First Who, Then What

Get the right people on the bus.

You’ve likely heard this leadership concept before. Jim Collins popularized it in his book Good to Great.

Who is on board is more important than the direction you’re going. The right people will straighten the ship. The right people will make the right adjustments when (not if) the winds change and you get off course. The right people will work together, sacrifice and lead at the right moments.

Collins says it best, “When facing chaos and uncertainty, and you cannot possibly predict what’s coming around the corner, your best “strategy” is to have a busload of people who can adapt to and perform brilliantly no matter what comes next. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

Taking it one step farther would be to get the right people in the right seats. Individuals need to be operating in their strengths and positioned in a way that’s synergistic for the team.

I experienced the importance of this principle on every team I’ve been on. In any team sport, every group has the same goal: to win. The direction is clear. Talent, of course, is essential. Athleticism, skill, height, etc. are all important traits in basketball. But so are mental toughness, team chemistry and positive attitudes. Those qualities take zero talent. The right people on a basketball team have talent, but they also possess great mindsets and work ethic. We’ve all seen talented teams underperform and less talented teams overachieve. High-character individuals drive personal growth while elevating others. 

When I transitioned out of basketball, I reverse-engineered this principle…

I was exploring a few options, but I also knew that anything I did was going to be unknown to a degree. I couldn’t fully grasp a new business or understand where exactly a singular company in a particular industry was headed. 

I ultimately decided on a new career in the financial services industry with a firm in my hometown, Cozad Asset Management, Inc. We provide investment management, financial planning, insurance and tax services to our clients. My focus has been on learning the business and helping to grow the company (business development, recruiting, marketing, and more). 

Truthfully, I didn’t really know the direction of the bus I was boarding. I didn’t know all the stops or where the destination would be. I did, however, know some of the key people. First who, then what. 

The people were highly competent — I knew I was going to learn. More importantly, the people were of high character — I knew I could trust them. 

Because of those two qualities (competence and character), the firm has been able to help thousands of individuals and families achieve their financial goals. And therefore, I’ve had the confidence to ask others if they’d consider our services. I don’t have to know all the details because I know that anyone we work with will be treated with professionalism and care.

Whether it’s navigating one’s financial future, starting your own company, recruiting a team or determining a new career path…start with the people. 

Don’t just partner with talented individuals. Create, build or join a team with high-character individuals. The right individuals will ensure the bus, the boat, the business, the bank account, the ball are all heading in the right direction.

Person over player. People over profit. Who over what.


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