A position to fit the player

There’s a fallacy that we create job descriptions to find a specific kind of person. The other night, I semi-jokingly wrote what I thought about job descriptions I’ve encountered in the past few years for social media roles on Twitter. It’s as if you can picture the people sitting around a table, trying to check boxes in an attempt to create this perfect person.

Newsflash: That person doesn’t exist and they’re not perfect.

On the flip side, people seeking roles will often believe that they’re just one job away from the perfect situation. The role that’s going to give them the autonomy, compensation and fulfillment they seek in the workplace. For most of us, this just isn’t a real thing. There are going to be days that you don’t love what you do and that’s okay. Visual artist Chris Martin had a quote I read in Believer Magazine the other day that was instructive on this point:

The point of an artist is to find out what are the flavors that I must work with. Finding one’s freedom is about surrendering to your helplessness. I’m a painter. That’s what I do. And sometimes I’m very happy about that and sometimes it’s just what I gotta deal with.
The missing link for everyone is realizing that the goal should be to assemble great teams of good people. If you do that, the rest will take care of itself. We’re often so afraid that we’ll lose people, that we hire conservatively. Or we want people who stick to the plan, because it gives us comfort knowing there’s a plan, even if it’s a bad plan. Strategy isn’t ancillary, it’s primary and the sooner you realize that you need to invest in gameplanning, the better off your organization will be.

In sports, we see this in a variety of ways. Games evolve over time into new positions that didn’t exist a generation ago. Remember playing volleyball in gym class? You could only score points on a serve, but in 1999 to make the sport more viewer friendly, they completely revamped the sport and even created an entirely new position called a libero. Basketball has five positions officially, but the way people grow and change often results in players who don’t fit their position called “Tweeners” literally people who are “between positions.” In the corporate workplace, these people would simply be without a job.

We don’t hire for value, we hire for people’s ability to adhere to the landscape that’s been laid out for them. It’s not an accident that so many bright minds are going off to form startups or opt to consult. It’s not that they eschew rules, but rather, prefer not to play by an antiquated rule set which doesn’t befit the modern world.

It behooves us as leaders to build teams that can grow with our best people. To encourage them, it can often mean preparing them for their next job. In sports, coaches will start off learning under an experienced leader before going off and doing great things elsewhere. Proud coaches will cite their “coaching tree” of the players they’ve sent off into the wild. We see this at the highest levels of the corporate world, but for middle managers and front-line staff it’s less common.

As we age, it’s harder to make big moves. Consistency, security and added responsibilities trump ambition. Our goals change, too. But it doesn’t absolve us as leaders from creating environments that embrace the skills and talents of those we’ve been entrusted to lead. Learning what makes people tick requires time and an ability to care about something other than the bottom line.

Sports has the time to care about people, but treat just as disposal once they’re no longer up to snuff. Still, we can learn a lot about managing our own teams from taking a look at the playbook of athletics.