How are you going to lead in 2016?
Leadership is often overlooked in the engineering discipline. We’re trained in how to think and how to creatively attack problems, but not so much in how to steer our companies in bold new directions. Late last year, I attended the first ever Innovation Summit at Case Western Reserve University, where we heard from a multitude of different speakers. While the topic wasn’t leadership, per se, I found that many speakers kept returning to this concept during their discussions. And one critical quality was the hiring decisions that leaders made—determining who was brought into the company on a continuing basis.
Jack Daly, partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs, told the audience, “The only way you change the culture of a company is by hiring different people.” While that may sound obvious, I find that many times it’s advice that is roundly ignored in organizations. Coming up with a new slogan or mantra may sound nice to a certain segment of managers, but if you have the same old people doing the same old things the same old way, it’s ludicrous to expect more than incremental changes.
Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, discussed how to start a successful company. Not surprisingly, he focused on who you’d hire. Clifton said that any good startup needs an expert, an operator and an alpha dog. I think that same lesson can be expanded to smaller groups within a successful company. If there’s a major new project starting up in your division, perhaps it’s worth considering whether you have one of each on the team.
And lastly, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese, shared his observation that people tend to be “dead from the neck up” long before they’re in the ground. While it’s a good laugh line, it’s also a sad fact. Don’t hire these dead people. Even if they have tremendous technical knowledge, they will sap the lifeblood out of your organization. I’ve worked with these people in the past, and I’m sure you have, too. Their effect on the attitudes and outlook of other employees simply isn’t worth it.