19 Sep Hiring a good leader is one of the most important hires you’ll make
Recently I was able to watch an experiment conducted in the inhospitable environment of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and in the nonstop pressure of Burning Man.
The experiment I got to witness was a unique one: feeding and sheltering a group of millionaires and even billionaires in one of the harshest environments on Earth with only volunteers as staff.
If your eyebrows raised on that last sentence and you thought to yourself that was not going to work, you are 100 percent correct. Everything from mechanical failures, extortion, threats, drama and regular visits from law enforcement happened within that week. Volunteers walked away and joined other camps, camp participants rushed to the airport for the chance to fly out at any cost and friendships were broken.
When I landed into this mess to try to fix what I could, my first thought was that this situation was caused by poor hiring of the volunteer staff. But as I got dirty and sweaty working with the volunteers who had remained, I saw something different.
Those who stayed were not afraid of hard work. They had established relationships with other volunteers and participants and truly believed in keeping their word. And even some of those who left were the same, returning to help in small ways. The reason for the exodus was not that the project leaders had hired people who couldn’t do the job or didn’t want to do the job.
The real reason for the chaos was the project leaders. They were the bad hire.
You can have the best staff in the world on your team, but the No. 1 reason people quit is their direct supervisor. Clear expectations, appreciation, feedback — these things matter.
I got to see that in real time as people who wouldn’t lift a finger for one project lead would spend hours in a hot kitchen for a teammate who simply said, “Thank you.” One of the core principles of Burning Man is contribution, and many of these volunteers genuinely wanted to contribute. But no one wants to feel that their contribution and efforts are for nothing.
The most important hires you’ll ever make are at the top. Your leaders will determine not only the quality of the people your company is able to attract but will set the stage for how long those people stay.