Monday, May 19, 2014

Everybody Needs An Amber

I was thinking over the 5 or so years I spent as a Grocery Team Leader at Whole Foods Market, while talking to my honey who is currently a Produce Team Leader, and I realized that everyone needs an Amber.

OK… I’m sure you are wondering what in the world that means.  I always did my best to hire those who were better than I was.  Once in a while, and if you are lucky twice in a while, you might hire yourself an Amber (again, if you are lucky you might get a Jenna too).  These people will come to you skilled in many areas of expertise, however they will not be arrogant.  If you are able to accept that they are better than you, teach them what you know, and allow them to grow by making mistakes on your team, they will help you take your team to new heights.  With the help of these people you can transform your people into the great team you have been working towards.

For many Leaders hiring someone who is better than they are can be scary.  In many workplaces people feel insecure about their jobs, so you might think hiring someone better than you could put your job in jeopardy.  You might think hiring someone who could be promoted past you will make you look bad.  You might feel threatened having someone who is smarter, or a better Leader than you around.

The reality of your situation is this… you cannot accomplish your goals by yourself.  You need your team to execute and get everything done.  You need people to make you look good.  Hiring people who are better than you is the best way to do this, and the best way to achieve great.  So read my series on hiring, starting here, and hire yourself an Amber.

That means hiring some who:

Will challenge you.
In order to be the best Leaders we can be, we need to be challenged.  Even those of us who drive ourselves to be the best, will have some areas that we don’t see as important…  It’s in those areas that our Amber will challenge us.  Your Amber will also push you to think about which things are important and which are not, as the choices you made to suit your circumstances in the past may not fit today’s needs.  We all fall into ruts, and get nice and cozy in our comfort zones at one point or another… If you want to achieve great, you need someone to challenge you!

Is better than you.
As a Leader you must realize that you cannot know everything, or be the best at everything.   In fact, if you are the best at any of the tasks your team members are responsible for, you are not doing your job.  So… the best way to get new ideas, and a creative spark is to bring in people who are better than you are.   Your Amber should have a different career path, a different background, and disagree with you a lot.  Remember… we only learn from people who disagree with us.

Will keep you in line.
I can really only speak for myself, and I believe that we are all human.  We all get caught up in our own issues, what’s going on at home, and at times we all make mistakes.  Having an Amber means having someone who will tell you to ‘knock it off’, that you are allowing your anger at your spouse to influence your work decisions, or that sharing a larger portion of that bonus would be a better choice for the long run.  If being a great Leader was easy, we would all be doing it… it’s not easy.  We all have the ability to make decisions based on fear, selfishness, or jealousy.  Having someone there to remind us of the right thing is invaluable…

Can take anything and everything off your plate.
Amber will come to you with many skills, and will be able to take on many responsibilities right away.  You will have to teach your Amber some things, as her experience will not match yours, and there are some things that are unique to each workplace.  Once this teaching is underway however, Amber will be able to take pretty much anything off of your plate, and then she will teach others to take things off her plate.  This will allow you to spend time on your next level apprentices, and help them develop their Leadership qualities.  It will allow you to feel free to take the time to hire only the best people, and never feeling as though you have to settle.

Will be coachable. 
Hiring the right people mean they come to you willing and able to hear feedback.  I have come to believe that the ability to hear and act on feedback is the most important forecaster of success.  So hiring Amber does a few things for you.  It allows Amber to move quickly into a position of taking on just about anything you need her to take, and at the same time this shows a great example for the rest of the team.  Your other apprentices will have varying degrees of development, and seeing Amber partner with you, hearing feedback and adjusting her behavior accordingly, will be a great example for them.

Is good enough to coach you on a thing or two.
Since we are focused on hiring people who are better than we are, and with backgrounds and experience that is different from ours, the great people we are hiring will be able to teach us what they know.  The key here of course is for us to be teachable as well.  Too often Leaders become arrogant without realizing it.  We come to think that we are better than the people we hire, and that they have nothing to teach us.  Even if we, like many, are hiring only people we believe we are better than, they will still have a thing or two to teach us if we are able to learn.  Amber will not only have things we can benefit from learning, but she will know how to teach others in a way that allows us to want to learn from her.

Is happy to teach others all they know.
Amber does not act from a place of fear.  People like Amber know that sharing knowledge is the only way to achieve greatness, and they are happy to teach others.  You will be seriously shocked at how much more training and coaching can happen when you add another ‘you’ into the mix.  Amber will help to raise the level of commitment and engagement much sooner than you thought possible.

Challenges others.
Just having Amber on the team will challenge others to rise to her level.  They will see that the bar you’ve been setting can indeed be reached, and even surpassed.  The rest of the team will quickly see how much having a great team member like Amber benefits everyone, and will support her.  Of course there will be those who are jealous, or fearful… you will have to do your best to help them understand that they have nothing to fear, and eventually they will get on board.

Raises the bar.
Amber is not satisfied with OK, or mediocre work.  If you are lucky enough to have an Amber, you should push forward with wherever she wants to set the bar.  By yourself you could only set the bar so high, however with the help of someone better than you, the bar can be set much higher.

The downside:
Yes… there are always downsides.  However they are not big enough to make you think twice about hiring your Amber.  You will be able to address and handle anything that comes up, and that upside will be worth the effort.

There will be conflict.
You will have team members who feel threatened by Amber.  Even on a good team, you probably have a couple of team members who don’t really want things to change.  You will have to stay alert and address these issues as soon as they come up.  Do not allow them to fester! 

Authority and Amber…
What authority does your Amber have?  Sometimes an Amber will come along and you may not have the appropriate role open for her.  Hire her anyway, at whatever rate and role you can.  However, this will cause problems, since Amber is full of ideas and will be looking to make positive changes, while not having the title or ‘positional authority’ to make those changes happen.  Have no fears, Amber will earn the respect and they will soon give her the authority she deserves, and in the mean time you may have to work extra hard to get everyone on board with what is happening.

You will eventually lose Amber.
Yes… people this good will not stay on your team forever.  You will benefit by thinking of them as temporary help, to assist you in moving your team forward.  Appreciate them and allow them as much leeway as you can, and they will help you raise the level of your whole team.

And I’ll end with this… if you are not comfortable hiring someone who is better than you are, talking to your coach or mentor about it might help.  What would you tell a subordinate who had the chance to hire someone better than themselves, and came to you for advice?  Yup… you’d tell them to jump at the chance.  So hire yourself an Amber, and make the most of it.

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