Five Leadership Keys to “Getting the People Right”

Get the people rightOne theme that is always heard at CEO Connection Boot Camps is something that sounds like, “You’ve got to get the people right.”

After all, your people are your most strategic asset. Your “secret sauce” without a brilliant team will get you nowhere. But how do you make sure you actually are “getting the people right?’

From my perspective, these are the five keys for you as a leader to make sure you’re leveraging:

1. Ask your people what they’re genuinely passionate about

I have discovered in recent years that at business and networking events one of the best ways to truly connect with executives is to ask them what they are passionate about. Yes, even the most stoic of executives will immediately smile, relax and illuminate as they connect with their inner self and reflect on what brings them the most joy in life. It’s that inner connection that is the key.

Use this same approach with your team members and everyone in your organization. Invest the time to discover what they are passionate about, and then go one step further and ask, “What is it about (sailing, for instance) that makes you so passionate?” In doing so, we receive clues to roles they will naturally excel in.

For example, answers such as “the teamwork involved,” “freedom,” and “the ability to chart my own course,” help leaders put team members in roles that provide them these same benefits and enable them to thrive. Taking the time to do this well shows you are truly committed to not only “getting the people right,” but also to empowering them to feel truly alive while at work.

2. Know the strengths of each team member

We all have weaknesses as humans that we bring to our jobs. Most stem from our fears, insecurities and struggles with jealousy and forgiveness. But the general consensus among CEOs seems to be that unless these flaws are “fatal” (harmful to others, the culture or the business environment), the main focus of development should be on honing and leveraging team member strengths.

If someone is an exceptional negotiator, put them in roles that provide opportunities for them to negotiate and to hone this skill. Great motivators will take groups of people who have been lacking motivation and turn them into inspired contributors. And leaders who are adept at leading by example should shepherd teams that may have been lacking an example. Here again, investing the time to think strategically about this is critical.

3. Set your people up for success

By giving your employees opportunities to be passionate about their work and to leverage their strengths you are certainly well on your way to setting them up for success. You complete the loop by ensuring they have proper resources and support to get their job done, and by providing them a clear leadership vision to work toward, a values-driven environment and a nurturing, empowering culture.

4. Let go of the people who are holding you back

It’s as simple as that.

The number one thing CEOs always say they wish they’d done sooner is move faster on talent decisions. If someone is resisting change, not adhering to organizational values, does not fit with the culture or is doing anything to hold back their peers, the team or the organization, you simply must let them go.

By letting this person go you set the rest of your team up for success. That is the power of this move.

5. Check in with your people often and re-address the first four keys

Make talent management a priority as a leader, this is not a one-shot deal. The organization will change, your industry will evolve, your people will grow… You must be committed to addressing and re-addressing the first four keys in order to consistently “get the people right.”

What did I leave out? What works for you to ensure you are “getting the people right?”


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Photo of Business Meeting by thetaxhaven.


  1. Hey, Lisa, it has been a while… looks like you doing well!

    Great comments and boy does “Let go of the people who are holding you back” ring a bell with me and many of my clients. An additional thought for “Key 6″: practice emotional intelligence (EQ). Understanding your feelings (and how to regulate them) and your impact on others is the single greatest predictor of success in leadership. It is the people stuff that gets executives fired… or assures their success. EQ is routinely misunderstood and routinely undervalued by C-Level executives and their reports. Kinda fits right in with Key 2: Know the strengths of each team member… AND yours!

    My best to you and yours this holiday season! I always enjoy your provocative (make me think) posts.


    • Hi Craig,
      It HAS been a while – I genuinely appreciate having you here! And thank you for that excellent addition to the list. I love that you started with the importance of understanding our own feelings. So often we forget to do the important work of connecting with ourselves in order to understand what we are bringing to others emotionally and energetically. Brilliant add – thank you! And wishing you and yours a gorgeous, blessed holiday season as well!

  2. I like this article. But I read it right after talking with a smart, motivated colleague who’s having the life squeezed out of him by a manager who accuses him of being inflexible and of trying to “break the chain of command.” So my reaction is similar to Craig’s: the manager must be self-aware so that his or her biases don’t lead to rash judgments. Sometimes that “inflexible” person is actually standing up for principles borne of wisdom and experience. Sometimes what looks like “breaking the chain of command” is actually creative problem solving.

    The successful manager is open to learning from employees. Sometimes those employees need some coaching (for example, in the proper protocol for expressing ideas) but they don’t deserve a pink slip.

    • Larry,
      I’m sorry to hear your colleague is dealing with such a challenge. You’re absolutely right about this manager needing to be self-aware, yet the truth is so many executives out there simply are not, or are actually afraid to be. Your colleague can use this knowledge to his benefit if he is willing to put himself in this manager’s shoes. Perhaps this person is insecure about their own job stability, or the business results, or a million other things that they are accountable for. If your colleague appears to be “going around them,” then this adds to their insecurity. However, if your colleague takes the approach of trying to help their manager succeed by offering their wisdom, experience and creative problem-solving, it could actually be a growth experience for both. I know it sounds crazy when you’re in the midst of it sometimes, but making your manager consistently feel threatened (the “chain of command” issue, for example) would definitely be considered one of those “fatal flaws” I referred to. I do believe there is a win-win here, and for everyone involved I hope they can get there! Thank you so much for sharing your story and perspective, I sincerely appreciate it! Happy Holidays. :)

      • A great way to help the manager to be more supportive is to share constructive ideas in a way that that manager can use them as part of “his/her” own suggestions to senior management. This builds the manager’s direct report as an asset. Down the road, the lower-level employee certainly wants to get credit where it is due.


  1. […] people are important. But as respected author, speaker, consultant, and executive Lisa Petrilli writes on her blog, that doesn’t mean they always lead in a way that extracts the most value from their companies’ […]

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