Anyone can point out the existence of a problem; that’s the easy part. The people who bring solutions to the table when addressing a problem are the people who really move the world forward.
Throughout my career, I’ve found that people fall into two categories: doers and complainers. On the most successful teams, the number of doers far exceeds the number of complainers.
The challenge for leaders, then, is to figure out how to attract, retain, and nurture self-starters. Here’s what I’ve learned.
Hire people you don’t have to manage
As I’ve mentioned before, “the best managers surround themselves with people they don’t have to manage.”
The best, if not only, way to do this is to hire slow and fire fast. This is far easier said than done.
Historically, I’ve done just the opposite. I tend to hire too quickly and avoid firing people at all costs. However, I’ve come to realize that this behavior is both cowardly and selfish.
When hiring, I’ve learned to never rush the process. Taking the time to dive into an individual’s background and really get to know them is the only way to determine whether they are self-starter material. Even then, there is still a certain degree of risk that you have to accept.
Firing an employee who falls into the “complainer” category, on the other hand, is more clear cut. While the personal aspect of terminating an employee is miserable no matter the situation, the business case is usually clear.
The key to success when firing is to strike true. Be clear, concise, and straightforward when delivering the bad news. If an employee isn’t demonstrating the attitude and behavior you expect, you need to make a swift and decisive change.
Show your team how to act, don't tell
It’s no secret that leaders set the tone for the entire organization. I’m a firm believer that employees should not be held to a different standard than leadership.
Therefore, it’s important that executives set the right example when it comes to being proactive.
Back when I first started my career, I earned the nickname “the blanket.”
This was due to my tendency to cover people with attention when something needed to be done. If there was a difficult situation that required a lot of hand-holding, I was the man for the job.
I’ve kept up that behavior throughout my career. If there is a problem with our software, I’m on the phone with the key stakeholders immediately.
I prefer to over-communicate whenever a challenge arises. It may be annoying at times, but no one can doubt my dedication to solving the problem at hand.
While it may not always feel like it, employees are always watching the example set by management. Over time, that example becomes ingrained as part of the corporate culture and takes root.
Offer feedback in real-time
No matter how good of a team you assemble and how good of an example you set, people are still going to let you down from time to time. When this happens, I’ve found that it is best to provide real-time coaching.
It’s important to catch bad behavior right when it happens and help explain the situation to the team members who are struggling.
I recently had a situation where one of my most trusted team members was stuck in a bit of a reactive cycle.
Rather than wait until our weekly check-in to bring it up, I pulled the individual aside and helped them understand that now was a time for solutions, not complaining.
The message sunk in immediately, and the behavior stopped.
The person didn’t realize that they were being less-than-helpful. It was simply a natural reaction at the end of a long day.
However, that subtle reminder was enough to kick start their creative juices, and they soon solved the problem.
People have a tendency to whitewash their memories over time. If you wait too long to coach a team member, chances are they’ll remember the situation differently and fail to respond well to your suggestions.
At the end of the day, it’s the leader’s job to cultivate his or her team to reach their peak potential. Encouraging a solution-oriented culture is key to that success.