), you will have the freedom to focus on the things that are most important to you–like vision, strategy, and growth. Meanwhile, you’ve deployed your staff to help you get to the next level without worrying about what might bring the entire organization to its knees.
Oh, and by the way, if you delegate a key assignment to someone who doesn’t GWC the work, guess what happens to the work? Either it doesn’t get done—a clear fail—and/or it ends up back in your office. To mess with a Ken Blanchard analogy some, that monkey you handed off to your subordinate runs back into your office, jumps all over the place, distracts you from your most important work, and does his smelly business all over your head!
Here’s a principle emphasized clearly in the Entrepreneurial Operating System: “A great boss creates a work environment where people are fully engaged and highly accountable,” (see How to Be a Great Boss by Gino Wickman and Rene Boer). When you have the right person in the right seat, the extraordinary can take place.
Sadly, all the good that can happen from this combination is neutralized when you have the wrong person in the wrong seat. This leadership and management failure can form a toxic stew that poisons everyone in your organization.
A Real-World Example
Perhaps a real-world example will help illustrate the point. A couple of years ago, a client of mine had a senior executive working for him in an extraordinarily critical position. This fellow was bright, experienced, in-the-know about the industry, and completely clicked in to the technology platform underpinning the business. He really did get it. No question on this at all. He possessed entirely the capacity to do the work. In fact, he had been filling the key seat for several years. But, you know what? He didn’t want it any longer.
As a result, his work consistency and quality began to deteriorate. He missed deadlines. He couldn’t fully represent the facts of the key projects on which he was working. He seemed frustrated and anxious. These were uncharacteristic behaviors from this previously strong performer. And, his shortcomings began to affect others—his subordinates, peers, and others depending on his drive, smarts, execution, and the like. Because his seat in the company was so critical to the success of the business, results faltered.
After a few months of coaching and deliberation without sustained improvement, he had to exit the company. And guess what. He immediately began to blossom in his own fledgling firm where he could deploy his smarts to help others succeed. He wanted to lead his own company. He continues to thrive to this day. And my client hired a new person who fully GWC’d this fellow’s former seat. She dramatically improved the performance of the team, and the business turned. Everything got better. This turned out to be a win for the departed executive and for the company he left.
Right Person, Wrong Seat
Remember this important adage. “A right person in the wrong seat long enough can become a wrong person.” Just as in the case noted above, the leader was in the wrong seat because he no longer wanted the job. As a result, the once highly-performing executive who had fully fit the culture transformed into a someone who, in all honesty, had become a drag on many others not only because his performance faltered, but also because he no longer lived the business’s culture. He had soured. And those around him tasted that bitterness, too.
So, each person in a company must get a definite “yes” for each of the questions. Do they get it? Do they want it? Do they have the capacity to do the work?
Sometimes leaders ask, “Can we train someone into a job so that she GWCs the seat?” Well, I most often answer this with a return question, “Can you wait for this person to climb fully up the curve?” Most often, the leaders pause thoughtfully and respond in this fashion. “Actually, no. We need someone to fill that seat and all of its roles well now.” Most entrepreneurial companies are not like GE where they can send a young, promising person to Crotonville for a year and wait for her to “graduate” as a leader.
These hungry, entrepreneurial companies need people who can hit the ground running. Certainly, people need to be trained on the specific processes, strategies, plans, etc., of the new business, but they must have demonstrated before taking the new seat that they get it, want it, and have the capacity for the requirements, the roles in the job. And this applies not only for external hires but also for people stepping into seats from within the company.
Time to Move to the Door!
As an entrepreneurial leader, you can build a high level of accountability across your business. When you make sure that each colleague gets it, wants it, and can deliver in his or her seat, you’ll drive consistent results. You will be free to focus on your seat entirely. And, you will be able to concentrate on the absolute most important issues facing the business—whatever they are.
“Geronimo!” Out you go to a thrilling and courageous dive into the beautiful, blue expanses knowing that Sarah packed that chute perfectly. She does it every day … every time … without mistakes … ever!
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”