During a meeting of business leaders, one member of the group shared the story of a very bold move he made and a lesson he learned. He was curious about how one of the most successful business leaders in Canada would handle some growth challenges he was having as the owner of a smaller business. This leader we are talking about is a household name in Canadian business. My colleague said he took a chance and just phoned this icon and got through. We all freaked out when we heard this! You did what? You actually talked to him? Our friend had our attention.
He asked this major leader: “What is the most important thing you did to grow your business? What was the 20% of your effort that produced 80% of the results?” The icon replied: “It is more like the 5% of my effort that produced 95% of the results, to be honest.”
By this point in the story, we were all on the edge of our seats.
The one thing that this icon said was the single most important thing in growing his company from him and a buddy to a major international enterprise, was that he hired the right “sheep”.
What? To me this sounded offensive toward the people who work for us. Great team members are not sheep; they don’t just go along and follow the flock. They are nothing like sheep! But this is not what the icon meant. He went on to say that “sheep breed sheep; leaders don’t breed sheep.” He meant that if you hire the best of the best employees, they will attract more of the same. If we hire some random “kinda right” people, we will always be fighting for culture fit and for performance. If we hire the right people culturally with the work ethic that fits our team and our vision, they will “breed” more of the same.
Don’t compromise on who you hire. Get the right person and then work with that person to find more like them. Build a strong flock and they will “breed” all on their own. This will save you about 95% of the problems that other leaders are having.
It is not something we want to be shouting around the HR department or bringing up at interviews, but the saying “sheep breed sheep; leaders don’t breed sheep” contains the wisdom of one of the most successful leaders in Canadian business history.