Building a team Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2009

Early in his career, Brad Eller was promoted to a position that, by title and job description, he didn’t have enough experience to have, and the new role opened his eyes.

“When that happened, what I realized very quickly is people do not think the same way that I think,” Eller says. “People do not do the same things that I do. People don’t approach problems or issues or conflict the way that I approach those things.”

At the time, he didn’t have the resources to hire a coach to help him, so he immersed himself into reading a variety of professional books to help him learn how to understand different personality types. What he learned still helps him today as president and CEO of LEVEL5 LLC, a construction management services company that has climbed the Inc. 500 list as a result of its growth from $1.5 million in revenue in 2004 to $47.5 million in 2007.

Smart Business spoke with Eller about how to understand personalities and build a strong senior management team.

Develop a strong senior management team. Everyone has to understand the need of a senior management team. One person cannot drive a business. It takes a group of people, and it takes a group of people that have alternative thoughts or different perspectives for a president or CEO to really get a read on any situation or issue or problem or actually to create a vision.

How I developed that is twofold. One, there’s going to be people in the business that you didn’t select — they’re in the business, so you have to understand those people and you have to understand what perspectives they bring to the table and what their talents are. I don’t want to go too far into psychology but kind of what is their personality profile? Where do they stand? How do they view life? You have to understand the perspective of who that person is and what they represent.

You have some of those people and then you have the ability or occasion to bring in other people. You have to bring people into your organization in areas where you’re lacking. Sometimes managers surround themselves with people who think like they do, and that’s a mistake. You have to look at the uniqueness.

Senior leadership, it’s like a stew; my job is to put the right ingredients in the stew — make sure that those ingredients complement one another. I can’t put the same ingredients in, otherwise it wouldn’t be a stew, and I have to make sure the ingredients bring out the flavor of the other ingredients and that it blends. Then I have to occasionally taste it and add ingredients. Sometimes my job is to stir it up a little bit. Then my job is to sometimes put the heat on and sometimes to turn the heat down.

Take time when hiring. From my perspective, I’m committing to someone for their livelihood. One of those fundamental leadership things that I have is I need to make it work. It needs to be successful, so I need to make the right decision.

I begin with a phone interview. Certainly we talk about experiences, previous work history, but we also talk about what do you want to accomplish in your career, what is the perfect job, how do you see yourself progressing, where would you like to be in 10 years, how much money do you like to make?

Then I like to bring the person into the organization, and I like to conduct an interview and meet the person. Depending on the strength of the phone interview and the personal interview, I’ll invite them back the second time. That second time, that’s the most rigorous of all because I try to have all of the other senior managers spend an hour with them — it can be a long, tiring day for the right candidate.

Then we meet and everyone provides feedback. Then, based on that feedback, I call the person in again. If you find a talented person, they may have other offers, and they’ve got decisions to make, and sometimes I have to accelerate through that, but I make it clear that we don’t want to rush through the process. It’s got to fit.

It’s like buying a pair of shoes. I go to the store, and I see a great pair of shoes, and I put them on and they don’t really feel right, but I buy them anyway and take them home and wear them into work, and my feet hurt and have a blister, and the shoes didn’t work. You don’t want to do that with people. You want to make sure that it works and make sure that it fits.

Mix everyone together. You have to make sure that your team understands that everybody is there to provide different alternatives and perspectives. So when we have a meeting, we want to have rules because I want power dialogue in the room. The main rule is you attack an idea not an individual. Other rules are there’s no rank in the room, and you have to be present, you have to be engaged.

Then what you have to do is you really have to teach your senior management team how to engage in conflict so that people can disagree and it doesn’t ignite emotional fire. It’s an education on how to engage in conflict. Organizations grow through conflict. If a conflict is resolved, they can stay on that growth curve, but if the conflict’s not resolved, you decline.

What you want to do is by heating up the fire or stirring the pot, when it makes strategic sense, have some conflict. You’ve got to check the temperature of your organization. If people are complacent and everybody just seems to be complacent, then obviously that’s when you need to insert a little bit of heat and conflict. If everybody is out there firing on all cylinders, and they’re working hard toward a common goal, then that’s when you need to turn the heat off, and you don’t need to stir the pot. Let it simmer. It’s a good tasting stew. It doesn’t need me doing anything to it.

How to reach: LEVEL5 LLC, (404) 761-0008 or www.level5.com