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Posted: September 06, 2011

Do you hire mini-me’s?

Build a culture - not a cult

Todd Ordal

My wife recently returned from a clay workshop in Santa Fe with a life-size sculpture she made of a woman sitting with her legs curled beneath her. The clay woman was petite and well-formed, not a supermodel but certainly not fat. The 125 pounds of clay formed into the human shape were probably close to what the actual model weighed.

I later saw pictures of the model who sat for five days while my wife and the other artists created sculptures that were supposed to replicate the model. I also saw pictures of the sculptures the other artists made. Interestingly, the tall, thin artist made a sculpture that looked a bit like Olive Oyl from Popeye, while a buxom, rotund artist made a Rubenesque piece with a torso plump enough to have made many trips to Dunkin' Donuts.

I'm not the first one to notice that art imitates life, but this was a comical depiction of it. I told my wife that my sculpture would've looked like Antonio Banderas. Hoping for a laugh, I only got one of those "What are you talking about?" glares. (The fact that I look more like someone on the Pro Bowlers Tour than Antonio must've had something to do with it.)

We too often do the same thing as organizational leaders: Hire and mold people in our image. I've noticed that start-up companies sometimes make extremely rapid progress when the initial team is homogeneous in terms of thought process. In one organization I worked with, I joked with the CEO that his team members were more like disciples than employees.

Although this might give you a fast start, it can quickly become a very big liability. There's a vast difference between everyone aligning behind a vision and strategy versus a culture where everyone thinks alike and conflict is absent. Even worse, when the leader requires hero worship, you can end up with the business equivalent of Jonestown. It's all good until they hand out the Kool-Aid.

It's difficult to hire and appreciate people who have different ways of looking at the world. But sometimes the person who is a burr under your saddle can save you from a poor decision - if you listen. Mix it up. Hire people who share values and support your vision, but don't hire only in your own image. Also, make sure you develop the skill, patience and process to lead collaboratively. It takes more strength to be a post-heroic leader and integrate different thoughts than it does to have all disciples on the team.
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Todd Ordal is President of Applied Strategy LLC. Todd helps CEOs achieve better financial results, become more effective leaders and sleep easier at night. He speaks, writes, consults and advises on issues of strategy and leadership. Todd is a former CEO and has led teams as large as 7,000. Follow Todd on Twitter here. You can also find Todd at http://www.appliedstrategy.info,  303-527-0417 or todd@appliedstrategy.info

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Readers Respond

Todd, I don't know if I enjoy your wisdom or humor more! By TC North on 2011 09 08

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