In ancient history, Athens was at war with Sparta. After Athens survived the plague, and yearly attacks on her homeland, the people began to regain confidence. The Spartans had agreed to a ceasefire of sorts for a few years. Athens decided it was time to flex some muscle and become the ultimate power in the Mediterranean. They would do it by defeating Syracuse on the island of Sicily, hundreds of miles away.
Athens had trained the greatest navy of the ancient world, they built the grandest galleys, and had the best rowers.
But Athens had a bad habit of killing their generals when they lost. In an effort to enhance their chances, they sent three generals with equal authority on this expedition, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus.
When the Athenians drew close to Sicily, the Athenians should have attacked directly, taking the Syracusans unprepared. But the three generals could not make a decision, one wanted to wait to gain allies, one wanted to attack, and the other, Alcibiades, was recalled to stand trial in Athens.
Alcibiades, it turns out instead of returning to his homeland, went to the enemy, Sparta. There he encouraged the Spartan assembly to join the Syracusans and fight against Athens in Sicily.
As a result, after three years and hundreds of miles, the campaign was lost, as was the whole of the expeditionary force. The galleys sunk, the survivors hunted down in the Sicilian wilderness.
Athens was on its way to ultimate defeat.
I have had times when I have struggled to make a decision, I know the clock is ticking, and that I need to make the call. But my personality dictates that I wait, and think, for a a few minutes at least.
I remember earlier in my career, I would make decisions about staffing, or about hours or pay with my team members out of fear. I was afraid they would sue me if I did something wrong. Don’t ask me where I got that idea, it just seemed to be the case.
I was afraid of making a mistake, and I was afraid of making someone mad. In doing so, I made some people mad anyway. It seems that some people will get mad no matter what you do. I gave an employee a raise once, because I thought she was expecting one, we couldn’t really afford to do it, so it was a small raise. She threw the biggest fit that she got such a small raise. The whole time I am thinking, I should have not given you the raise, then you could still be upset and I could keep my money too.
By making decisions out of fear, I hindered my ability to hire and work with the team I wanted. I slowed down the growth and progress of my business.
I hope I have learned from the Athenians that I can empower people to make decisions and that they won’t be penalized if they do their best. Learn from our mistakes, and don’t scare away your best team members because you’re afraid.
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
We rented the Avengers movie this weekend. I enjoyed it. It’s always nice to see a band of earthlings fight off a massive horde of aliens. Even if the earthlings are all freaks of some sort.
My wife and I were trying to decide who our favorite Avenger is. I have to go with Ironman, with Captain America a close second. I just appreciate Ironman’s unmitigated pride, and his delivery. He is also not chemically altered, pure human. Pure ego, but pure human.
They all have their strengths…and their weaknesses. They all complement one another and at the end of the day, they get the job done that Nick Fury hired them for.
I love looking at people’s strengths (check out my posts on strengths) and trying to maximize their potential.
We are hiring in our office right now and looking for a specific type of person, with specific strengths. Someone that will fill in the gaps in our team and help us get the job done. I will have them in the office for multiple interviews, and personality tests, like the DISC, Values, and possibly Strengths-Based. There’s no reason for me to hire the unknown quantity, I’ve done that before, and had to let them go shortly afterward. But not before they did damage to the existing team. I intend on finding out who this person is before they join our team and culture. One of my most important jobs as leader is to develop and then protect an excellent culture.
Just like the Avengers, right?
Wish me luck.
What is your process for hiring?
When I revamped my hiring process this spring, I had to change so many things. First and foremost was my attitude about who I wanted on my team. I then had to decide how I would attract those types of people.
I learned about the attitude I should have in hiring from another book I have referenced before, Start With Why by Simon Sinek.
One of the author’s themes in this book is that you have to appeal to people who believe what you believe.
Simon shares a story that demonstrates the right way to recruit.
In 1914, an adventurer named Ernest Shackleton set out with a team of 27 men to cross the Antarctic continent, which had never before been done. They didn’t accomplish their mission. After many storms and being trapped in the ice on their boat for 10 months, they traveled hundreds of miles in their life boats to find help.
Eventually they were saved, and all of them survived the ordeal. Simon, in his book, says that this wasn’t luck, but an example of a great hiring process in action.
Before the expedition, Shackleton ran an ad in the London Times for his crew. He didn’t offer benefits. Simon says that he didn’t offer paid time off or amazing pay. This is what Shackleton’s ad said:
“Men wanted for Hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”
If you advertise for the right type of people, the others will weed themselves out.
Ernest Shackleton got the right men for the job because that’s who he asked for.
Who do you want on your expedition? Are you asking the right questions?
I have owned my own business for 5 years and I thought I knew how to hire people. Then I looked back at my record, and realized how wrong I was.
In my past, I had hired and let several people go in my few short years in business. I never felt (with a couple of exceptions) I had the right people on board. I had learned early on, that if someone didn’t fit, that I shouldn’t hold onto them for too long. I knew they could do a lot of damage to my business. But I almost always ended up in the same situation a few months later after we had hired somebody else.
To borrow a metaphor from Jim Collins, I was good at getting the wrong people off the bus, but I kept inviting their friends right back on.
Dave Ramsey teaches in his book and lectures entitled EntreLeadership, that business owners need to:
1. Take more time hiring. Three or four times as long. And make it an involved process.
So what if you miss out on some opportunities on the way, because guess what: if you hire the wrong person too quickly, you will have to let them go and then start over anyway. I learned that I should take the time up front and avoid the turnover I had been experiencing.
Dave Ramsey also explains his process in-depth in his book, but I will share a couple of my favorites:
2. Do you like them?
I had hired people before that I did not want to invite over to my house. I didn’t want to spend extra time with them. Hello! If that wasn’t a clue, I don’t know how much clearer a sign I needed. Don’t waste time working with people you don’t like, especially if you hired them.
3. The spousal interview
In my last round of hiring, my wife and I took out our final candidates and their spouses to dinner. A double date, essentially. It was great, we got to see them interact in a social setting, and we got to see that they weren’t married to “crazy” as Dave Ramsey puts it.
We have worked hard in our business to develop a certain culture and we wanted to introduce new people who would respect and improve it, not drag it down. We succeeded in that regard so far, and actually like to have our team over to our house occasionally.
What successes or failures have you had hiring or being hired?