Evil Genius Leadership Q&A: Optimizing Team Skills

Evil Genius Leadership Q&A: Optimizing Team Skills

We received this question from a reader:

I have several employees with different skill sets and plenty of projects to hand out. Even though I know them personally, at times I forget specific things that they can do to make projects more efficient. How can I organize my employees and my projects in a way that mirrors what they are capable of to what needs to get done? Thank you for your advice!

Robert F.



Keeping track of the various skills and talents that your team members bring to the table can be overwhelming. As a leader, it falls upon you to best match their skills to the jobs that need to be done. Knowing the specific skill set of the individuals on your team is key. If forgetting what they have to offer is part of the issue, taking some time to build a matrix of key skills and team members might help you out. List out the key skills needed for your projects on the top of a page and your team members along the side and just put a check where a member has key skill. This may take a little effort to make the initial list, but should be easy to update and will be a convenient tool to refer back to when making project assignments in the future. It also has the added benefit of showing you where you may not have as much depth in your lineup in a particular area as you’d like.

Don’t forget that as a leader it’s also your responsibility to develop your team and help them build on their current capabilities. It may make sense to assign one of your team members to a project who isn’t as skilled in key areas to provide an opportunity for growth. You’ll need to balance the success of the project vs. the risk and consider the amount of time you’ll need to provide supervision and mentorship as this individual learns by doing. If you can afford some extra time and a few false starts as they find their footing, not only will you get the project done, but you’ll have additional flexibility on your team the next time you need this skill set.

Thanks for the question and let us know how this works out for you!


Transparency. It Matters!

Nothing erodes trust like finding out someone was hiding something important from you. I don’t like to get political in these posts, but there are several recent examples where people in positions of trust and authority (both government and corporate) have been accused of withholding information that should have been available to the general public. This lack of transparency, whether real or perceived, is having a significant impact on the faith that people have in our public and private institutions to execute their duties and responsibilities. Only time will tell what the true impact that these breaches of trust will have on senior leaders’ ability to lead effectively, but there are valuable lessons for all of us who lead others.

Besides the obvious potential legal consequences that result from a lack of transparency, there are other disadvantages to withholding information from your team. Trust lost from a lack of transparency isn’t just a moral or emotional issue. Without transparency into decision making processes, decisions made as a result of those processes can look arbitrary or uninformed.

Occasionally, when you’re the boss, there’s no one higher in the chain to hold you accountable for your actions directly. As a leader, your customers or followers may indirectly hold you accountable for your actions. If you’re not transparent and forthcoming about your motives or desired outcomes, your followers may take it as a sign. Productivity may drop, you may start to see fewer people taking initiative to get things done or going above and beyond to get superior results.

On the positive side, there are some real benefits to be achieved on your team if you maintain a good degree of transparency. Trust is a two-way street and you can foster the trust your team has in you by being open about your values, motives and decision making processes. Additionally, if you have been clear with your team about the whole picture and the motivations behind it, they can act on your behalf to achieve objectives when you’re not around. Being able to trust your team to make solid decisions in your absence is invaluable.

As a leader you are on a career trajectory taking you upward to new challenges, so someday you will be leaving your current team behind. Transparency will help provide them with an ability to continue getting the job done after you have moved on.

My personal philosophy is to be as transparent as possible, whenever possible. There are times when it makes sense to hold your cards close such as matters of safety and security. Many industries can be highly competitive and need to withhold some information to maintain their position in the market. As a leader, it’s important to ask yourself, is there an overriding interest of transparency to do the right thing. Sometimes it just comes down to asking yourself, “Will I be able to sleep at night if I keep this information secret from people who need to know?”


Discussion question: What criteria or circumstances do you consider when deciding how much information to share with your team?


Photo Credit: “Lintérieur des Galeries Lafayette (Berlin) (2711233111)” by dalbera from Paris, France – L’intérieur des Galeries Lafayette (Berlin)Uploaded by russavia. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lint%C3%A9rieur_des_Galeries_Lafayette_(Berlin)_(2711233111).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Lint%C3%A9rieur_des_Galeries_Lafayette_(Berlin)_(2711233111).jpg

Key Leadership Traits: Vision

I’m often asked, what are the key traits that make a great leader? That question always brings up a lot of discussion, but I believe one of the qualities that makes a truly great leader stand out is the ability to create a vision of the future they want to achieve as well as being able to communicate that vision to their team. Leaders who can visualize and communicate a clear, specific end state can then entrust their team members to perform in their specific roles with that end state in mind. This gives the team members opportunities to take initiative without needing to ask permission on every little detail from the team leader. The alternative is that you will be spending a lot of time checking in on them about small tasks and not staying focused on how the individual pieces come together to form the whole.

