Entrepreneurship, investing, and life can become lonely roads. It’s easy to feel like we have the weight of the world on our individual shoulders.
That’s why I love reminders from great teachers like hall of fame basketball coach John Wooden, who said
“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of your team.”
No matter what we seek to accomplish, our success or failure will depend in large part upon the team we assemble around us. In team sports this fact may be obvious, but it holds just as true for small entrepreneurs, leaders of non-profits, or individual ventures.
Here are a few principles that I have found helpful as I strive to build my own small teams.
1. Get Organized
Even if you are at the stage where your business only exists in your imagination, you can begin by organizing your thoughts and your team.
My favorite method of organizing any ideas, but especially a first draft of a team, is a mind map. I got started using mind maps when I read How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci by Michael Gelb, and I dug deeper with The Mind Map Book by Tony Buzan.
Here is an example of a mind map I quickly sketched to outline the roles within a small rent real estate business.
How do you use this spider-web of information? You use it to figure out what roles need to exist within your team, and then you can use it to figure out who will fill each role.
I still remember like it was yesterday sitting in the living room with my business partner in 2003 as we planned our real estate business. We created a chart sort of like my mind map above, and we outlined about 15 roles that needed to exist on our team. We then delegated each of these 15 roles between the two of us! This idea came from one of the first but best business books we read, The Emyth.
We had no actual business, no money, no deals, and no progress, but we outlined our team so that we understood the scope of what needed to be done. Then we got started. As we grew, we obviously started outsourcing roles. But it helped us to know from the beginning how our team and its roles would work together.
2. Recruit Excellent Team Members
Because your team is the foundation of your success, the quality of your individual team members is critical. If you have a weak link in the chain, the entire process can fail.
When I played college football at Clemson University, I quickly learned how important recruiting was. Picking and attracting the best coaches and players made the difference between mediocre and championship teams.
Choosing and recruiting the right people applies both to any potential business partners and to the other members of your team. As a rental landlord, this concept also applies to your tenants, who become team members who care for and financially support each little rental business you own.
My own business during the last 13 years has experienced its share of excellent and poor team members. The bad experiences in particular taught me some important criteria to consider when choosing team members:
- Competency: The person must be able to fulfill the needs of their specific role on the team. If, for example, the person will handle bookkeeping, they must possess or be able to quickly learn bookkeeping skills. If you need someone to do leasing and customer service, they must be a good communicator and enjoy interacting with people.
When you hire subcontractors to do repairs, keep in mind that cost is important, but only after you’ve screened for competency. We once had an HVAC technician who did work for over a year. He gave us great prices up front and he was very responsive, but he created expensive problems down the road because of his incompetence in key areas.
- Attitude: Is the person a doer or complainer? Do they bring people down or pick them up? The collective team attitude is critical to success, and one bad individual attitude can ruin it for everyone else. You must pick the people with good attitudes from the start because they rarely get better with time.
- Trustworthiness: If someone lies, cheats, or acts dishonestly, they will create a cancer within your team. Screen for dishonesty up front, and remove someone quickly who acts dishonestly.
- Alignment: The goals and values of individual team members must be in alignment. If they aren’t, you will experience tension and battles to tug the team in different directions. This is often why good, honest people still fail at a business partnership. They are trying to drive the vehicle in different directions.
There are many other criteria you could choose, but the main point here is to use thoughtful criteria for picking and recruiting the right people for your team.
3. Be a Servant Leader
You are the leader of your team, but that does not mean you need to be a ruthless dictator. The leaders I respect the most equate leading with serving.
These types of leaders, sometimes called servant leaders, recognize that their positions do not make them any better than the people they serve. They know that if they support, empower, and serve their team members, the overall objectives will get done.
This doesn’t mean you must be a pushover. It just means that you acknowledge that the world does not revolve around you. It means you put the mission of the team and the well-being of everyone above personal pride and glory. It means you listen more and talk less. It means you are open to the ideas of someone else if they are better than your own.
Servant leadership is not a fad. It has been practiced for thousands of years, including by Jesus, who famously washed the dirty feet of all his disciples and shared time and compassion with the outcasts and least respected people of society.
Ancient Chinese sage Lao-tzu, another teacher of servant leadership, explains the concept perfectly in the Tao De Ching:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.
A modern example of servant leadership can be found at Chick-fil-a. The top executives at the company all spend at least one day per year working the counter at a restaurant. You will regularly see store owners sweeping floors or delivering food to a table. From the CEO to the part-time teenage employee, leading by serving is in their DNA.
You can learn more about the Chick-fil-a leadership philosophy here:
- EntreLeadership Podcast Interview with CEO Dan Cathy
- Fast Company article about CEO Dan Cathy
- It’s Easier to Succeed Than Fail, book by the late Chick-fil-a founder S. Truett Cathy
Go Build Your Team
I hope the prospect of building or improving your team is exciting. My most enjoyable experiences in life have been moments of victory, both small and large, shared with others on my teams.
If you are inspired by the concept, I encourage you to start doing something today.
If you are a brand new entrepreneur, investor, or other team leader, start by outlining or mind-mapping your team’s structure. If you already have a team, think about your people and your own leadership. How can you improve your team? How can you improve your leadership?
If you aim to be a “star” by achieving success in business, investing, or your personal life, remember that the main ingredient is your team.
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