Two Essential Attributes to Have in Your Team: Intellectual Firepower and Fire in the Belly

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Dear BAM Mentor,

I am a co-owner in a BAM company (in Thailand) with my business partner and we are looking to add one other to our senior management team. What sort of characteristics or background should I be particularly looking for as I recruit? How should we be preparing them (or encouraging them to prepare)? No one person is going to be the complete package, so what should I focus on and is there anything you would consider a ‘deal breaker’?

~ Rookie Recruiter

Dear Rookie,

My recommendation is to find someone who brings two attributes to the table. The first is intellectual firepower. The second is fire-in-the-belly.

Intellectual firepower is the person’s ability to think strategically and find solutions to complex problems. Irrespective of the nature of work that the business will engage in, availability of startup capital or the type of organization that you plan to build, it is essential that one of your first co-workers, especially someone who will be a part of the senior management team, be a person who is full of high caliber ideas. This individual will help you make tough decisions during the early years of the business. Most of these decisions will not be black and white. The hardest decisions are those that are made in the grey areas of spending limited resources on the ever-increasing needs of the business as you start from scratch. These early decisions will set the pattern for years to come as you grow into a mature organization. In many ways the organizational culture is formed in the first couple of years of starting the business and an intellectually strong person will help you to make the best choices, and will help them take shape. He or she must have the ability to think creatively and strategically for long-term planning and then break down strategic plans into step-by-step action plans, based on what needs to be done, and when.

Fire-in-the-belly is an idiomatic expression that conveys a burning desire or passionate drive to achieve something. To a person who has this quality, he or she is aware that they may not have all the resources that the competition does, but will commit high levels of energy in order to reach the goal, against all odds. Such people do not give up when the going gets tough. In fact, just the opposite is true, they are undeterred and unstoppable. It is the kind of zeal we find among the apostles, many first century believers and missionaries down through the ages. Some of the soft skills that are observed among such people are focus, initiative, a positive attitude, adaptability, loyalty, resourcefulness, gratefulness and a deep-rooted faith in God.

I want to add a thought about management. This is a word we often use in order to describe a senior role in a company as you have done in your question above. Management is the act of arranging, evaluating, organizing and assigning resources and people for maximizing key performance indicators. A manager should have a keen sense of appreciating human and other resources to know what is available and what more is needed in order to achieve business goals. In my opinion it is much easier to find good managers than it is to find co-founders of a new business. A founder or co-founder is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are not always the best managers and vice-versa. Hence, I would like to suggest that the person you are seeking may be different from yourself and your partner. However, since you are adding this person to your team of two co-founders, it is important that they possess the qualities that I have described above as it is very likely that the organization you are building will contain traces of this person’s ideas, priorities and decisions which will outlast his or her employment with your company.

The only deal-breaker to me is the candidate’s inability to understand, appreciate, internalize and own the vision, mission and goals of the business that you are building. If this does not happen, there is no question of fire-in-the-belly. For founders of a business, it is very frustrating to work closely (as you plan to do) with a person who does not believe in the value of the product or service that the company offers and therefore will be unable to bring the same passion and drive that you and your partner bring to the company. It is easier to identify a person’s intellectual firepower by reviewing and making enquiries about his or her expertise and experience. It is much harder to ascertain fire-in-the-belly for a specific role, since it involves a match between the person and the company. Therefore, you will need to ask probing questions that would reveal the candidate’s genuine response to what the business stands for and hopes to accomplish.

~ Joseph Vijayam

More Responses on this topic:

From Robert:

Much of what you need to look for in a new senior management team member is what any business would look for: skill and experience that will add to the business. Every BAM business requires a complex set of skills and competencies and these are generally met by contributions from a number of different people working together. Be clear first on what skills the business needs, then on what skills you have in place. You can then see more clearly what skills you would want to bring in this new person you’re recruiting. The skills could be administrative, marketing and sales knowledge, financial expertise or skill regarding local language, culture and spiritual dynamics, just to name a few. But don’t expect anyone to bring everything. We all bring our weaknesses as well as our strengths to any position!

The real key to building any team is being able to work together so you can benefit from complementary strengths. You want to have people with very different outlooks and skills. A rich team brings together very different people and allows them to use their different strengths. But for this to work the team members need to be able to cooperate and benefit from their differences. [Read More…]

From Garry:

You are wise to seek advice on this topic. Although business is very complex, most things such as pricing, margins, overheads, etc. can be addressed and adjusted as required. However, if you bring the wrong person into the core management team it can be disastrous. It is similar to adding way too much salt to a soup – once it’s done, it’s hard to undo and you may have to start over.

Since it is usually so hard to find someone with the right Kingdom goals it is tempting to put on your rose colored glasses, find any reasonably close fitting candidate and then hope for the best. This is always risky.

Your question is rather vague, so the first thing to do is systematically address some fundamentals. Many failures in hiring are caused by a lack of proper communication from the hiring organization towards the person being hired. The following overall factors must be addressed: detailed role definition, relationships to existing and future staff, management style, authority boundaries, incentives, performance evaluation and termination conditions and procedures. [Read More…]

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