I was still 21 years old when I hired someone for the first time. I failed miserably.
I had just been promoted to managing editor of a small daily newspaper and one of my first tasks was to fill the job I had just vacated as sports editor. I felt very confident that I’d make a good hire.
OK, let’s be honest. I was young and full of myself. I knew what I was doing, unlike those who had come before me. I wouldn’t hire some dork with no talent. (We had a couple of those.) I was going to hire the best.
When I went through resumes and read the candidates’ previous work, one guy stood out. Danny was a great writer. His copy was crisp and fun to read. He had just finished his graduate degree in journalism and would obviously be working at a bigger paper soon with some experience. After an interview, I hired him.
It was an absolute disaster.
Danny wrote well, but he was a complete mismatch for our newspaper, our town, our people. I wasn’t happy with him. He wasn’t happy with me. Other people in my newsroom were unhappy. Some people in the community weren’t happy. It was a terrible fit, but I was stuck with him.
I blamed Danny at the time, but I’ve learned over the years that it was my fault. I chose someone who was a complete mismatch. It was my first realization that talent wasn’t enough and good intentions weren’t enough.
For the first time in my life, I realized that someone can be a great person but absolutely wrong for a company, an organization, a group of friends or even a relationship. I’ve been thinking about this lately in two different contexts.
First, as I’ve been thinking about the business direction I want for myself right now, I’m realizing — not for the first time — that I desperately need to work with people who share my values, my goals and my ways of looking at the world.
As long as you just want to be a cog in a company’s system, you can grit your teeth and follow whatever procedures and policies your given. But when you are ready to do something more serious — something that you intend to represent your best work and best financial prospects — you need to surround yourself with people who think as you do.
That’s almost impossible to measure, but when you’re in the middle of a situation and you constantly find yourself saying, “I don’t belong here,” you need to listen. You need to either move to another company or else build a team of your own that has the freedom to act independently.
This is very important to me as I assess my next moves. I need partners — formal and informal — whose priorities and judgments match my own. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with people who think differently. It just means I’m not necessarily a good fit for those people.
When you “speak the same language” and see the world the same way, it’s easier to make it through days. You don’t have to explain yourself as often. And you don’t have to feel defeated when a decision is made to do things in a different way than you believe is right.
Again, it doesn’t mean that people who see the world differently are necessarily wrong. It might just mean that those people need to pursue different strategies to achieve different results.
The only downside is the possibility of teaming with nobody except those who think exactly as you do — and having a cultural inability to see things in the world that you need to see. That’s possible, but the goal here isn’t to have a bunch of identical people, but to have people whose visions and ways of seeing things match those of the ultimate decision-maker.
If you see the world one way and the person making decisions sees things entirely differently, you’re either going to fight all the time over direction or else you’re doing to learn to keep your mouth shut and you will never be able to pursue your work as you think you should.
The other context I’ve been thinking of lately is in romantic relationships.
I’m shocked at how many people get into relationships with people whose values and objectives simply don’t match. Most people I know saw those mismatches going into a relationship (or marriage) but chose to ignore them — with the conscious (or unconscious) reasoning that such things will work themselves out.
Here’s the hard truth. Those differences in values become more important over time, not less.
It doesn’t matter whether your friends like your partner or people say you two are a good match or if you have a lot in common. If your core values don’t match, one of you — maybe both of you — will feel horribly out of place. One or both of you will be miserable. One or both of you will ultimately want out — probably after you’ve spent years together and have shared children and financial obligations.
Whether you’re looking for people to work with or someone to marry, put shared values and shared worldview right up there at the top of your list.
If you don’t do that, you’re going to end up as miserable as I was when I hired the wrong guy so long ago. And you’re going to be just as stuck with the wrong guy as I was. Be wiser than I was.