Our management team regularly cites a very wise and effective client of ours. He often said: “One of the best things we can do as management is get everyone in the right seats on the bus.” I’ve since seen versions of this sentiment espoused across the business world, from analysts to leadership gurus like Jack Welch.
But let’s be clear, the management strategy is not a new one. In fact it has roots in a favorite saying of my dearly departed Grandmother, Nora McCullough.
One day, my sister Pam was working alongside Grandmother, attempting to sew a new dress from a pattern and cloth. Although elegant dressmaking was something Grandmother did regularly with aplomb, Pam simply didn’t have the skill or inclination to figure it out from start to finish. When Grandmother’s patience finally waned, she gently relieved Pam from her apprenticeship with a loving admonishment: “We all have our talents, dear.”
Seriously, no truer words can be spoken at times. The tenet is central to highly effective agency management, where leadership teams tend to be lean and where people are often asked to do a little bit of everything. But optimizing a leadership team’s talents – both identifying those talents and getting them working together in a system – is both an art and a science.
It seems obvious that we’re at our best when we’re doing those things we’re truly good at. And we can rise to greatness when that talent is matched by one’s enthusiasm, passion and operational discipline. So why don’t more of management leaders operate by this dictum?
All too often we find ourselves pushing ourselves and our team members to be all things to all people, when instead we would be better served by acknowledging our own respective talents, finding those that complement us and getting everyone in their right seats on that proverbial bus.
This task is talent management, at its best, and it doesn’t mean lowering expectations at all. We need our managers, supervisors and leaders to aspire to be 360-degree talent, well-rounded in skills and experience. However, the nuanced build — based on the wisdom of those before us — is that we won’t all be great at everything. When we come to terms with that, the art of team-building is both getting the right people in the right roles, and then fostering a collaborative, supported environment for them to work well together and get their job done exceedingly well and efficiently.
That job is the art and science of the entire C-suite, not just the CEO. Our Citizen global talent leader, Hasan Khair, regularly reminds me that my number one job is setting the vision and optimizing and invigorating our leaders to achieve that vision. Then we work together to artfully assemble and develop teams of individuals who can fulfill that vision harmoniously. The rest of it truly is mostly science: Applying the leadership mechanisms to drive great performance by objective, goals, strategies and measurement. In short, after you’re in the right seat, the rest is about doing your job and getting it done well.
I’m trying to recall if Grandma had a saying for that, but I think she just called it “work ethic.”
Written by Daryl McCullough, Chief Executive Officer & Global Chairman, Citizen Relations