Are You Surrounding Yourself With The Right People?

Too often in my career I’ve seen managers struggle because they don’t surround themselves with the right people. It’s the goal of this post to stimulate your thinking on this topic. Who are the right people?

I’m sure you’ve heard the advice, “You shouldn’t hire people like yourself.” That sounds like wisdom at a cocktail party, but it’s so oversimplified it’s of no use. Don’t listen to it. You should hire people who are like you in certain ways.

We’re talking about the issue of fit. Direct reports who are the best natural fit for you will definitely be like you in certain ways. One of my clients, a hotel general manager, had an intense drive for continuous improvement. He was never satisfied. If his direct reports didn’t share this drive, they were not a good fit for his style.

Difficulties arise when managers mistakenly look for things that shouldn’t matter. Is the person an enthusiastic sports fan? Are they in my generation? Are they a morning person? Were they in a sorority? In most cases, you should be completely unconcerned whether someone is like you in these respects.

Here are some things to consider when thinking about who’s right for you.

  • What kind of person thrives under your unique leadership style?
  • What weaknesses/deficiencies can you just not tolerate?
  • How will this person fit with your team?
  • Is this someone you’re willing to trust?
  • Would you look forward to working with this person every day?
  • What strengths do they bring that compliment your strengths?

The last item, complimentary strengths, is the area in which you should very intentionally seek people who are not like you. This is how you produce synergy.

If you can answer the questions listed above, you can determine whether someone is the right person to report to you, and you can quit worrying about the degree to which they’re like you or not like you.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Are You Known For Your Ethics And Integrity?

Very early in my career, a senior leader said, “Larry, as you progress through your career, you’ll bring with you your experience and your lessons learned. But the most important thing you’ll bring is your reputation for honesty and integrity.” Those words have served me well.

Your reputation is built by your decisions and actions as you move through life. Doing the right thing is easy when it’s convenient and painless. What do you do when “the right thing” is not at all clear? What do you do when it’s inconvenient and likely to cause you some pain? What do you do when you’ve done something wrong?

In this post my goal is to stimulate your thinking about this supremely important topic.

Walk your talk.

Who you are speaks more loudly than what you say. Failure to walk your talk will earn you a well-deserved reputation for hypocrisy. Think about politicians who forcefully espouse family values while committing adultery. Disgusting. Who wants to follow a hypocrite?

Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

A senior partner taught me this when I was practicing law. It’s not enough to know you’re doing the right thing. You must be aware of how others might see it. The appearance of impropriety often causes huge damage even if one’s innocence is later established. At the very least it tarnishes your reputation. If something will look wrong even though it’s not, don’t do it. If you’re called upon to explain why you’ve done something, you’ve already made a mistake.

Operate with transparency

As my friend and colleague Bill Kerrey says, “Sunshine disinfects.” People don’t trust mysteries. Transparency is the best way to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Don’t do something just because you can get away with it.

Temptation is all around us. In many cases, a leader can do things that are not right because nobody has the power to hold him accountable. I knew a company president who forbade HR to record her vacation time. Here’s the thing. Once you see that you should ask, “What else is she getting away with?” It’s a 100% certainty this is not the only case of this sort. She’s doing it elsewhere.

And as a practical matter, others will emulate that behavior. You’ll have a culture where everyone will see what they can get away with. No ethics, no integrity, no honor, no trust. Don’t do this and don’t condone it.

Encourage your employees to discuss the question, “What’s the right thing to do in this situation?”

It’s not always clear what the right thing is. The world does not fit neatly into the categories we’ve created. Vigorous, candid discussion is healthy. And well-meaning, intelligent people can disagree. Ultimately, however, we must act. Not everyone will agree with the leader’s point of view. When you have to make these types of decisions ask yourself, “Am I comfortable explaining this decision in a public forum?” If not, find a different course of action.

Admit your mistakes, apologize and do your best to make things right.

Too many leaders think it’s a sign of weakness to admit a mistake. On the contrary, it’s a sign of strength. Who in their right mind believes their leader is incapable of error? Leaders who don’t admit mistakes undermine their credibility.

Adhere to your principles even when it’s difficult, costly and painful.

We have shining examples of this. To name just a few: Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Socrates, Nelson Mandela, the demonstrators in Tienanmen Square, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the protesters who crossed the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, and Rosa Parks. I’m sure you can add to this list. These are the kinds of leaders who inspire people to action. When it comes to ethics and integrity, we’d all do well to emulate their example.