Having a vision should not be confused with the mission or goals you are trying to accomplish. Your mission may not actually be an outcome you have chosen; it may be an initiative that your boss has assigned you or a project that has been requested by a customer. Whether the task is one that you have chosen or not, you’ll want to formulate a vision of what the end state looks like in your own mind before you attempt to take any action. The vision doesn’t need to be grandiose, but it should be based upon completing all of the mission requirements as well as reflecting the intangible qualities such as the work preferences or style of the users.

So you don’t feel like you’re a visionary? Fear not, vision, like many leadership qualities, can be developed and not something that lucky individuals are born with. Chances are you have developed a vision in the past and executed on it, you just didn’t think about it in those terms. Here are some questions to ask yourself next time you take on a project to help develop your vision:

  • What are the mission requirements? Is the mission a problem that needs to be solved? An improvement on something that is already pretty good but you’d like to improve it? What are the actual, factual, non-emotional requirements to meet the need?
  • Who is the mission being completed for? Is it your boss? A customer? An end user who is not your boss or customer, but is represented by them on this issue?
  • How should the end product look physically? What appealing traits would you like the end product to have? Are there feeling or emotions that you want the end product to evoke in the customer/user? If not a physical end product, what do you believe would be most satisfying to the customer or end user when the mission is completed?
  • What is the quality of work that you expect from your team on this project? Are they already capable of performing at this level? Will they need additional skills or improvement in the skills they already have? How much initiative and creativity would you like them to apply? Are they used to the degree of freedom you envision?
  • What are the time and resource constraints? Are there elements that you would really like to include in your vision, but may need to sacrifice due to these constraints?
  • How will you communicate the answers to all of these questions to your team?

Remember that vision is a very personal thing. Everyone will see the outcome a little differently in their head if given room to interpret their own vision using the same facts and parameters. Also, while your vision of a successful outcome is personal, it is important that you re able to communicate your vision to your team so that they can execute it. Great leaders are the ones who can see their own vision and get them to buy into it!


Discussion Question: What other key traits do you believe great leaders possess?


Photo Credit: “Dios”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dios.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Dios.jpg

Leading Millennials and Beyond

One of the topics I often discuss with my colleagues, mentors and the individuals that I coach is the role that younger people are taking in the workplace. Some of the folks I talk with have very strong opinions about these younger cohorts, especially Millennials. I don’t want to get into labelling certain groups of people (although I kind of already have), but despite opinions, the younger generations are entering the workplace, or will be very soon. The challenge for today’s leaders is to determine how we can motivate and lead the younger people coming along as well as how we can grow them into high quality leaders of tomorrow. In order to do that it’s helpful to understand the background and mindset of our younger team members.

A few weeks ago Beloit College released their “Mindset List” for their incoming class of 2018. Beloit has been putting out the Mindset List every year since 1998 to help their faculty and staff understand the “cultural touchstones and experiences that have shaped the worldview of students entering colleges and universities.” (McBride & Nief, 2014) While this list is mostly just entertaining and doesn’t have a lot of direct bearing on how we lead our teams today, in several years these students will be entering our workforce and we will need to be able to lead them effectively and develop them professionally once they arrive.

A few items I found interesting on this year’s list:

  • The water cooler is no longer the workplace social center; it’s the place to fill your water bottle.
  • There has always been “TV” designed to be watched exclusively on the web.
  • “Good feedback” means getting 30 likes on your last Facebook post in a single afternoon.


From the list for the class of 2015 (just about to graduate and enter the workforce)

  • The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  • As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  • Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  • More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  • They’ve always been able to dismiss boring old ideas with “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt.”
  • They won’t go near a retailer that lacks a website.


And from the list for the class of 2010 (those who have been in the workforce a few years and are just starting to take leadership roles)

  • They are wireless, yet always connected.
  • Text messaging is their email.
  • They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  • They have always preferred going out in groups as opposed to dating.


So what does this mean for us as the leaders of these individuals? Primarily it means that the ways that we have developed organizational culture, adapted to new technology, and offered rewards and incentives may need to be re-evaluated. Collaboration in the future will definitely mean more than meetings in conference rooms and offsite retreats.

