Kobe Bryant has developed into one of the best all-around basketball player. But, he wasn’t like this in 1996 when he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornet and traded to Los Angeles Lakers. He was 17-year old, athletic, extremely talented, and exciting. But, he was also flashy, selfish, and show-boating. He was immature and didn’t know how to make his teammates better. Eventually he learned to play within Phil Jackson’s system, and developed into a much better all-round super star. He learned to trust his supporting cast, and make everyone better.
Now, imagine you have a "dream team" that consists of five 17-year old Kobe Bryants. Aren’t they going to be the greatest basketball team of all time that wins several NBA championships?
The answer will be a resounding "NO".
You’ll have five super talented guys, but all of them want to shoot and score, and none of them wants to pass the ball.
You won’t have the "Dennis Rodman" type of player to get the rebound and do the dirty work underneath the basket.
You might see a lot of highlights, but you won’t see them wining the big prize.
To win the championship, you need a team that consists of super stars and role players. You need a good coach who puts in a great system. You need talents, team chemistry, discipline, and mental toughness. Plus, you need luck that your key players don’t get hurt.
Move to the exciting world of technology start-ups. One thing I have heard many times from start-up executives is that they want to hire the "best athletes" out there regardless of their experience — they want to hire the smartest men and women they could possibly find. Smart people would learn and figure out themselves.
I once worked at a "high profile" start-up that burned through $100 million+ in venture funding. The founder and CEO’s hiring philosophy was to find the brightest from the best schools and companies.
Its product marketing department had several top business-school MBA graduates. But, none of them had never had any experiences in the company’s line of business. To get some experienced professional management, the CEO hired a young partner from the McKinsey & Company although he had never worked in an operational role. Its engineering group consists of several PHD’s from Stanford, Berkeley, CMU, etc.
These were all extremely smart and capable people. Unfortunately, they couldn’t work together effectively. Everyone had their own opinions on things. Everyone wanted to take charge, but very few knew how to follow effectively. Too many people tried to score, but very few were willing to to pass the ball first.
By the way, the McKinsey partner developed the company’s business plan and forecast. The actual result was 97% below his projection. He eventually left the company, but had a good run at a large Fortune-500 PC company. The start-up experience was great for him to gain some operational experience, but a small company couldn’t afford that kind of tuition for a key leader.
This company failed miserably.
If you’re running a start-up today, build a team with stars and role players who are willing to do the dirty work. Motivate them, and make them work together. Pay attention to team chemistry. Help them develop into better players themselves, and make others better.
And, please do yourself a favor — never hire anyone directly from McKinsey to run your business. McKinsey consultants are smart, analytical, fast-learner, smooth, and well-trained. But, giving advice is very different from running a business. They usually need to work at one or two companies to gain the operational experience before they become effective corporate leaders. You’re much better off to go with seasoned operational leaders who have been in the trenches and who can execute.