It Takes a Workforce “Posse” to Help Make the Stars Shine

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Oct 13, 2014

I’ve found yet another good executive interview featured in the New York Times Corner Office column.

This one is with Deborah Bial, president of the Posse Foundation, which “recruits and trains students from public high schools to form teams to help them succeed in college.”

This is quite an interesting organization with a purpose I’m happy to support and publicize. But there’s value for us in the workplace, too. In this brief interview about her approach to helping at-risk teens succeed in college, Bial offers three lessons any of us can apply in our organizations, today.

1. We work better with a “posse” we trust

When we’re facing a new and unknown challenge, we’re likely to be more successful when we have people we know and trust around us. Bial explains this in terms of the birth of Posse:

I was in charge of this idea of Posse, which came from one of the kids — a really smart, great kid from the Bronx who had gotten a scholarship to an Ivy League school and had dropped out, and was back at CityKids. He said, ‘I never would have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.’ ”

Think about the formal or informal work teams you’ve been a part of in your career. Which teams were more successful? In which teams did you feel more successful, personally?

I bet it’s those in which you had a stronger personal connection to the people on the team. The depth of the personal relationships makes us all want to give more of our best, yes, but also feel safer to share innovative ideas or go out on a limb.

We’re also less likely to leave organizations in which we’ve formed close friendships.

2. There’s a better chance of success when we reach for help

When asked what makes the biggest difference in which Posse students ultimately succeed, Bial answered:

In a crisis, they reach out versus reach in. We look for the person who reaches out, because they will give themselves more options to succeed.”

In the context of teams and team success, this makes perfect sense. We must remember that teams are made up of very distinct individuals. When any one person on the team is not functioning at his or her best (for whatever reason), the entire team will also suffer. The wise individual reaches out to the team for help, and the wise team will also proactively reach out to the individual to offer needed support.

Sure, it’s altruistic. But it’s also imperative for success.

3. The team behind the leader is the real reason for success

The Corner Office columns always share “leadership advice” from the interview subject. Bial offered this nugget:

My philosophy is that leaders should always remember that it’s not because of them that things are successful.”

Leaders are important, yes, but it’s the people who get the work done that drive ultimate success. This is another reason to look beyond just your high performers in your recognition and reward efforts to include the “mighty middle” – those “average” employees who consistently contribute day after day and make it possible for the stars to shine.

Many members of my posse joined me on this blog a few months ago. Who’s your posse at work? Who do you count on for success?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on the Recognize This! blog.

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