Leadership

Earning a Home Run in Your Company Means Taking Some Risks

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Entitlement is like a cancer. If left untreated, it can spread quickly and cause damage throughout an organization. 

Take the classic example of Intel, by far the biggest computer chipmaker on the planet. Intel famously stumbled when consumers and businesses started shifting away from PCs to buy cheaper smartphones and tablets. Intel’s sense of market entitlement snowballed until last fall, when Chairman Andy Bryant admitted to investors that he was “personally embarrassed” by how badly the company had lost its way. 

Fast forward to early this month, when CEO Brian Krzanich announced Intel’s plans to quadruple its mobile device output by shipping 40 million tablet processors in 2014, compared to 10 million in 2013. 

That business school case study from Intel highlights an often overlooked situation: Even the best-run companies can lose their focus when the leadership team feels a sense of entitlement without taking the requisite risks. 

I discussed this topic in a recent daylong meeting with the top 11 sales leaders at my company, Trace3. One of the main themes we really honed in on was “defining a home run.” 

Most of the people in the room had been with our company for more than three years. I started the discussion by asking each one of the 11 team members to write on the whiteboard their perceived “home run” when they started at the company. 

For those unfamiliar with the concept, “defining a home run” is an exercise in which team members define for the group (or leader) exactly what would be a home run for them. It might be a certain level of income, quality of life, becoming a VP, helping others succeed, etc. The key for me is not what it is but whether a person can actually articulate it. If an employee cannot define their home run to you, then your job as a leader becomes much more difficult. 

When interviewing people, I always ask them to define it. If they can tell me what will make them happy (their home run), then I stand a much better chance of helping them achieve it. If they can’t, well, we know how that ends. Now back to our meeting …. 

Each of the 11 people got up and wrote their home runs as of their first day with the company. We went around the room and each of them spent three to five minutes storytelling. They described who and how they were in their old jobs, and why they joined us. They discussed things like quality of life, being associated with an “A team,” making more money, autonomy and many other goals. One of the home runs was a simple “try and not get fired.” That one got a chuckle. 

I thanked them and made a new column on the whiteboard titled “Current Home Run.” Then I gave them a five-minute break and asked them to come back ready to write down and discuss if their home run had changed in their tenure with us. 

Before they walked out, I warned them that one of the most dangerous things in business is when you hit your home run, because hitting it can put you at a crossroads in your career. 

They rejoined five minutes later and did what I thought they would do. They wrote down new home runs that looked like this:

  • Understand and help my team achieve their home runs
  • Fully grasp and understand how to build risk back into the team
  • Scale instead of stagnate
  • Become an effective leader
  • Lift others and remove roadblocks for better performance
  • Get back to a player-coach model so I can mentor more
  • Build a team that offers true value and stands alone in the marketplace. 

Pretty powerful stuff. As we talked through each point, some concerns came up too. Boredom was an issue. They wanted to avoid doing the same thing day in and day out. They wanted to spend more time with their families. For some, control versus delegation was a difficult topic.

But all were very worried about entitlement creeping into their teams. 

You see, many of us took on tremendous risks to create our company — including risks to our careers, finances, brand and time. Some of us took great risks in creating businesses from scratch within the company. We spent a good 10 minutes discussing this fact and how it is true in every single company, not just ours. The leaders who succeed in taking the risk and overcoming it get the chance to build teams. When they do, the home run changes. 

Early on, many of the home runs have a huge dose of “just survive” in them because they are selfish. But not in a bad way; they are focused on self because before you can truly take care of others, you need to secure your foundation. Years later, with your financial needs being met, you can build teams in order to scale. Then you can focus on the team’s home runs. 

It is helpful to understand that most of the individual members of those teams now reflect their leader’s same selfish concerns from three to five years before. They have home runs of their own that are selfish. And that is not only expected, it is good. Helping them secure their futures is part of being a leader. If you do it right, then once secure, they will pass it on. 

The one huge difference is these 11 leaders had for the most part hidden risks from their team members. Risks they had to endure when they began their journey to their original home run. They saw it as their job to shelter the team from risk, and in that mode they created room for entitlement. 

Earning your way in any company means taking on and accepting risk from your leader. When you sit down with your leadership and define your home run, the immediate next step should be for the two of you to begin discussions on how much risk you are willing to bear to achieve the home run. 

If a leader’s goal is to shelter the team from risk by bearing all the risk upon her shoulders, then she will build a team that cannot scale. Notice I did not say a dysfunctional team. It could be quite functional, actually. It would just not scale. And we all know how “A” players feel about being on stagnant teams. 

As a leader, you want to secure the company strategy and create massive opportunity. Nowhere in that statement does it say all the risk of building a business must be on your shoulders. Match the risk to the home runs, and help your team earn their own way. Do that well, and they will do the same for the next generation of team members. Do it poorly, and prepare to suffer the embarrassments of entitlement — much like the honchos at Intel. 

Hayes Drumwright is founder and CEO of Trace3, a pioneer in business transformation solutions. He grew Trace3 from a startup to a business with more than $300 million in sales and services annually. In 2010, Hayes was named the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Orange County and the Desert Regions, California. He is involved with giving back and currently focuses on helping Project Hope School (www.projecthopealliance.org) through volunteering and leading fundraising efforts.

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