I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.
In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:
1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.
2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.
3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.
4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.
5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.
John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.
What kind of environment are you creating on your team?