This doesn’t mean we have to accommodate every request that our younger team members make, but it might help balance their requests with other requirements if we can see the perspective that they’re coming from. As always, at some point the mission has to come first, but there may be ways to get the mission done better, smarter or faster by considering the “younger” perspective.

Also, a piece of advice for the younger folks coming along (just in case you thought you were off the hook). Understanding and communication are a two-way street and it is just as important to be a good follower as a good leader. Take some time to understand where your colleagues who have been around a bit longer are coming from. Unfortunately, Beloit didn’t start the Mindset list until 1998 so you might have to do some research to find out what makes us tick. I promise it will be worth the effort!


Discussion topics: What tensions exist between different age groups on your team? What perspectives have you gained from another age group that greatly assisted you in getting your mission accomplished?


McBride, T., & Nief, R. (2014). The Mindset List. Retrieved from Beloit College: http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/


Photo Credit: “US Navy 101028-N-8590G-005 Katy Jo Muncie, a law student, holds the ship’s wheel at the helm aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans'” by U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Gary Granger Jr. – This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 101028-N-8590G-005 (next).This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information.বাংলা | Deutsch | English | español | euskara | فارسی | français | italiano | 日本語 | 한국어 | македонски | മലയാളം | Plattdüütsch | Nederlands | polski | português | Türkçe | 中文 | 中文(简体)‎ | +/−. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg#mediaviewer/File:US_Navy_101028-N-8590G-005_Katy_Jo_Muncie,_a_law_student,_holds_the_ship%27s_wheel_at_the_helm_aboard_the_guided-missile_destroyer_USS_The_Sullivans%27.jpg

The Floor Is Lava!

One of the most interesting and amusing experiences I had at DEFCON was while we were waiting in line to register and pay our conference fee. If you’re not familiar with DEFCON, there’s no pre-registration or credit card payments accepted so everyone waits in line and pay cash to register for the conference. The line can be long at times, but it’s a great way to meet new people and see some interesting things while you wait.

The staff at DEFCON do a pretty excellent job keeping everyone moving smoothly and staying in line. I was really intrigued by the difference in styles used to “herd the cats”. In one case we had reached an area where there was a gap in the line that had to be maintained to allow hotel staff to be able to move freely without interference. The young staff member who was responsible for maintaining this open lane took a really interesting approach to his task that I felt was well tailored to the audience at DEFCON. If you’ve never been to a hacker convention like DEFCON, it’s important to know that the attendees aren’t really big on “rules” and don’t usually find “because I said so” a compelling argument for why they should cooperate.

So this young man, who was clearly very effective at reading the crowd, would simply tell each new group as they made their way to this gap in the line, “Hey guys…this area here…the tile…that’s all lava…the floor is lava.” Every single person I saw come through that area of the line, smiled and laughed and was 100% cooperative with the young man’s request. He understood (whether consciously or subconsciously) that a large majority of the crowd here was attending this event on their leisure time, looking to have a fun, positive experience and wanted a minimum of stress as they waited in the hours-long line. This young man was able to effectively lead literally thousands of people to his objective of keeping an area of the floor clear by putting forth a fun, playful attitude with a group that was receptive to that attitude.

Contrast this with another staff member further down the line with a similar task. This individual’s approach was to scream and shout about the fire marshal shutting the event down if the area wasn’t clear. This approach was met by the group waiting in line with much grumbling and a good deal of encroachment into the area that they were trying to keep clear. I don’t want to make light of the fire code in Las Vegas (they are very strict for good reason) or the Fire Marshal, but it was clear that the approach used in this case to keep the area clear was having the opposite effect. In fact, the staff was constantly struggling to keep this area clear despite the repeated warnings.

It may sound oversimplified, but there are two lessons here:

  1. Know your audience. Attempt to communicate with them in a way that will achieve your objective.
  2. If your initial approach isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change tactics. See what’s working elsewhere and if you can adapt it to work for you.

It’s up to you as a leader to decide what approach you’ll use to communicate with those you’re trying to lead. What worked in the past may not be effective with a different audience, especially one that you have no actual authority over. Your relationship with the team as well as the situation are important factors to consider as you think about the approach you’ll use to meet your next objective!

Discussion: What indicators do you use to read your audience or the climate of your team as individuals and as a group? In what ways do you tailor your messages and actions to motivate your team? Are your methods different at different times, such as time-critical or high-risk situations?

Photo Credit: “Pahoehoe toe” by Hawaii Volcano Observatory (DAS) – http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/kilauea/update/archive/2003/May/main.html. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Pahoehoe_toe.jpg