I was recently talking to a friend of mine whom I respect in all of her roles as executive, leader, manager, and coach. We were talking about an experience she had in leading an important and highly successful team. I asked her what she enjoyed most about her team. She total me, “Finding their genius.” I think that is the true essence of executive leadership. It is important to establish the vision – whether it is one established by the team itself or directed from above. It is important to choose good people and to obtain adequate resources for them. All of that and more is a part of executive leadership. However, the most successful leaders find and feed the “genius” in each of their team members.

To do that, takes time. Different industries and different jobs will have different time parameters. Generally speaking, however, I have found that supervisors need to spend a minimum of 25% of their time interacting with their staff. They probably have other duties – scheduling, reporting, approving, etc. However, they must make time for interaction. At the manager level, that percentage goes up to a minimum of 50%. What does that look like? Once again, it will change according to the industry, objectives or projects, and geography. However, for many managers, it works well to meet with their team monthly. Topics will vary, but be sure to include recognition of important milestones for both the team and the individuals in it. In order to set those team milestones, there must be shared goals. Spend some time at the beginning of your year planning with your team. In large corporations, these plans are mandatory. In fact, in some companies the process sometimes gets in the way of the actual work. No matter what the corporate demands are, however, try to find something the team can buy into.

To “Find their genius”, however, you must spend one-on-one time with each member of your team. The timing of the one-on-one meetings will vary based on the experience of the staff member. Younger or newer staff will probably need an hour weekly or every other week. Experienced staff probably needs to meet less frequently. What are their goals and aspirations? What makes them light up? What drags them down? What do they do that no one else on the team can or does do? How can you support them in developing their genius? Are they in a position to do their best work? This work is harder if the team is not co-located. However, with the video and phone conferencing options today, it can be done.

For executives, their entire job is people management – their team, their customers, their investors, their board, etc. Job One is to get the right people on your team. In Jim Collin’s popular book Good to Great, he describes it this way, “In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” If you are lucky at the executive level, you have the opportunity to choose your team and include people that you know have genius. If not, once again, it is your job to “Find the genius” in your staff. Most of the time, they have some genius or they would never have risen to the executive level. Now that you have your geniuses, the next step is to find a way for them to actually work together. And that is another topic for another day.


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