A long time ago I used to coach high school girl’s field hockey. It was a lot of fun and I got to meet some really great people, some of whom would later become teammates and in many cases, dear friends. But one particular player is always on my mind, specifically when I’m thinking about what makes a good employee. Her name is Hilary, and she’s the real MVP.
Specifically, Hilary was a team captain and actual MVP her senior year. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say about her at the banquet. Hilary was not our leading scorer, she was not a shut down defensive player and didn’t record any shutouts. One might wonder what it was about Hilary that made her our MVP. In fact, that’s what I was sort of wondering as I sat there, waiting my turn to speak and tell the other athletes what made Hilary so special. And then the coach of the hockey team talked about his MVP. His reasoning for why this particular player was his MVP was that they never questioned anything that he said. If he said jump, they’d say how high. He was an unrelentingly loyal and trustworthy player. So I got up and said the exact opposite.
I’m a big believer that if you’re going to succeed in anything, you need to be incredibly confident but you also need to check your ego. You’re not infallible. You have the ability to be wrong. If you’re willing to experiment at all, you’re going to occasionally be wrong. It happens. To suggest that the best quality you could have in a team member is that they never imagine that you might possibly be wrong flies in the face of everything that I hold dear.
Hilary was my MVP because when she thought there was a better way to do something, she’d tell me. If she thought our strategy was flawed, our lineup lacking or our preparation failing, she would tell me. She wouldn’t do so in a disrespectful or rude way. She would just question anything that didn’t make immediate sense to her. I respected her dearly but more importantly her team respected her. They followed suit. They didn’t bitch and moan. They constantly strove for perfection. They didn’t let my expectations for them limit their abilities.
If you’re looking for the absolute best out of your team, you need to make sure that you’re willing to let them blaze their own trails. I’ve spoken to so many managers that thought they were amazingly successful because “no one dared question them.” This is not the mark of a great manager. A great manager manages to get out of their employees way so that they can achieve beyond what they ever perceived as possible.
When you’re building your team, don’t look for yes men. They will make your life very easy and very difficult all at the same time. What do I mean? Well, it’s simple. Employees that are just going to do what you ask them, when you ask them, how you ask them are predictable. The “job” will get done. But you will never achieve anything beyond cursory levels of success. They will make your life difficult in that you will never achieve greatness when you expect your team to be predictable.
Hire MVPs. Hire people that ask you questions beyond “what are the hours and what does it pay.” Hire people that tell you they don’t have time to talk to you because they’re working out an amazing idea. Hire people who are willing to question you. I’m not saying hire people that are rude and disrespectful. You need to understand that suggesting you’re wrong is not rude and suggesting that there might be a better way to do things is not disrespectful. If you think this way, either fix it or get out of people’s way.
Failing to push yourself is the best way to become stagnate and dwell in mediocrity. So why would you want and expect this of your team?