Recently a leader asked me to help him establish which people in his team were made of the “right stuff”. He wanted to sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak — to find out who he could promote into his inner circle in the hope of being able to achieve extraordinary results in the future.

It sounded like a pretty straightforward request: use a “survival of the fittest” strategy to create an atmosphere of competition amongst team members in order to discover the last man or women standing, thereby proving they were “the best”.

This strategy, however, is shallow, incomplete and dangerous especially in the hands of a leader whose mindset is to destroy the forest in the hope of finding a few good bits of timber.

So, as a leader, how do we find the “right stuff” in our team members? How do we use the incentive of a promotion in such a way that it provides a sustainable platform which can be personalised based on the requirements of the team, its members and you as the leader?

  1. Clearly establish what you interpret as the key behaviours of people who have the “right stuff”. What are the five things these people do and don’t do?
  2. Don’t just measure execution against results but also against the above expectations.
  3. As leaders, have a clear understanding of the season your team is in. Are you rebuilding, growing, stabilising and/or recovering?
  4. Establish a set of key messages that flow appropriately from your understanding of the season mentioned above. It’s not wise to try and motivate your team to push harder to achieve a large goal when they’re still recovering  following a recent period of severe change and/or challenge.
  5. Understand the differences in your team’s personalities. For some people competition is a major turn-off and it actually demotivates them. We then run the risk of missing their best. Conduct a ‘Myer Briggs’ or similar questionnaire to help you understand each team member’s different strengths and limitations.
  6. Be careful not to pigeonhole people according to the results of such a personality questionnaire. These tools, when used as a guide, are a fantastic support to any team. However, if misused or misinterpreted they can create division and stereotyping which can be counterproductive.

Be the type of leader who doesn’t always just revert to competition to produce results. With a little more effort and a targeted approach you may just unearth a few gems that totally surprise you. Wouldn’t you prefer to be seen as the leader who gives everyone the opportunity to show their “right stuff”?

Rhett Morris is a co-owner and director of Bulletproof People. In the last four years he has delivered in excess of 600 workshops on topics including resilience, managing conflict, drugs and alcohol, and fatigue and energy management.  Rhett holds qualifications in Sports Science, Optics and Social Work.