Over my career, I’ve been fortunate to lead some sizeable teams. Large teams are like a tribe that has an established culture and traditions; one new tribe member can only change the tribe so much. The counter scenario is equally true: a newly-established small tribe is still establishing its culture and traditions with each new member having a meaningful impact on their formulation.
It’s for that reason that only recently, with my latest entrepreneurial chapter, AtlasRTX, have I been forced to really identify the key ingredients of the perfect hire. In a startup, every single colleague matters in a meaningful way: one hubristic or obstructive colleague can kill tribe morale, alignment, and support for the CEO’s vision; likewise, one energetic, hard-working team-player can meaningfully raise spirits, align colleagues, and gain traction towards that vision.
In this post, I’ll share with you the four traits I look for in every new hire, and how I believe those traits are, as of this writing, our not-so-secret weapon resulting in a truly special, high-performance tribe at AtlasRTX.
This first H is foundational and thus stands alone from the other three (and hence the number 0): “horsepower” refers to a person’s intellect, capacity to perform, and energy to contribute. It’d be disingenuous of me to deny that the perfect hire is smart, thoughtful, and has a broad intellectual capacity. My friend, Shawn Hassel, described it as “horsepower” and it truly resonated with me as a great way to capture what I mean.
How do I ascertain one’s horsepower? Thoughtful and unrehearsed conversation about strategic topics with no clear “right answer” give a great deal of insight into one’s understanding, ability to reason, and capacity to reach sound conclusions. Horsepower is critical to the perfect hire.
I’m not afraid to admit that, when it comes to constructing my startup tribe, I only want to work with positive, grateful, energetic, and polite people. People like that help me and the tribe work our way through challenges and tough situations. Positive people lift morale and promote a healthy energy within the tribe.
How do I ascertain if a candidate is happy? Aside from the positive energy I immediately feel upon meeting them, grateful people are happy people. It’s incredible to me how rare it is to hear “thank you so much for…” or “I’m really grateful for…” I look for those who are grateful for the little things; those are the people who’ll raise the energy of the tribe. Gratitude is happiness and happiness is critical to a startup tribe.
To grow the aggregate knowledge and capability of the tribe, I need to inject a great deal of humility into the mix. “Humble horsepower” is a magical combination: smart people who are modest and self-effacing enough to realize and acknowledge they haven’t figured it all out are very hard to find. But, they’re worth the wait. Their lack of hubris is what allows them to continue growing their horsepower in perpetuity.
Humble people are coachable; they’re curious. And, perhaps most important, they’re accountable for their actions and willing to say these rarely-uttered words freely: “I’m sorry; I was wrong; I’ve been able to learn and recalibrate from the experience.” How do I ascertain humility? Simply-stated, I avoid know-it-alls. Know-it-alls are devastating to tribe culture and are, by definition, unable of being humble.
There’s only one missing ingredient at this point: I’m looking for people who are hungry for success, both their own and the entire tribe’s. Hunger wins time and time again.
Hungry people challenge themselves; they are self-starters who, despite frequently modest beginnings, are able to overcome and achieve. How do I ascertain one’s hunger? I intently listen to their story appreciating chapters wherein they fought to achieve and struggled to overcome.
I’ll share with you a little secret. Do you want to tug at my heartstrings during an interview and maximize your shot at getting the job? Say the following words: “I just need someone to give me a chance, and I’ll prove myself by working harder than anyone, learning whatever I need to, and making it happen no matter the obstacles.” These words leave me looking for reasons to hire the person.
Horsepower alone isn’t enough. But happy, humble, hungry people with horsepower are what a high-performing tribe is built on.