Thanks to my friend and colleague Kelly Moguel for suggesting this topic.

And thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

Will talent management practices create morale issues for employees who are not identified as talented?

This very intriguing question was posted by ANOOPA NARAYANAN, PhD scholar at Cochin University of Science and Technology. I think the answer is, “Yes.” Some talent management practices will create morale issues for some employees. My question is: What should we do about it? As usual, I don’t believe I have THE answer, but here are my thoughts.

I’m going to assume that Ms. Narayanan is referring to a situation in which a select group of employees has been identified as “high potential”, and are enrolled in a program designed to develop future leaders for the organization. Undoubtedly, there is a group of employees who wanted to be selected for that program but were not. In the moment, they’re going to be disappointed, and their morale will suffer.

First, I encourage us all to avoid the thinking (and the statements) that these employees are not talented. I use the word “talent” as a synonym for “aptitude” or “giftedness”. To have a talent for something is to have the potential for excellence in that thing. Often, we label someone as “not talented” because they are in the wrong fit for the gifts they’ve been given. Different careers require different aptitudes. So someone might be enrolled in a culinary arts program, but he or she lacks the aptitude to become a chef. Teachers in the program might say that person is not talented, but really they should say that person is not a talented culinarian. Maybe he has plenty of gifts, but they align with a different career.

I know an individual whose father insisted that he become an executive in the family business. But unfortunately leadership was not his talent. This person was a very talented photographer who was not allowed to pursue that as a career. I assure you, his morale was not good. That’s what happens when you put someone in a job that’s not a good fit.

Earlier in my career I had a top sales rep who wanted to become a sales manager. Upon considering him for that role, we concluded that his talent was selling, not managing people. So we declined the promotion.

Let’s assume we were correct about his lack of potential to be a good manager. What would be the consequences of putting him in that role? First, if he’s not a good manager, the morale of his direct reports will suffer. The performance of his team will suffer. He’ll be under constant stress trying to perform with excellence in a role for which he is not a good fit. That kind of stress contributes to serious health problems and burn out.

His morale did suffer, by the way, when he didn’t get the sales manager job. I tried to retain him, but he found a sales manager job with another organization. I still sleep well about that because giving him the job would have had worse consequences for our organization and for him.

We can mitigate some morale issues if we understand each employee’s talent and ask, “What’s the best fit for someone with those gifts?” Once we understand someone’s talent we have a better chance of putting her in a role where she spends the majority of her time doing things she’s good at and enjoys. When we can put someone in a job that’s the right fit, we’ve created a platform where she can add the most value to the organization, and where she can thrive and grow.

We must provide growth opportunities that go beyond traditional hierarchical promotions. In academia, for instance, individuals can continue to earn degrees that bring them increased status and respect, even though they don’t supervise anyone. Many trades and professions provide similar possibilities for people. We’d all be well served to create additional growth possibilities for our employees so that hierarchical promotions are not their only option.
If we’ve properly identified high potential employees, it makes sense to invest in their growth and development. We have to accept that this will cause some morale problems for those who were not selected. Some might leave. That’s a cost of the program.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg

10 Things To Avoid When You’re Losing

During my career, I’ve experienced several situations in which my team did not achieve it’s goals. I’ve been in more than one situation where my very best effort wasn’t good enough. It sucks. Believe me, I know it sucks. It’s pain life experience, and it’s your responsibility as a leader to help your people extract the full value from it. Adversity often brings to light strengths that might otherwise go unrealized. Going through tough times together can deepen relationships, strengthen bonds and build esprit de corps. As a leader it’s your responsibility to help people grow through this experience. Here are some do’s and don’ts:


  • Get discouraged.
  • Give up or tolerate others giving up.
  • Fail give and demand that others give their very best effort.
  • Start to doubt your people.
  • Talk negatively about your people.
  • Make excuses.
  • Blame/Scapegoat others.
  • Tolerate negativity.
  • Continue to execute strategies that aren’t working.
  • Strive to be a good loser.


