I have spoken previously of the value of crafting a personal API so that people can work effectively with you. For more senior leaders it can be helpful to go further and share what you value in your own team. Below is my list.
1/ Ownership. My litmus test here is simple: if someone else owns it then it shouldn’t occupy any of my standing mental space. That isn’t to say I never spend time on it – if someone owns something and it needs my help I trust they will put it in front of me with the context required, after which I am free to stop thinking about it again. I can “set it and forget it” knowing it will be handled competently.
I am sure many of the things that my leaders own, as far as I am concerned, will be delegated to their teams. Ownership at scale isn’t about the individual talents each person has but rather our ability to build teams upon which we can rely. However from my point of view the ownership is still up to each individual leader, much like I take ownership over issues in this org when I talk to my managers.
2/ Rigor. I like people to think completely and exhaustively, to understand all their alternatives, all their assumptions, and all their limitations. If we are in a review and I can come up with a new idea that hadn’t been thought of before that is a very bad sign for the degree of rigor that went into an exploration. Given that my job generally involves making trade-offs I have to understand the shape of curves which is why it is so important to me to evaluate options based on their alternatives; to know the shape of the curve.
3/ Bias for Action. As a complement to rigor, I value people who understand the cost of gathering information and the cost of the passage of time. We must work with great urgency to make progress and often that means recognizing that the marginal value of more information is below the cost of delay. Basically, define a rigorous process and run it and then commit to making a decision on the other end so the pace of progress is assured within tight bounds.
4/ Systematic. Each leader needs to have a process and a system for acquiring information, for prioritizing problems, and for getting things done. I worry about anyone who depends on me for information, process, or direction because I am so likely to become a bottleneck. There is no one size fits all solution for this problem, but we can benchmark a solution by thinking about how effectively it allows us to triage and prioritize urgent versus important work, how long it takes on average to respond to new information, and how time spent actually stacks up against the ideal in practice.
5/ Strategic. That means that not only are we planning to succeed but that the success we achieve will be one we value. This cannot exist without a long term focus on consumers from whom all defensible value stems. This also requires an earnest ability to assess our own strengths and weaknesses.
6/ Scalable. Spending time endlessly on tactical issues just isn’t scalable. Everything needs to be designed to be repeatable by people with less context, less experience, and less motivation. That means focusing on team building and development, building strong communities within each organization, having strong communication channels, and transparency around decisions and priorities.
7/ Outspoken. I care about writing, in-meeting, and public communication abilities. Without these nothing is scalable. If you have the capacity but aren’t making the time to actually do the communicating that isn’t much better. There are many paths to leadership and I am not prescriptive about which one someone pursues, but I can’t think of one that doesn’t involve actually sticking your neck out at some point.
8/ Empathetic. Everyone on the management team needs to care deeply about the average human in the organization, regardless of reporting chain. Our long term ability to achieve our goals is dependent almost entirely upon the people we serve in this organization so their problems are very much our problems.
9/ In Touch. It isn’t enough to care about the team if you don’t know what they care about. We should be investing time to understand what they need and how to make them more successful. We should take personal responsibility when concerns get to us because what we perceive as a whisper likely started out as a roar.
10/ Proactive. It is important to me that I be able to trust that if I’m not hearing anything, that means everything is going well (“no news is good news”). And while it is always valuable at the senior levels of leadership to have people who can own complex issues effectively when asked, it is immensely more valuable to have people identifying issues and own them proactively without being asked. I need to know that people will raise opportunities they see even/especially if I don’t see them myself.
11/ Voracious. I expect leaders to take seriously their responsibility to keep up with information. They should be reading everything across a broad cross section of the industry as it might affect their work, listening to internal leaders talk whenever given the chance, and connecting to people 1:1. If I am spending my time sharing information that could have been acquired elsewhere that’s time I can’t spend on things I am uniquely able to share.
12/ Relationship Oriented. If someone is great but can’t work with everyone else on the team then they are of limited long term use to the organization. The people around a true leader will seek them out actively. We cannot be afraid of conflict and must be able to manage disagreement without damaging relationships. We should always be building peacetime relationships across groups and even across companies that may come in useful in the future.
13/ Confidence. The people I work with need to have the confidence to show their work in an unfinished state and expose it to scrutiny, trusting in themselves and in the process that the results will be better.
14/ Transparent. I don’t appreciate excessive back-channeling among leadership as it slows us down and is prone to fragmenting knowledge. I prefer people to have a strong bias for openness in sharing not just information but also the concerns or fears they may have about it.
15/ Growing. I would trade almost every trait above for every person who works for me to be self-aware about their faults, zealous about uncovering new faults, and rigorous about improving. This includes graciously accepting feedback when given, even if given imperfectly.