Ten years ago I had the incredibly rare opportunity at The Walt Disney Company to build my own team from scratch. I was able to choose the strongest people from within the company and in the industry to be a part of it, and it turned into one of the best teams I have ever worked with. And I’ve taken what I’ve learned from that incredible team to every subsequent job I’ve had—including my current position at Kate Spade & Company.
The team you work with every day is crucial to your success, and a great team can take you far. They motivate you, inspire you and, in the best cases, keep you on your toes. No one can pull off a big project or achievement on his or her own, and that’s where a smart and passionate team comes in.
It might be a while before you’re responsible for leading a team, much less building one. But here are the most important things I’ve found that turns a group of colleagues into a truly powerful and more effective team—one that will take you far.
1. Passion is the key ingredient.
Pick passion over perfect qualifications. The vast majority of jobs today require marathon-level energy. You and the team you surround yourself with have to be able to sustain a level of commitment, energy and focus for such a long period of time that having a passion and a fire in your belly keeps you all performing at peak for a longer time. If you or the people you select for your team don’t have an underlying passion, it won’t work out.
And take note—passion doesn’t mean extraversion or a bubbly personality. It’s intensity and a drive that contributes to brand and culture—and makes even the hardest work palatable.
2. Think about the whole person.
When looking at candidates, don’t just ask about credentials and job experience. Find out what they’re interested in, what gets them out of bed and keeps them fueled and inspired. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with your team working together and coming up with ideas. Wouldn’t you rather be surrounded all day by interesting and interested people?
3. Don’t hire in your likeness.
No one is good at everything—and why should you be? Be honest about what you’re good at and where you need support, then find people with skills to round out the areas that you currently lack. And don’t just look for ‘yes men’—you want people who are willing to challenge you as a leader. It helps everyone grow.
4. Encourage confidence.
I need team members to question the status quo and realize that nothing is off-limits. I learned about a theory called ‘plusing’ during my time working with Pixar Animation Studios. At its simplest, plusing is taking an already good idea and making it better through contributions from other talented people, and smart editing on your part. I make every effort to run my teams this way—we’re constantly bouncing ideas off of each other to improve everything we do. I love nothing more than a team member who pops by my office to talk, share an idea, or ask a question. You never know where the greatest ideas will come from!
5. Actually pay attention to what your team is saying.
It’s one thing to say you want to hear new ideas, it’s another thing to actually listen! New leaders often think that they have to be the loudest and most dominant voice. But you can learn so much more by listening to your team. I try to physically manifest active listening: I lean forward, I repeat what they’re saying in my mind, paraphrasing out loud when they’re finished speaking. Training yourself to work on this helps listening become second-hand nature.
Mary Beech is Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer of Kate Spade and Co.