I learned this lesson a long time ago. And I am learning more about it as I build and lead new teams. When forming a team, apart from hiring for talent, competencies and organisation fit, I bring people in who do not display the symptoms of these fatal flaws. But the work does not end there. I must be vigilant, for even in the best of teams it can surface.
There were only twelve of us. We came from various parts of the world (Italy, Australia, China, UK, France, India, USA, Canada, Brazil, Malaysia) to learn about how to lead well, members of the inaugural fast-track executive course in the global company we worked in.
We met in different cities every quarter, then returned to our respective business areas to implement what we learned. We reported our progress to the CEO and his team.
Today we’re in the boardroom of an imposing office building, one of many in a sprawling office campus in Dallas, Texas. We are learning how to build high-performing teams.
“There are two fatal flaws.”
“Did I hear that right? Surely, that’s an exaggeration!” I thought.
“Low self-awareness, matched with the inability or lack of desire to learn: these are fatal flaws at work and in life,” he continued.
It has been a long time since that first lesson.
From experience, I also learned that fatal flaws are not always built-in. They can creep in on you over time.
Like concrete cancer.
Complacency can lead to a sense of self that is in a time-warp.
“I was rated exceptional when I did this. I am still a high performer today.”
Ego can build insurmountable walls that prevent learning from other people.
“I know more than him. I have been doing this for 20 years. What can he teach me that’s new?”
Envy can prevent adopting new ways or adapting an old way to become new.
“Is that the latest tool? Well, I’ll build one of my own that would be better!”
Fear can stymie learning.
“If I agree to adapt and do it their way, they may end up doing my job!”
And to the above, add denial of truth.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who is the fairest of them all? … No. No. No. You are wrong. It’s me!”
When all one sees in the mirror is a rosy image that bears little resemblance to the truth, then feedback is rejected and development is stymied. As work and life advances, the gaping difference between image and truth widens.
I have learned that to maintain high-performing teams, I have the leader’s responsibility to prevent these fatal flaws from creeping in. How?
Build a team culture that values truth and delivers it with respect and humility, with courage and compassion.
The performance management process is not enough. Development planning is not enough. It’s in the day-to-day operations, the team language and rituals, the response to crises and victories, and the team’s daily habits that such values are planted.
What is your experience about fatal flaws?
How did you prevent these from creeping in?
What do you do when you start to see the early signs?
This post has been updated from the original version titled “Fatal Flaws“
This latest version is also published on LinkedIn.