Manage Like You’re Shipwrecked

There was a time in my career when I’d gnash my teeth and wail silently inside at the injustice of the talent I was given to work with. How come I didn’t have only “A” players? Why didn’t I get a team full of all-stars? Who were these people I got to work with!? Never mind that the people I worked with were doubtlessly thinking the same about me, my outsized ego and misbegotten sense of injustice. A few years ago, all that changed with a simple shift in thinking….

Manage your team like you’re shipwrecked with them.

It’s that simple. Once you accept the fact that you need to play the hand you’re dealt, you can grow by leaps and bounds as a manager. Hopefully people don’t come and go on your team so often that your workplace is a revolving door (I can’t help you with that) but they will indeed come and go. Committing to working with the resources you have, committing to supporting and developing them, is nothing short of liberating.

Take Team Ordinary over the All Stars

Even thinking of people as “A” players vs. “B”s or “C”s is misguided. People come with strengths, weaknesses, skills, baggage, hangups, habits (good and bad), vision, motivation and all kinds of other stuff. Some of that is positive, easy to work with and contributes to the team. Some of it doesn’t. But focusing on recruiting “A” players results is a particularly short-sighted managerial temptation: an emphasis on collecting the “right” people as opposed to developing the ones you have will leave your career marooned.

If you haven’t already done so, stop thinking about assembling the Justice League of team members. Accept that you may have something more like the Mystery Men — with all their strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies — and start figuring out how you can help them along the road to superhero-dom. The first step is acting like you’re shipwrecked with them.

What would you do if you washed up on a desert island with these people? Send them home and order a new crew more to your liking? Sorry, Charlie. That ain’t gonna happen. You’ve got a job to do (survive) and a toolset to do it with (the people you’re with). Wishing for MacGyver, a few navy seals and “Survivor” finalists isn’t going to move the agenda forward. So what do you do?

The Seven Habits of Not Lord of the Flies

Answer: you embrace their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. You use their skills and minimize their baggage. You treat each person’s success as your success, because on a desert island that’d be the difference between life and death: investing everything you’ve got in making the team work. Do you want Gilligan’s Island or Lord of the Flies? The choice is yours.

Ultimately, your boss isn’t going to reward you for firing people and spinning the HR wheel of fortune to see if by some struck of H.R. luck, you can accumulate the perfect team. That’ll take forever, if it works at all, and in the meantime you’ll have a revolving door of talent that prevents you from achieving any of your goals, including that of staying employed.

On the other hand, committing to your people sends a clear signal that you value and support them, which pays huge dividends in morale and gives them all a chance to turn into all-stars. People start believing they’re a team when they believe they’re valued and not disposable.

Flotsam and Jettison

If you commit to the hard work of developing your team to be the best they can, you stand a chance of not only excelling as a team, but developing as a leader and being recognized as someone that can bring out the best in people. The only way to do that is to jettison the idea that you can easily jettison people, and start acting like the most important thing in the world is that your people become the best they can. Act like you’re shipwrecked with them.

Now drop those coconuts and get to work!

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