Monday, December 29, 2008

People make the best decisions when they feel they have the freedom to screw up

Terrific Q&A in today's USA Today with Terry Wood, the president of creative affairs and development for CBS.

Wood contends that rather than asking yourself what you want to be famous for, people should ask themselves, "What do I want to be known for? What makes me different?" Says Wood: "It's a good exercise to think about how you want to be remembered. You want to think about how you impact the people around you: 'What did I do with the time that I had?'"

She believes that "famous can be overrated, but if I'm known for something, and that defines who I am, I can take it to the bank."

When asked how much luck has to do with success, Wood says that "timing helps, but I'm a big believer in what you do with the opportunities that are given."

Wood, who is credited with helping to discover stars like Rachael Ray, accepts that there are better chefs out there than Ray, but she adds that "what I love about Rachael is it's never just about the recipe. It's how she connects the food to her passion. Your idea can't be complicated. Explain it in a sentence. Make it you and deliver it with a passion."

According to Wood, a key to excelling is understanding how "to fit in and connect with the people around you." Her advice is to "be a sponge. Try to know as much as you can. What makes the office or the company run successfully? I notice people who add something to the mix. Personality stands out. You never know when an opportunity will come your way. You can't sit with your head down in a cubicle and expect to grow. You need to do the job well and also learn to create the opportunities for success."

But it's not all about charisma, says Wood:

"Personality is about balance. You have to know when to dial it up and when to pull back. That's about reading the room and figuring out how to fit in. It is important that people understand what you're bringing to the table, whether you're the quiet person or the loud person. Your boss needs to be able to look at the room and say, 'I get what he or she does.' Maybe it's humor. Maybe it's new ideas. Think about what you bring to the table and do it appropriately.

Personality can be a lot of different things. It doesn't mean someone who is just loud or gets all of the attention. Personality means that you add something. I like the quiet soldier who gets it done, and I like the hard-chargers who will take on anything I throw at them. It's my job to balance having all of that in the mix. When doing a job interview, I'm not looking for a type, but for a team, to have the right player in every position.

As for leaders, Wood recommends giving people freedom to make mistakes:

"The best decisions will be made when people feel they have the freedom to screw up. I never like to operate by fear. You really have to have confidence in them, let them soar."