I stay away from politics in these Leading Thoughts. I don’t mind, though, talking about leadership themes in politics to illustrate principles that will help you lead. That’s what I want to do now.
We have all watched Donald Trump enough to know the kind of culture he builds around him. He likes “killers.” He likes competition. He’s the classic “survival of the fittest” capitalist who likes conflict and thinks it forces champions to the fore, no matter the damage done along the way. As I wrote in my book on the 2016 election, “Donald Trump is a fighter. There is no understanding him apart from this truth. He feels himself at his best in the role of combatant. Conflict summons his energies, organizes his thoughts, aligns his allegiances, and clarifies his sense of destiny. Donald Trump is a fighter.”
Now, whether we like it or not, this is a common approach to leadership. Pull together a team. Set very ambitious goals. Encourage as much competition as possible. Keep people off balance and uncertain. Even undermine them at times to motivate through fear and embarrassment. You don’t want them to get along. You want them to win!
It is an approach that works in some fields. It works on some sports teams. It works in a “dog eat dog” sales firm. It can work in industries where you want teams competing with each other.
There are other approaches, of course. There is the approach of the tight, loving team in which people are motivated by respect for the leader and achieving common goals. There is the firm based on friendly competition in which there are common goals and yet internal contests drive performance and growth. There are also firms in which competition is death and the “killer” is a disruptor.
Here’s the bottom line. What you don’t ever want is for the “Trump Competition Approach” to evolve on its own. In fact, you don’t want any of these approaches to evolve on their own. Instead, the leader has to fashion the culture intentionally.
What you want is an alignment between company goals, personal motivation, and the culture you build that connects the two.
Here’s how it works. You take stock of what the firm produces and what its goals are. Then, you decide how you want each member of your team to orient to those goals. The CEO of a canned goods company may decide he doesn’t care what his team thinks about green beans, as long as they sell. My friend who runs a massive organization devoted to feeding children, though, thinks differently. The people in his firm are motivated—beyond pay and benefits—by the good they are privileged to do in the lives of children.
There are dozens of variations on these themes, but the core principle doesn’t change. Don’t let the culture that motivates your team evolve accidentally. Build it. Be intentional about it. Design it. Then feed it.
A final thought: Another way to frame this question is to ask where you want the heart of each member of your team to be. Do you want their heart to be in the rewards they’ll receive for excelling as individuals? Do you want their heart to be in the product, i.e. feeding children? Do you want their heart to be for their fellow workers and the success of the team? Decide this question. Build a culture to facilitate it.