Hire brilliant people
The most underrated skill in business is judgment around who to hire. In large organisations, most people don’t hire people for really big roles more than once a year at most, which means they don’t get much practice.
This single decision creates or destroys so much value and yet when was the last time you heard anyone getting any sort of training or mentoring in this skill? I know very successful people with very big jobs who have worked very hard at this and think they’re doing OK if they get 50% of hiring decisions right, and amazingly well if they get 75% right.
Note that we’re talking about being right on hiring "brilliant" people here, not just someone who can simply do the job and tick all the right boxes.
These people don’t settle for average or acceptable or anything less than brilliant. They’re successful because they understand which questions to ask and which tests to set to differentiate between average and brilliant, and also trust their gut when they can’t quite explain why someone doesn’t feel quite brilliant enough.
And then get the hell out of their way
Once people have put in all this effort to hiring, they then have the confidence to truly stand back and get the hell out of their way, because they know that they’ve found someone brilliant.
By getting out of their way – genuinely out of their way, not "why don’t you come back to me when you’ve done this" out of the way – they create an environment that allows their brilliance to thrive.
Leadership is truly demonstrated in unpredictable scenarios
The most amazing example of leadership I have ever witnessed was in a scenario nobody could have ever foreseen. It was 7/7 and I was working on the 24th floor of a skyscraper in Canary Wharf. We were watching the terrorist attacks unfold on the other side of London and the office was really scared.
This was just four-and-a-half years after 9/11 and Canary Wharf is directly in line with the flight path of London City Airport.
London’s transport network was closed pretty quickly, which is a problem if you’re in a skyscraper a few miles outside of central London. Over the PA system of the office came a booming authoritative voice (think Henry Blofeld): "Ladies and gentlemen, you will have seen an issue with public transport. Do not worry. I will arrange for transport for everyone to get into central London. Bear with me while I sort this out."
The impact of these words on a few hundred scared people was instant. They knew that someone who had spoken with such conviction was not going to let them down.
The person who said it – a former tank commander in the British Army – didn’t know how he was going to achieve this and nobody had asked him to make any announcement. But he could feel the atmosphere in the office and he knew he had to act.
Understand the insecurity that drives you
I read somewhere that to be successful over a long period requires a drive and commitment that can’t come from anything other than an insecurity. This could be a fear of failure/of poverty/of not pleasing your family/of letting others down… of almost anything. This is absolutely true.
It’s rare that any of us will hear about other people’s insecurities because it’s so personal (and often quite a painful, uncomfortable territory).
Most successful people I’ve seen understand their insecurity because they’ve spent time thinking about it and getting to know it. They’re not necessarily any more comfortable with it as a result, but it is at least familiar for them. This familiarity helps them explain to themselves why they do certain things, to manage their emotions and to find ways that don’t exacerbate the insecurity.
For example, they may learn what they need from a role in order that the insecurity doesn’t make the role unbearable, or how to manage effectively when they are in unfamiliar or uncomfortable territory.
It takes some guts (and possibly external help) to be able to have an honest enough conversation with yourself to recognise these but, once you’ve done this, it can unlock a lot of potential.
Dan Ramsay is consumer marketing director at BT. He was previously customer acquisition director and helped to launch BT Sport. Before joining BT in 2007, Ramsay worked across various roles at Barclays.