Imagine that you want to move a 4,000 pound hulking mass of metal, plastic, rubber and fiber from your home to your office. In other words, you want to drive your car to work. The primary device of movement you will need is a set of wheels. Since its invention more than 6,000 years ago this basic tool has facilitated the transportation of objects across the world. The original design of the wheel was a solid frame, until the discovery that spokes made it lighter and faster, thus easier to use. While its design and aesthetics have evolved, the simplicity of its use has remained the same. It provides mobility and progress.
As a leader, imagine yourself as the hub in a wheel. Your ability to move forward with your initiatives is dependent upon the strength and structural reliability of the spokes to which you’re connected. These spokes must be strong and firmly attached to both the hub and the outer rim. The rim in essence forms a circle around your leadership team; it defines your inner circle. Others see you as a unit, whose parts function effectively only to the degree that they are united.
Because you’re only as strong as your weakest link, it’s important to build and strengthen your inner circle. Think about these five key qualities that you need in your “spokes” to support a strong wheel.
Alignment around vision, mission, shared goals and objectives. These are the core philosophies of your “why”, which according to Simon Sinek is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you and your organization to do what you do. Involve your inner circle in discussions around the direction of your organization. They must fully understand each piece of the puzzle, to see the big picture. Ensure the channels of communication are open for debate, respectful disagreement and continual dialogue to make certain everyone is aligned. The point is, if there is disagreement around the vision and mission, it’s best to hash it out in the open, rather than let it fester in the background. Such dissent will act like a cancer and undermine your plans.
Teamwork and collaboration with everyone bringing complimentary skills to the table. At this writing, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors are set to go the 2015 NBA playoffs. But it’s not just LeBron James of the Cavaliers who will play. The ENTIRE Cleveland team must play. Each man must perform according to his position and work with his teammates to effectively win. As talented and critical as LeBron is to his team’s success, he still can’t win the games and the championship by himself. So why do some leaders think that they can play their role, and everyone else’s too? As the hub, you act as the coach or captain of the team. It all comes together around you, but every person, must excel at and perform their assigned function.
Integrity and standards of trust that hold everyone accountable. If the structural integrity of one of the spokes is below the minimum design quality, it will break, damaging the entire system of the wheel. These same structural boundaries apply to behaviors in your inner circle. As the leader, you must model acceptable behaviors and clearly identify those which are improper. This includes clarifying ethical and moral values, and well as daily behavioral norms. And your team must know that any one of them who violate these standards will be dealt with in an appropriate way. Lack of trust in any of these areas weakens the fabric of the team.
Culture is about fit. When people are considering a new position, the first thing they want to understand is the culture of the organization so that they can determine whether they fit in. How do the leaders work together? How are decisions made? How do they differentiate between simply good and really great employees? What do people like and dislike about working there? Purposefully discuss, define and develop the culture of your inner circle. As you’re considering candidates to join your team, include the members of your inner circle in the interview process to ensure their ability to work well together.
Develop and nurture the growth of your inner circle. Just like a wheel needs to be maintained, and the tire surrounding it must be inflated properly, your inner circle needs maintenance and care. You must nurture their growth and development, not only for succession planning, but for their own personal and professional development. Watch for signs of weakness and take swift action to shore it up. Leverage their strengths and talk about opportunities for development. You may need to invest in a coach, find a mentor, or provide a key experience or developmental assignment for them.
All of these spokes are also surrounded by the assumption that the team has the technical capabilities to perform their roles. That’s the basic price of consideration for entry into your inner circle. But skill and experience without the ability to function as a unit will stymie progress, and negatively impact your business results. Similarly, if the wheel isn’t structurally sound, it will collapse under the weight of the load it’s carrying. So take the time to examine the spokes in your wheel. What is your inner circle made of?