Throughout 2011, I will share a series of “guest opinion” articles. I’m excited to share with you additional perspectives from trusted leaders that I respect; some of whom I have had the pleasure of working with and others I have personally observed while serving as a leader in their chosen profession. I have asked each individual to complete the following sentence, “As a leader, the most important lesson I have learned is…”
The first guest opinion is courtesy of T. Dean Hansen, a senior vice president and relationship banking team leader for Pacific Continental Bank. I’ve worked with Dean for over two decades, and I greatly appreciate all I’ve learned from Dean over these many years. Here are his comments, summarized with a brief comment of my own:
It is much easier to be a good leader if you have a talented team standing beside you. How often have we heard a coach say, “Great talent makes you look like a great coach.” If you had the opportunity to pick your team, what characteristics would appeal to you?
In 1913, Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton experienced just that opportunity. He let the word out that he was putting together a team for an Antarctic exploration. Over 1,000 men applied for 27 openings on the crew. Shackleton knew from experience that the team would be together in a small ship for months on end, facing incredible hardship.
The crew did indeed face a life-threatening adventure that, if not for Shackleton’s wisdom in selecting the team and his own leadership qualities, would have caused the whole team to perish. So what key characteristic was Shackelton looking to find?
“Excessive cheerfulness.” The fact that the crew was comprised of overly optimistic and cheerful men ended up being the key to their survival.
As a leader, how important is having a group of genuinely cheerful people? In my mind, it’s absolutely invaluable. I believe you can teach just about any skill required to successfully perform a task but you cannot teach cheerfulness. If you’re looking for an inspirational leadership story, I encourage you to read more about Ernest Shackleton and his amazing Antarctic expedition.
Dean’s point couldn’t be made more clearly. His perspective about attracting and retaining talent that possesses a cheerful disposition, let alone “excessive” cheerfulness, is worth a bit more analysis. While a person’s optimistic personality doesn’t guarantee strong job performance, it can and does contribute to a positive team environment. If one of our jobs as a leader is to build a successful team, then doesn’t it make sense that team members might perform better if they share a common characteristic, especially a personality trait that might withstand even the most difficult of circumstances, as was the case with Shackelton?
I’m sure we can all think back to various jobs where we worked alongside folks who were not cheerful and always complained. Likewise, we have probably worked with folks who were “too cheerful.” The point that Dean is making is that as leaders we must mold a group of individuals who possess both tactical knowledge and positive interpersonal characteristics into an efficient and effective team. If teamwork is a problem in your organization, you may be wise to take a hard look at the team’s chemistry. You might also benefit from reading Dean’s recommended book, “Shackleton’s Way” by Margot Morrell.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about working alongside individuals with “excessive cheerfulness”; perhaps you’d like to share a story where an excessively cheerful personality may have been a detriment to your organization. In closing, I’d like to express my sincerest thanks to Dean for launching this guest series and sharing his important leadership lesson. Readers can expect a new guest perspective once a month throughout 2011.This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 12, 2011.