  • Find successes to celebrate.
  • Review your wins to identify what you can replicate into the future.
  • Show that you’re upset, and tolerate others who do so.
  • Continue to strive to see how much of the gap you can close.
  • Leave it all on the field. No woulda, shoulda, coulda. If you have to go down, go down in flames.
  • Seize this opportunity to show yourselves and others what you’re made of.
  • Challenge your team to answer this question: “What should we do differently to create more wins?”
  • Ask your boss for ideas and suggestions. And implement them.

Every life experience presents the opportunity for growth. If you lose and you don’t grow that would truly be a shame. Don’t let your people down. Thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts. Larry Sternberg

How Do You Create An Amazing Workplace?

Recently I was a guest on a Podcast hosted by Chris McNeill.  To hear this interview, click here:

To learn more from Chris, click here:

Big thanks to Chris for inviting me to share my thoughts. As always, I’d love to hear yours.

Larry Sternberg




Have You Tried A Positive 360?

I’m not a fan of the typical 360º review process for the following reasons: 1) reviewees often are allowed to choose their reviewers (everyone “games” this), 2) the questions focus on weaknesses, and 3) the follow-up focuses on fixing those weaknesses. The activity generated makes people feel like they’re “doing something”. All in all, however, most 360’s don’t add a great deal of value. It’s like taking bad-tasting medicine that doesn’t actually do you any good.

There is an alternative: the positive 360. Here’s a possible set of questions for reviewers:

  1. When X is really “in the zone” what is she doing?
  2. What are X’s most important contributions to our team/company/organization?
  3. What do you appreciate most about X?
  4. What does X really enjoy doing at work?
  5. What are X’s biggest strengths?
  6. How can we support X better in areas where she’s not so strong?
  7. How can we “job sculpt” X’s responsibilities so she spends most of her time doing what she’s good at and enjoys?
  8. How can we create more “in the zone” experiences for X?

Please note, this set of questions does not ignore areas of weakness. But instead of focusing X’s efforts on changing, we’re focusing everyone’s efforts on supporting her. So for instance, if X is not good at follow-up, we can send X to training on follow-up, but after the training if she’s only just a little bit better, we accept that and focus on how to support her. We avoid giving her assignments and responsibilities that require a lot of follow-up.

If you’re X’s supervisor, you need to struggle to find the answer to questions seven and eight. The more time each of your people spends doing things he or she is good at and enjoys, the more often they experience being “in the zone”, the faster you’ll accelerate your team’s performance and each individual’s growth.

Give the positive 360 a try. I’d love to hear your feedback.

Larry Sternberg

How Do You Foster Great Teamwork?

An acquaintance asked me to post my thoughts on this matter. A Google search, “Secrets to Great Teamwork,” returned 13,500,000 results. That’s a LOT of secrets. Clearly, there is no definitive answer. Each leader nurtures great teamwork in her unique way, according to her values and gifts.

So, instead of writing a “how to” list, I’ll focus on one element that’s crucially important: relationships.

Your relationship with another person is defined by the way you respond to them. If that person interprets your responses as helpful, caring and supportive, he or she will call it a positive relationship. If that person sees your responses as unhelpful, hurtful, or uncaring, he or she will call it a negative relationship.

As a leader you must establish a team culture that fosters positive relationships. Ideally team members will become friends or more. What’s more? They start to talk about the team as family. And it’s not a slogan. They mean it.

So help your people become friends. Help them get to know each other. What’s going on in their lives outside the team? What are their dreams, aspirations, and life challenges? What are their interests? What are their needs? What are their gifts?

To foster friendships, socialize outside of work and invite significant others to join you. Celebrate important events together, for instance, graduations, personal achievements, engagements, etc.. Support each other during illness, death and other challenging life events. Be present for the highs and the lows. Care about each other. Make frequent use of the following phrase, “How can I help?”

Quit asking people to change. We all have aces and spaces. Accept each person as they are. Get your team members to accept each other with all their flaws. Be friends with them anyway. Allow them to be themselves. Focus on what’s right about them. Focus on how they can make their best contribution to the team. Foster a culture where you build each other up instead of tearing some team members down.

If you help people build close, positive relationships, if you help them cultivate genuine friendships, the teamwork will improve. As you strive together to attain your goals you’ll go through ups and downs together, and these shared experiences will deepen the relationships. If you can do this, the intangible rewards of the journey might well create more sustained a value for the team members than the tangible rewards of accomplishing the goal.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Larry Sternberg