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What’s the number one job of a leader?

Average reading time: 3 minutes 35 seconds

“Ben, what’s the most important job of a leader?”

That was the question that Bruce Scott, the Company Chairman, asked me over dinner one winter’s night. I hadn’t long been promoted to the Senior Leadership Team at World Challenge.

I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. I remember sitting around the long table in the dimly lit private dining room at the back of a swanky London restaurant.

But the main reason that my memory is so vivid is due to the intense discomfort I felt at constantly having my answers shot down. I felt as though I was a failure as a leader for not having the ‘correct’ answer that Bruce was looking for.

Reflecting on it now, I realise my unease came from a heady mix of ego, over-inflated self-confidence and a lack of experience. But life and leadership are a journey of discovery, so I’m not going to beat myself up for it, and nor should you if you have a similar story to tell.

I was fresh out of the Army, so my answers centred around balancing the needs of the task and team, leading by example and so on.

Every time I spoke, Bruce simply said: “No.”

After allowing me to flounder and squirm in my seat for quite some time, Bruce could clearly see my frustration and gave me the answer he was looking for.

“Ben, the most important job of a leader is to recruit the right people and build a great team around you.”

Whilst I didn’t say this to Bruce, I’m fairly certain that I dismissed his advice out of hand. My ego- driven brain kicked in and my internal monologue was saying…

“”Nope! You’re wrong Bruce. I was an Army Officer. I know about leadership and the job of a leader is to balance the needs of the task, the team and the individual whilst leading from the front.”

Time and experience are perhaps the wisest teachers.

I’m not sure that recruiting the right people is the most important task of a leader. In fact, identifying the most important job of a leader is a fool’s errand as there are many key tasks, and the relative importance of these will of course be situational.

But, recruiting the right team has to be up there in the list of the most important tasks.

I believe that as leaders, we should never consider it our job to motivate those that we lead. Instead, it is our job to ensure that we recruit the right people and then work incredibly hard to ensure that we don’t do anything to de-motivate them.

This isn’t an article about recruitment, but I will share a few key thoughts.

I believe that we should focus on finding people who, to quote Simon Sinek, believe what we believe. The goal must always be to recruit people with the skills we need and who fit culturally into our organisation. If we fail to get this right we’ll have to work hard to motivate them to do just what is required, let alone go the extra mile.

“Look for a partner you’ll try to impress daily, and one who will try to impress you.”
Max Levchin – @mlevchin

We should also look for people who complement our skills and offset our areas of non-strength as opposed to recruiting clones of ourselves. And finally, we should seek out the highest calibre people we can possibly find so that they will continually push us to be better.

This is how teams rise to legendary status.

Check back here next week for part two of this blog and find out how you might be inadvertently demotivating your team. Or better still, sign-up to my newsletter and get a monthly summary of my articles dropped into your inbox.

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