Take one for the team


John Kissinger
President and CEO
Industry: Architecture/engineering/construction
Employees: 225

Since taking over as president and chief executive officer of GRAEF in 2012, John Kissinger says one his major challenges has been to determine the balance between individual success and team goals.

“Most employees have individual goals that they want to achieve, especially high performers. These goals could include title, responsibility, compensation, recognition…the list goes on and on. However, many times corporate or ‘team’ goals are at odds with these individual goals. People may be asked to put some of their individual goals aside, to ‘take one for the team.’

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“Why would people take one for the team? Because they see the bigger vision, the greater goal, and they buy into that goal. In sports, goal definition is easy: We want to win the championship, and having so-and-so bat third will result in more team success, so we need you to bat second. This might hurt your individual stats, but will you trade that for the greater satisfaction of being a winner?

“In business, there is no clear champion, and the glory to the high performers is much less than in sports. In many ways, the main job of the CEO is to get his or her team to see the end goal, understand it, and be willing to work as a team to achieve it. At the same time, personal satisfaction is a great motivator. You don’t want people’s egos so sublimated that they lose their competitive edge. This is very tricky to balance and requires the CEO to have a deep understanding of the personalities of senior managers. It also means having an organizational structure and compensation system that encourages the behavior that we want. That sounds a whole lot easier than it is.

“There are many challenges to leading a team: Developing strategy, keeping your eye on operations, evaluating competitors, keeping up with technology and disruptive threats. These are very important, but without proper motivation, these other tasks lose meaning.”

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