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pasta corbonara like a good team is hard to get right but worth the effort

Cooking Up a People Management Strategy

I’ll bet no one has ever told you that effective leading is like making a good carbonara? You don’t believe me? Let’s step into the kitchen to learn more about leadership and managing people.

To create a silky carbonara sauce, you combine egg whites and pasta water in the correct proportion to egg yolks, pork fat and cheese. The egg yolks act as an emulsifier to bond the pork fat and cheese into the pasta water and egg white sauce. When done with the right timing, the proper heat, and quick whisking, you produce a creamy, flavorful sauce that perfectly coats the pasta and pancetta. If, however, you misstep on any one of these factors, you get pasta with scrambled eggs. Yuck.

Much like making a carbonara sauce, outstanding leadership requires not just great leadership characteristics, but implementing them in the right amount and with the right techniques.

In 2008, I was leading a team of 12 landscape architects through the first recession of my career. In a calculated and thoughtful attempt to keep our team intact, I entered our firm in an international design competition, known as LIBERLAND. My business partner and I hoped the competition would bolster morale, develop skills and aptitude, and assign purpose in a scary, unpredictable time.

I had been in the industry for 17 years and had been a partner for 14. I felt confident in my skills as a landscape architect and as a leader. I self-identified as a directive, visionary and proactive person. My Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment, which had accurately mapped these as assets to leaders, provided me with further “proof” that I should take control of our team’s path forward.

Thus, I declared what our vision on LIBERLAND would be. It went something like this:

“It’s a country-like place which I think is near Serbia, but I’m not quite sure… and I think the competition deliverables are due at the end of June, but I’m not quite sure… and I kind of read the competition profile. But who cares? I already know the solution! Our firm will make LIBERLAND a launch pad for refugees!”

And with that one swift declaration, I made scrambled eggs of my team.

Why? Because my resolute declaration – a symptom of my great leadership assets – stripped my thoughtful, creative and highly competent team of their greatest assets. I did not have the self-awareness to use my natural leadership style to bring out the best in the diverse individuals I was leading.

Some of our team members had approached the LIBERLAND competition with caution, care, and diligence. Many thought: “I want a feel-good collaboration with drinks and snacks and to bring my kids along for evening sessions.” But my leadership style didn’t allow them the safe space to share their thoughts. If they had, I would have surely discounted their ideas.

In Predictive Index, individuals with a greater-than-average drive to connect with others are known as High B extroverts. They perform best with casual, people-oriented efforts. The majority of our staff fell into the High B extrovert category, which greatly contrasted with my top-down declarations. They would have thrived in an environment that valued connecting, nurturing, and persuading.

Other team members had a propensity to detail (High D—a drive to conform to rules and structure), which I had completely glossed over. These individuals were highly motivated to carefully read and truly understand the competition’s rules. And, there were those who wanted to think through the project carefully and take time to map a process to inform their success.

Although I was operating in my “sweet spot” by imposing my style on others, it was not an effective leadership strategy for my team. As a result, I simultaneously stunted their performance and alienated them. The project was a failure.

Like a good cook, leaders must understand the science behind effective people management so that they get carbonara and not scrambled eggs. Predictive index is that science, and its proven to help leaders harness their staff’s potential by toggling between self- and group-awareness.

The negative impact of my blind spot was immense – and so is yours. It is critical that you take time to consider how your team members approach work. You must acknowledge and deliver what your top performers need to thrive.

The behavioral insights made available by Predictive Index can help you develop a thoughtful people management strategy that approaches each person, each project, each task with care, purpose and intention.


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