By Dean Sippel
Not everyone on a team can be an A player, right?
Steve Jobs, among others, would say, “Wrong!” “The Mac team was an attempt to build a whole team like [Woz], A players,” Jobs described. “People said that they wouldn’t get along, they’d hate working with each other. But I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do.”
And you could make the argument that Jobs was successful in this endeavor. Apple has been nearly unstoppable, swelling from revenues of $19 billion in 2006 to $234 billion in 2015. You’d be hard-pressed to find another tech company that has demonstrated that kind of steady growth.
But how did they actually do it? How can leaders avoid succumbing to mediocracy after a couple big wins, and truly create this unstoppable team—a team that isn’t just successful for a few months or a year, but for years on end, quarter after quarter?
To start, good leaders are involved in the decisions that really matter. But since you can’t be everywhere all the time, you need to know when and how often to engage and share your insights. Here are some guidelines that leaders can follow to create an environment in which everyone can do their best work:
• Be accessible. Don’t hole up in your office and command from on high. As a leader, you must have frequent conversations with employees; it’s the best way to get honest feedback. If employees are accustomed to speaking with you, they won’t be as afraid to tell you how they really feel about something. In this way, you’re bound to get the best insights out of your people.
• Be authentic. Employees respond to leaders who are themselves and create a work setting where they can do the same. When excellence and candor are clearly valued, people will respond in kind with their most real and honest selves.
• Engage wisely. Avoid immersing yourself in every matter great and small. Micromanagers who do not trust their team can stifle creativity, hurt morale, and drive the best people away. Giving talent the space to innovate, fail, learn from mistakes, and grow is vital. That said, there are times to intervene with the small stuff. If you really see that you could add value to a discussion or offer a solution others cannot, it can be a teachable moment.
• Build a team. No leader can do it alone. Assembling a team of trusted deputies who also model your behavior and values will allow you to cover more ground. The more leaders you can find who embody the attributes above, the more the entire team will adopt them. This is building a culture, plain and simple. And promoting a culture is the best way to ensure the whole team is aligned with a common goal.
Building a team of all A players isn’t just about hiring a whole lineup of employees who fit a single mold. Filling your organization with high-performing individuals takes constant attention and support. To create the perfect team, you’re going to need to harness the above management tactics and create a company culture that inspires, excites, and brings out the best in your people. A critical benefit is that culture runs deep—it won’t be shaken by one disappointing venture or a slow quarter. In this way, you can ensure that your best people will stick around and keep doing their best work—years and years down the road.