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The thing I get most excited about in business is the opportunity to build rockets and to see exactly how far and how high they can go.
Of course, I’m not talking about actual rocket ships — I’m referring to any new idea, product or company that you build from the ground up that will disrupt an established market, or move an existing player into a completely new market category.
Building a business or product that’s designed to disrupt on that level is all-consuming — it’s inspiring, exciting, challenging and daunting, all at the same time, and that’s what I love about it.
When you’re setting out to make your vision a reality, it helps to recognize that the path ahead won’t always be easy and there will inevitably be highs and lows along the way. You need to ensure you have the right team around you — a team with the skills and mindset to flourish during the good times, and to persevere and find a way through the hard times.
You need a team that covers all bases, with the right mix of people to ensure you can keep moving forward in any environment. That to me is the essence of a resilient team.
So, as a leader setting out to build a rocket, how can you be sure you’re investing in the right talent? How can you create and develop a balanced team that is ready for such a career-defining challenge?
In my view, there are two types of talent to scout for when you’re designing and developing a new rocket and readying for launch — rocket builders and rocket boosters. It’s vital for leaders to get the right mix, not only for a successful launch but to ensure your rocket continues to soar long after.
Boosters to make your rocket fly higher and faster
Rocket boosters are naturally drawn to already established businesses with product market fit. In these environments they focus on driving fast growth, working towards clearly defined, short-term goals and are focused on scaling the business. They jump on board a rocket that has been built and is ready to be launched, or perhaps a rocket that is just launching and needs to go faster.
It goes without saying that every team needs rocket boosters to accelerate the passage to take-off and reach the stratosphere. These thrill seekers thrive on the excitement and adrenaline that only a launch can produce, and they inject much-needed energy, ideas and momentum into an established team at a critical moment. They are made for the big occasions and their contribution and impact is invaluable in driving growth for the business, though they tend to come later in the journey.
As a leader, you want to have people around you who excel in the launch or rapid growth environment, who have experience of bringing new products and businesses to market, and possess the ambition and passion to help you realize the full potential of that moment.
Builders to navigate through the hard times and create culture
Rocket builders, on the other hand, are people who have an appetite to create something new or completely transform something that already exists. They like to come in at ground level and bring a new idea to life.
Builders accept the inevitable ups and downs that every organization encounters on its journey, and they relish the hard times, almost as much as the major successes. They’re driven by a long-term vision or purpose, rather than solely the immediate goal in front of them.
They see a problem and race towards it, embracing the opportunity to take ownership and fix it. Builders want to be there at the start of a journey and see it through to completion, and they know what is required of them in the good times and the bad.
Getting the right blend of builders and boosters
As a leader scanning over a bunch of CVs, it’s often the rocket boosters who immediately catch your eye. They’ve often worked in the most exciting, high-profile companies, the unicorns. They can point to the market-defining product launches and the triumphant IPOs. They seem to tick every box for a leader that’s in a hurry to take their company to the next level.
However, it’s important that leaders remember that the path to growth and success isn’t always linear and that there are always challenges along the way. And this means that they need people on their team that can tackle the big hairy problems that inevitably arise, who can overcome adversity and find a way through those high-pressure situations. And this is particularly true right now, with commentators suggesting that we could see more volatility in the market in the coming months.
This is why, when I’m building a team, it’s almost always more important for me to find out about the tough times people have faced, rather than their successes. Of course, I want to hear about somebody’s big achievements, both professionally and outside of work. But I also want to know about the challenges they have overcome, how they coped during that period and what inspired them to persevere.
You can quickly identify the builders. They can point to times when they’ve found a way to work through problems — choosing proactive, healthy and positive routes to identify a solution and get back on their feet after a struggle. They can demonstrate how they take a strategic approach when recovering from setbacks, and help those around them to adopt a similar approach.
Going through this process helps me to ensure that my organization has the right balance of builders and boosters and gives me confidence that I have an all-court team that can operate and succeed in any environment.
Different approaches to nurture and develop your team
With the right mix of builders and boosters in place, you also need to think about how to manage, motivate and develop both groups.
Having an understanding of the contrasting strengths, drivers and aspirations of each group enables you to nurture talent in the right way. It will help you to distribute contrasting skill-sets and personas across the business, and achieve the optimal balance within departments.
When it comes to identifying and developing future leaders, builders are perhaps the most obvious candidates. After all, these are the people who are committed to the long-term vision of the company and are ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, solving difficult problems and overcoming any setbacks along the way. They have many of the qualities required to be an accomplished leader. Similarly, we can look to builders to create a positive, long-term culture within the team, demonstrating important values around vision, trust and togetherness.
But boosters also possess many attributes of great leadership. They bring passion, energy and ideas. They inspire others to be bold and brave and to fulfill their potential. They have incredible experience of working in high performance environments and can quickly instill a positive, aspirational culture within a team. Boosters shouldn’t be written off when it comes to leadership positions — in the right environment, they can step up and make a massive impact.
Related: Build Your Management Team
Creating an environment for all to thrive
Of course, in reality, it’s never quite this black and white. Most people I come across have operated as both a builder and a booster at different points in their career. And this is a good thing. Everybody can benefit from being a booster at least once, to gain the necessary experience to become a credible, rounded leader. And I can point to plenty of people who have switched from being a booster to a builder because they’ve found a company and culture in which they feel engaged and inspired, and bought into the long-term vision.
This is a key point. For all of us, our attitudes, behaviors and goals change as we go through our working lives, depending on how we feel our careers are progressing, our sense of fulfillment and well-being and the stage of life we’re at outside of the workplace. People’s situations can change rapidly and so can their mindsets. What’s important is to ensure people feel confident and comfortable to express themselves, and to evolve and develop according to their shifting drivers and ambitions.
This means fostering a culture in which both types of talent can thrive, and in which every person on the team can perform to their full potential, whether that’s for two years or twenty. An environment in which people can genuinely connect with the company’s purpose and vision, both short-term and long, and where builders and boosters can collaborate and learn from one another.
As a leader, it’s a constant challenge to find the right balance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of packing your team with either builders or boosters depending on where you are in your business journey. But, ultimately, it’s important to have a rounded team, where you have access to different skills, approaches and mindsets at all times.