Identify Your Position of Value, not Strength

Rock-paper-scissors. Addictive; no game board required. Chance and perception combine to provide direction and resolve conflicts, large and small.

This age-old game proves a truth omni-present in life’s successes: the currency of Value trumps Strength.

Rock may pound paper all day long, but cannot diminish paper’s covering shade. Scissors’ razor-like precision is meaningless where rock’s brute strength is needed. Scissors dispatch paper’s veil of separation where clarity and transparency are critical.

Where are you paper when rocks abound?

Show me a person who articulates where they contribute Value instead of selling Strengths and I’ll show you a winner. This truth is constant whether you are recruiting talent, seeking your next perfect job, in execution mode at work or loving your companion at home.

This truth pervades the day-to-day habits of the world’s most successful people. They contribute out of their Values therefore adding horsepower to their teams. Anyone can flaunt and talk about strengths and what they thinkthey are good at. However, the most successful professionals build a trajectory of growth by investing in future companies the Value deposited in previous roles.

Preparing for a major pitch? Identifying your core competitive advantages? Attempting to resolve a relational conflict? When times get rough and your back is against the wall, what do you rely on? Live/contribute/speak from your Position of Value rather than attempting to operate from a position of power and strength.

Empower vs Enable: What Kind of Manager are You?

In my early days of managing employees, my perfectionist tendencies got the best of me. Enabling was the name of my management game. My way or the highway. Success made it easy for me to justify work done my way. And unfortunately, justification is the shortest distance between point "what" and point "why."

For new recruiters, the qualifications are pretty basic: work ethic, excellent communication and negotiation skills, basic computer skills. (Don't let anyone tell you sales people make the best recruiters!) Everything else can be learned. The great recruiters learn to hone the skills that set them apart: follow-up, critical listening, cultivating long-term vs short term relationships, etc. 

I learned from some of my best hiring managers that empowerment is the better way to build and retain a great team. People like Shawn Carolan, Mason Jones, Bruce Scott and others illustrated how hiring as an art and science is about empowering intelligent people, not enabling them.

What's the difference? The line isn't so fine if you know what to look for. As defined at Dictionary.com, to empower is "to give power." To enable is "to make able." 

The difference, I hope, leaps off the page. If you've hired someone for a critical role in your company, you've already decided they are able. It's now your job to give them the tools and resources needed to execute their job. 

In 2009, when Mason and I built the development team at Kleiner Perkins-funded startup RPX Corporation in San Francisco, we recruited several talented Rails devs who, at the time, had 4-5 years of Ruby-on-Rails experience. Of all the hires Mason made, though, he still talks points to one fresh-out-of-school dev as his best. This engineer worked his way through the University of Washington freelancing as a LAMP/PHP developer. Dabbling was the extent of his Rails experience. Mason spotted talent even though it came with the risk of hiring an engineer with no local references. The engineer took Mason's offer, packed his car in Seattle and moved to San Francisco. 

Sure, this newly hired engineer had to step up and do the job Mason hired him for, but Mason worked to give him the right opportunities to prove his skills. If ever there is an argument against enablement as management, this story is proof.

My advice? When opening a position, think through the tools you have that your new hires will use. Hire based on who will make the best use of those tools and then when you've hired them, make it your practice to keep their resource pipeline full. If talent for your role is tight, ask yourself: are you hiring for talent or abilities?

As time goes by, watch your management tactics for evidence of empowerment vs enablement. Find a trusted peer or mentor who can keep you accountable and give them license to challenge how you manage your team.

And perhaps the best case for empowerment as a management tool is retention. Abilities change, but I'm not convinced talent does. Keep a shortlist of your most talented team members and plan growth opportunities to keep them interested and learning. The number one reason candidates tell me they are job searching is a lack of growth opportunities, not a lack of company stability.

Recruiting and keeping good people in a competitive industry is insanely difficult. Empowerment is your secret ingredient for success!

Interview Selfishly and Selflessly

I'm often asked, "Hey, Mike, what's the biggest mistake you've seen someone make in an interview?" Honestly, there is really only one true mistake I see people make in an interview. Before I answer this question, though, let's think about the weirdness that is interviewing, which frequently predisposes you to make this mistake.

You and another person, who (possibly) don't know each other well (or at all), agree to take a large percentage of time to sit down with each other and discuss a potential commitment that will greatly affect both of your futures.

You will disclose some of your highest priorities, volunteer information about your brightest hopes and dreams, all while trying to assure someone that they can count on you. You represent, to them, either a huge opportunity or huge pain ... and likewise. 

The oddest reality about this exchange is that you will each enter into this conversation without any guarantee of a commitment because you rightly hope to find out how this person can fill the opportunity/pain void in your own life.

And think about the time you will invest. For a one hour interview, add at least another hour to include prep time, post-interview debrief time, follow-up action item(s) time and time needed to decide what to do next. That's five percent (5%!) of your paid work week. And that's for what is likely a short introductory interview. For one person. You'll need to invest a higher percentage of your next week's time if you decide to continue the conversation.

If you remove the variable of meeting an unknown person by interviewing with someone who is a friend or former colleague, it only removes some of the risk. People change. Life brings new opportunities and challenges that affect everyone differently. Lost amidst the stories you will discuss to break the ice over before getting to the real questions is the added dynamic of a relationship that needs to be honored once the interview is over. At least meeting someone you don't know carries little future baggage.

Obviously, it's paramount that you make the most of every interview opportunity. That opportunity is tied to great dreams, goals achieved and challenges met. In my experience, there is only one mistake made in an interview: 

Attempting to "create" an impression.

This impression can be made in a few ways:

  • Trying to demonstrate experience in all requirements.
  • An air of bravado or supreme confidence.
  • Unwillingness to disclose your own priorities.
  • In a misguided attempt at assurance, attempting to downplay possible mismatches between experience and qualifications.

We've all heard the saying "You only get one chance to make a first impression." Baloney. If I could give interviewees one piece of advice, it would be this:

Interview selfishly and selflessly.

Ask all the questions for which you need answers. Display a willingness to talk through areas where you may fall short. Believe me, if the hiring manager is taking his/her time to discuss the opportunity, it is driven by a hope that you can do great things for them.

In other words, be yourself instead of the person you think the company wants to hire. If you are the hiring manager, avoid describing the position as the candidate's dream job. (Too often, starry-eyed descriptions of skills and achievements and company benefits are the best news you'll hear. The other person is giving you the good stuff in advance so it softens the fall when they tell you you're not a fit or that they don't want your job offer.)

If you're an engineer, ask about team weaknesses that the hiring manager hopes you can complement. Avoid selling skills that may not be a priority.

If you're a sales person, ask about the company's biggest unfulfilled opportunities. Avoid dropping names until you know who matters to the company.

If you're a marketing exec, ask about specific examples that illustrate the company's struggle in communicating its brand. Wait to discuss your amazing conversion ratios until you know that's a major pain point for the hiring manager.

Above all, remember that the person you're talking with is just that: a person. They will leave work and live their life as you will live yours. They will go home to excited children, catch drinks with friends, or wipe the sweat from their forehead as they run their last evening mile.

And then at some point they'll read your follow-up thank you email with one question: is this person really who they paint themselves to be?