Jeff Hoffman is a top-class business leader.
How did he get there? By being a top-class team player.
Jeff’s professional training was in software. He knew there were lots of interesting business fields out there where he didn’t have the skillset to compete on his own.
But that didn’t stop him. For example, when he entered the airport technology space, people kept telling him “But Jeff, you’re not a hardware guy. You’re a software guy.”
He brushed them off, because he knew how to hire the best in their field, build a team with them, and get out of their way.
And that’s how he built a company that made ticket kiosks for airports around the world. That company was so successful that it sold for $100 million.
Are you dictating the way forward for your team? Or do you respect their strengths and competency, enabling them to attain success by charting their own way forward?
When Jeff hires people, he wants people who are skilled at the job, like any other competent employer. But in interviews, he also asks potential hires about their values, their hopes and their dreams.
He wants to know what drives people and help them reach their goals. He’s a world-class entrepreneur not because he’s a jerk, but because he’s compassionate.
One potential employee told him that he grew up in a drafty home, having to block heat-sucking gaps at night to help his family sleep. He told Jeff, when asked about what drives him, that he wanted to get his mother out of that place into a warm, luxurious house.
Jeff hired him on the spot. That type of drive meant that he would be dedicated to his job.
And the employee was a tremendous asset to his business. He and Jeff would end up surprising his mother by buying that home he wanted for her, surreptitiously moving the furniture and items from her current residence. They even set her hairbrush where it usually lays in the bedroom.
Revealing the home to her was a tremendously powerful moment for them. Jeff asked his employee whether he’d stay on, now that his goal was reached.
He said he wants to, because he wants the same dream to come true for other people.
Do you see your employees as objects, as machines that do work for you? Or do you empathize with their drive, and channel their ambition and compassion into a mutually-beneficial arrangement?
At one company he ran, Jeff had a meeting scheduled with the CEO of another business one morning. They were going to discuss a possible joint venture.
On the way to his office at the end of the hallway, they noticed that Jeff’s team was playing a game of baseball outside instead of working, at 10:25 am. When they arrived, his counterpart remarked negatively on allowing his staff to play games at this time of day instead of working.
He asked Jeff: “Aren’t you angry?”
“Yes, I am,” Jeff replied. “I’m angry because I thought the game was supposed to start at 10:30.”
Jeff then left his office, running outside to join the game. His once-potential business partner, baffled, excused himself from the building.
His employees were shocked. “Don’t you have a meeting? Weren’t you supposed to be discussing a business deal?”
He replied that it wouldn’t have worked out anyway.
Jeff trusts his employees to work hard and deliver quality results, but he also respects them. If they want to schedule a time to play baseball together, he knew that it wasn’t going to compromise the team’s productivity.
The brief interactions in his office quickly revealed that his counterpart did not share his leadership style. This was a glowing red flag that there would be incompatibility with a joint venture.
So playing baseball with his staff, who he cares about deeply, was indeed the best use of his time then.
Jeff prioritizes addressing the needs of his staff. He even once picked up the dry cleaning for a star developer he hired. He never sees himself as a better person than any member of his team.
This is how he attracts the best and brightest, and how he retains them. When you treat amazing people with the utmost care, they can bring you success beyond your wildest dreams.
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