How can leaders build the right people foundation?

It’s over a decade since Steve Jobs made what would be one of his most quoted comments about good business: “great things are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.”

This observation was true before the Apple CEO gave his take on the value of people. Across 30 years of working at major web companies from Lycos to Google, in addition to co-founding my own technology company, I’ve seen that success almost always comes down to having the right talent. During recent challenging times, this has proved especially relevant.

Rapidly shifting market trends, ongoing uncertainty, and financial strain in almost every sector have underscored the huge importance of strong teams for keeping businesses on track. While there’s no bullet-proof formula for leaders to perfect their people foundation, there are some key steps they can follow to build and nurture collective power.

 

Hire people better than yourself
While we’ve all heard the advice that a leader shouldn’t be the smartest person in the room, there is often too little focus on what’s required to avoid that scenario: humble hiring.

The CEO might be the driving force behind steering overall business direction, but that doesn’t mean they must have the highest level of skill, experience, and knowledge in every area.

Striving to be the ultimate authority creates undue personal pressure, in addition to limiting your opportunities for learning and enrichment. From the business perspective, the company will also miss multiple benefits that come with creating a talented team.

Seeking out individuals who are highly skilled in their field will ensure they can produce the best results for the organisation: in our industry that would range from keeping product development in tune with changing demand, to delivering advertising campaigns that maximise sales. Bringing specialists together also helps foster a climate of innovation, where workers inspire each other to explore fresh ideas, try different approaches, and continually raise their ambitions.

Moreover, doing so means you can confidently delegate work to those who will do a better job. As well as saving crucial time to focus on smarter strategic decisions, this shows one of the core qualities employees want to see from leaders — trust in their capabilities.

In short, actively recruiting people with skills that surpass, and expand on, your own is crucial to achieve greater collective intelligence, productivity, and growth.

 

Don’t expect others to do something you won’t
Of course, many duties do still fall with leaders. At the basic level, establishing clear goals and responsibilities is important to sustain unified progress and offer a sense of purpose: another vital factor for workforce happiness. But it’s crucial not to let heavy focus on targets distract from the most vital part of being a leader: motivating your team through action.

Bringing together an exceptional group of people is a good start, but unleashing their full potential takes consistent work and guidance. In particular, leaders must play their part by embodying the behaviours and cultural attitude they want to cultivate.

For instance, simple steps such as responding positively to suggestions can be a powerful demonstration of your appreciation for collaborative thinking. This can encourage creative contribution and cement it within the business DNA; allowing for a horizontal structure that offers equal opportunity to influence company evolution.

During a company meeting, for example, our project manager proposed the idea of developing our own ‘sandbox,’ a technology tool that allows for the testing of solutions for privacy-compliant online advertising. The discussion generated a lot of enthusiasm in the team and, as a result, we have now developed SWAN (Storage With Access Negotiation) and presented it to The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Similarly, stimulating a spirit of ongoing evolution also has to start at the top, with leaders embracing and adapting to change. The past 18 months, for example, have highlighted the need for me to alter my own view on remote working. Having previously leaned strongly towards the easy accessibility and information flow of physical offices, the pandemic has taught me to recognise the advantages that logging in from home offers for our people.

Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to work with many people; all of whom have proved that the individual skills everyone brings to the table are equally invaluable. That’s why the final takeaway I would offer for any leader is this: aim to find and nurture the best talent you can – and leave your ego at the door.