The Importance of Special

I was having a conversation the other day with one of our portfolio CEOs, shortly after having had a very similar one with another with whom I’ve just begun working.

The discussion was about hiring, building culture and setting organizational tone.

Even more to the point, the importance of establishing and driving high team standards into every function and operation of a company.

To put a target on the point, the criticality of discipline in sticking to those high standards when recruiting and selecting teams.

People are the most important asset of a company, in case you’ve not heard.

In plowing through the J-Curve of a startup’s growth, it can become all too-easy to compromise on a tough hire.

A few scenarios:

  • Thinking, for example, that it’s taking too long to find the “perfect” CMO, so “let’s back off a bit” on expectations. After all, the thinking goes, there’s an urgent organizational need to get things done. Urgency is a key cultural value of this company.
  • Thinking that a particular candidate may not be is a “slam dunk” chemical fit with the rest of the team, but can be an absolute rockstar individual contributor.
  • Thinking that hiring a “name” talent from a big company is what’s needed to help bring the company attention.
  • Thinking that a candidate may not have ALL of the skill sets & experiences necessary to be extraordinarily successful, but “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.

Deadly risks, all.

The key ingredient to building a great team is having an uncompromising company principle — central to the cultural backbone of a company — to not hire ANYONE who’s not special.

  • Hiring someone who may be on the upswing of her or his career and lacks some of the experience for a role can be great.

As long as they are truly special.

  • Hiring someone who’s a “name” from a successful company that’s successfully plowed through the J-Curve can be great.

As long as that individual helped contribute to the plowing.  Has the chops to roll up her/his sleeves and get things done as a contributor and leader. No matter what the role.

As long as an exec has proven to be a leader who leads by contribution, collaboration and iteration. Not by hierarchy.

Young companies can’t be managed and led by heirarchy. It’s the toxic killer of early stage culture.

Heirarchy’s not collaborative.  It feeds personal agendas & ego. It discourages learning through risk-taking & mistakes. It’s antithetical to a culture of rapid, iterative decision-making & team growth.

Special sounds like hyperbole and subjective buzz jive, but it’s not.

Special means superior in as many dimensions as possible. It’s more than intellect.

Many CEOs and BoDs equate intelligence with leadership. And live to regret it.

Special = Deep, proven knowledge in an area critical to the success of the company + Work ethic + Integrity + Teamsmanship + Passion + Ability to manage, lead and contribute by influence, energy, and passion – (ego + individual agenda)

Special can be that proven Growth Hacker, having all of the above, who may only have 3, 4 or 5 yrs of total experience. But those 3, 4 or 5 yrs featured adaptive, iterative learning.  And real impact on her/his last company.

It’s also Attitude. Make-it-happen-as-a-world-class-TEAM attitude.

I in team

So how to find special?

Through connecting with special people and people-collecting. Always. Networking even when a specific hiring need is down the road.

By finding the mentors and protégées of special people.

By doing deep diligence on each and every person brought into a company.

By making certain that candidates have truly-superior abilities.

And desire to both yearn — as well as to learn.

To find special, CEOs and BoD members need to be architects of team composition.

They need to encourage each and every team member to hold their teammates up to the highest standards. And they need to drive that ethos into the keystone of a company’s culture.

Special loves special.

Special people want to work with special people. And are driven away when they feel that leadership has compromised.

dan fouts ball

Passion. Character. Commitment. Excellence in an applied area.  Words that describe what “special” is all about.  Whether building a young company team —  a football team.

If the “perfect” candidate for a given phase of a  company’s growth not found —  if a candidate surfaces who is slightly more junior, or lacks one or two of the skills outlined in the aspirational description of the “perfect’ candidate, it might still be OK.

As long as that person is really, truly special.

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