Building leadership teams

I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn from some talented leaders. Dwolla is hiring a VP of Sales which got me into a long conversation about this topic with Jenna Hogan, who runs talent at Dwolla. We were talking about some shared positive traits in leaders and I thought it would make for an interesting post.

These are the traits top of mind for me.

Long term vision, short term execution.

Building a vision is fairly easy. The hard part comes with understanding the path to build the vision and execute. The best leaders I’ve worked with tend to think about breaking down the steps to achieve the big thing, and then just do the work that’s agreed upon in the order it’s agreed upon.

This sounds incredibly boring but if you pick the right path and execution steps, achieving the vision is more realistic than many people outside the business may realize. 

Some value is in ideas but most value is created through execution.

Kind, ambitious, tenacious.

These 3 things are so powerful. Kind is easy to understand by spending time with people and you should plan to spend ~40 hours with new leadership hires before making an offer. Ambition and tenacity tend to be unshakable traits in people and if you look into their past you can normally see it over long periods of time.

Quantitative, with qualitative delivery.

Goals are measurable and I’m yet to meet a strong leader who wasn’t able to define how they measured their goals or what they aspire to accomplish. For some leaders this is personal and for others it’s about the company.

How someone is performing on any given day is normally pretty qualitative because it’s a short term measure about how someone is making you feel today. How someone helps a team perform over time is normally much more quantitative, it has to be measured on a regular basis and done so without exception.

Leaders eat last.

There’s plenty of business guidance that says to get yours, don’t take any shit, and if there’s money on the table… Take it!

While I’ve heard this advice too, I’ve always wondered if a lot of business advice builds better bullies than leaders.

The leaders I know are far more humble and patient. They also recognize that the success of their teams is linked directly with their success.

I’ve found leaders who use the success of their team as a leading indicator to their success are really enjoyable people to work with. They also manage high output teams who know that the leader has their back. Some leaders even seem to be able to translate this feeling not just to the teams they manage but the entire company. That’s a bit harder to get a read on but sometimes it manifests itself on where they stand in the lunch line.

Ben Schmitt, VP of Information Security at Dwolla, embodies this.

These things seem obvious as I type them but learning what to look for takes a lot of time and practice. When I started working on a leadership team I remember googling a lot of articles about how to do it.

There’s no one size fits all solution but there have been some themes emerge.

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