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Sprinkle a good dose of common sense on it

As I See It

What do we look for when hiring people for top positions in our companies? In a word, we want superstars. Our list of attributes includes confidence, independent thinking and an MBA degree. Other descriptive adjectives might include brilliant, self-assured and outside-the-box thinking. This seems to be the conventional wisdom among management recruiters.

What does this do for teamwork within the organization? If your managers are focused on thinking outside the box rather than toiling as conventional team players, isn’t there a danger that nobody is supporting the box and it just might collapse? I think that’s a real possibility and a threat to the long-term well-being of American business.

It seems to me that many of these new-fangled organizational theories need to be tempered with a good dose of common sense. If all that intellectual energy is devoted to thinking outside the existing management structure, maybe no one will even notice the box is broken and needs fixing.

This fast-lane, warp-speed mentality is largely a byproduct of the dot-com explosion of the last decade. We raised maverickism to a sought-after trait for leaders across the board. While so many of the dot-com superstars were busy thinking outside the box and creating paper fortunes, no one noticed that the information technology industry was getting seriously overbuilt. Maybe some traditional management types would have seen the danger and steered the industry around the potholes. We’ll never know.

Decades ago, in my public accounting career, a client and friend made an observation that has stuck with me over the years and seems even more relevant now. We were experiencing some management unrest in the firm and couldn’t seem to attract and retain the caliber of person we thought we needed. My friend said we were trying to hire too many 10’s. We needed some mid-capability staff (some 4’s and 5’s) that were not interested in the limelight and would be energized by getting the work done. He was right. We changed our strategy and lived happier thereafter.

During the last presidential election many thought that President Bush was not up to the job. After all, his superstar credentials were a little on the sparse side. His oratory skills left something to be desired. But what he did have was an ironclad sense of principle that has guided him to consistent leadership during some really tough times. Can you imagine the chaos that would have resulted from trying to conduct the war with Iraq using twisting, turning Clinton/Gore focus group, popularity contest strategies? Not a pleasant thought.

Every organization, from the largest to the smallest, is composed of a unique cast of characters that make the wheels turn. Conflict arises from differing personality types, but synergy results from bringing the right combination of skills together in one place. Some are thinking outside the box while some are deeply devoted to the preservation and improvement of the box itself. That’s when you’ve really got something.

So, what about the superstars? They’re valuable components of energetic, progressive organizations. Like wild stallions of old west legend, they roam the prairie seeking opportunity and new approaches to problems. However, strong team-building staff members are just as important as the freethinkers. They create the organization structure and keep the home fires burning while others are seeking the limelight. A strong organization requires both types of management styles to compliment each other.

Thought of the Moment — Such is the end of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the lives of those who get it. — Proverbs 1:19

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.


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