One of the greatest mistakes of successful people is the assumption, “I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way!” The challenge is to make them see that sometimes they are successful in spite of this behavior. ~Marshall Goldsmith
One of my favorite fall foods is chili. A year ago I discovered Turkey Pumpkin Chili, which has become my favorite. As you can probably imagine, the ingredients are a bit different from a more traditional chili. The tomato sauce is replaced with pumpkin puree and turkey instead of the common ground beef. Surprisingly, at least to me, the spices weren’t that different. So I decided to experiment and in addition to the typical chili spices I now add a little cinnamon and nutmeg. After a little tweaking, I’ve created a unique combination of flavors that I thoroughly enjoy.
What’s a chili recipe got to do with a leadership team?
I’ve received a number of calls recently from leaders wanting some help with their leadership teams because they just aren’t quite flowing very well.
I’ve discovered that when many leaders progress to senior leader positions, they believe they have “arrived.” The sentiment is very similar to the quote by Marshall Goldsmith – “I am successful. I behave this way. Therefore, I must be successful because I behave this way!”
Now, imagine a group of leaders who all feel that way. They are all bringing their “spice” to the recipe with full force. Is it really any wonder that the team isn’t flowing?
The hard work begins by helping these leaders recognize that every “team” has its own unique dynamic; just like every chili recipe has its own unique flavor. In order to get that flavor just right, some spices might need to be subtle and others need to be bold. This means that every leader on a team needs to be willing to adapt their behavior to fit that team.
If I was making traditional chili, I wouldn’t think of adding cinnamon or nutmeg, and I might add more chili powder than what I put in my turkey pumpkin chili. Because of the other ingredients I’m adding, the other spices have to be adjusted. Both chili recipes may taste wonderful, but the spices have to be tweaked to get the flavor just right for each one.
The same is true for teams!
Each time a member of the team changes, the recipe has been altered. That means every other team member may have to adapt their behavior so the team can be at its best – really flow. That doesn’t mean any team member’s behavior is wrong or bad (just like cinnamon and nutmeg are not bad spices), it just means it needs to be tweaked so this team can be in sync.
I have found this concept to be really hard for many leaders to graciously accept. They believe they are in their position because of their strengths, which is true. But today, leadership is not a solo act. Leadership team members need to bring their strengths and be willing to adapt, tweak, or modify to allow the leadership team to thrive.
As a Chinese Proverb states, “A wise man adapts himself to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it.” Or, members of an effective team adapt their behavior, as the mix of spices in a chili recipe need to be tweaked to get a really great flavor!