But I started to notice something wrong. They analyzed the business just like I did. They shared my biases—my likes and dislikes. They even began to talk like me, appropriating some of my favorite expressions. It was fun for a while, and then it got tiresome.
That’s when I knew it doesn’t pay to hire clones. I wasn’t getting the kind of diversity of opinion that I needed. When we sat down to think strategically and hash out a budget or marketing plan, we were reaching consensus way too fast. There was no clash, no debate just an instant meeting of the minds.
Nowadays, of course, a diverse workplace is a legal and practical necessity. But beyond the whole issue of discrimination, I’ve found it makes business sense to assemble a team of independent- minded people who come from a wide range of backgrounds.
Here’s an example. I watch how my managers grapple with a tough problem, such as how to prevent among their entry-level staff or how to motivate their people when the direction of our company keeps changing every few months. I know how I would handle it: what I would tell my employees and what steps I would take to reassure everyone or put my foot down and give ‘em a swift kick in the pants.
I’d be lying if I said it’s easy for me to sit back and let them figure out their own problem-solving methods. Sometimes, I’m certain they’re making a mistake either being too soft or inconsistent or just plain wrong. It’s so tempting to jump in and say, “Listen. I’ve dealt with this issue plenty of times, and here’s what you need to do.”
But that approach would be spoon-feeding. Just like I can’t force my 10-year-old to act like a miniature version of me, I have to step back and let my employees work through their own challenges and learn their own lessons. It takes unending patience, and it’s rarely easy.
Years ago, it was an ego trip to have all these workers buzzing around who reminded me of me. It made me feel really important at first, like some role model who everyone needed to emulate.
I still feel like a role model, but in a whole new way. I try to set an example of a coach who excels at bringing a group of individuals together to produce something that they could never accomplish on their own. That’s my main job as CEO.
I find that even though many of my top managers today are certainly not in my image (they’re opposites of me in so many ways, from personality to background), they share my hunger to succeed. They may have their own ambition and their own personal drives. But they want to make money and satisfy our customers just as much as I do.
“Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 20- year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $10 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.
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