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Hugh Latif.
Hugh Latif.

Leadership Lab

A new leader should avoid conflicts when building the team Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

In many ways, the position of president of the United States is similar to that of a CEO and, just like any chief executive of a corporation, the new president should choose the team with great care. Now that the American election is behind us and the U.S. government is making the transition from the Obama team to the Trump team, there has been a lot of attention about perceived conflicts involving the incoming administration.

Make no mistake, any conflict of interest – even the hint of conflict – will dilute contributions even by those people who may be experienced and talented. This should be avoided at all costs.

For any incoming president, and any incoming CEO, there will always be challenges when forming a team. There will also be pitfalls to avoid. As a consultant who has worked with businesses from a wide variety of sectors all over the world, I have seen these pitfalls too many times. It all comes down to transparency, independence, and clear lines of command.

It is a recipe for disaster when board members are friends and family of the CEO. Such people tend to get too cozy and accommodating to the person in charge, and to the senior management team. What happens is you have a situation where vested interests collide. Think of Seinfeld’s George Costanza and his attempt to keep each of his relationships on the straight and narrow. He called it “colliding worlds.”

Indeed, colliding worlds on the senior management team of a company, or in the cabinet of a new U.S. government, is guaranteed to lead to problems.

So here are a few basic rules for the new president, or new CEO, to take home:

Rule No. 1. Make sure team members have no conflict of interest that could blur their vision and influence their judgment, which is why it’s best not to include family members and friends. They can be advisors, but not part of the team. Also, they should not receive compensation, directly or indirectly.

Rule No. 2. Look for those who possess the right qualifications, not necessarily those who are loyal. While it’s human nature to go along with people you know and trust, let’s not forget that history is full of inept, incompetent people who were loyal to the chief.

Rule No. 3. If you are taking over an existing team, evaluate the existing members both as individual players and as team members, and rank them according to three categories:

  • keepers
  • question marks
  • need to be replaced

You want to knit together team members who complement each other and who stand united. The new leader may not be familiar with these people or their records, which is why it’s good to seek the advice of knowledgeable, independent advisors in deciding who will be on the team. Inheriting an existing team and taking action is always a difficult task. While you will add your own valuable experience and intuition to the mix, it’s best to move quickly and not delay.

Rule No. 4 involves how to make the choices. The leader must evaluate character and talent, but character is more important. By definition, reputation is what you do when everybody’s watching, but character is what you do when no one is watching. While team members will help you achieve objectives for the organization – or country – you, as head of the team, are responsible for their performance and behaviour. Senior team members can always surround themselves with talent, but if team members lack character or integrity, all the talent in the world won’t help. Just look at what happened to a company like Enron, or to an administration like Richard Nixon’s.

Finally, this one isn’t so much a rule as a desired course of action. The new team should stand behind the organization’s values, goals and strategies. Doing that means the members must work well together. A united team has a big head start towards achieving success, but a divided team has absolutely no chance of getting there.

As president-elect Donald Trump puts together his dream team, it will be interesting to see if he follows this road map or plots his own course.

Hugh Latif, of Hugh Latif Associates in Vaughan, Ont., is a management consultant and author of a new book, Maverick Leadership

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