Kevin McGovern | Crain's Boston

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kevin McGovern

Background:  

With offices around the world, Deloitte provides audit, consulting, tax, and advisory services to 80 percent of companies on the Fortune 500.

The Mistake:

One of the biggest lessons of my career was learning the importance of building a team in order to be successful long-term. It can't always just be you.

I joined the firm in 1985 as an auditor, and early in my career I was always the one who was staying late, coming in early, and making sure everything was done correctly. For a long time that was actually how I thought you got ahead. But then I got a chance to manage some partners, some of whom had much more experience than me. They were much older than I was, but I took the same approach—I thought I could drive this thing on my own. But I soon realized that when you're leading a bigger team you can't just do it by yourself, no matter how hard you work, no matter how many hours you put in. I felt a lot of responsibility, a lot of pressure, a lot of stress. I needed a team but I didn't know how to do that, because I hadn't really picked up those skills along the way.

When we had periods where we weren't meeting our financial plans, I really was the person who felt that burden alone. When I thought, “Oh my God, we're not going to meet our financial goals,” I didn't have a way to deal with that because I hadn't set up a team. It's not the way to do things.

Luckily for me the practice I was leading was merged into another practice and that immediately formed a pretty big team, so we were forced to sit down and talk strategy, goals, objectives. The leader of that team was a little older and had already learned this lesson. At first I thought we were wasting time. I was thinking, “What are we doing here? We've got to go get things done!” But what I came to learn was we were building a team, a common sense of ownership, a common sense of the responsibility. So the team leader wasn't coming up with his plan—it was our plan. And everybody bought into it. At the end of the day we were successful because we all shared a common sense of purpose, and a very keen sense of ownership for what we needed to get done. We did that by spending time with one another, by talking about things over and over again and making sure we really did understand the finer points of the plan.

People ... want to be part of the team. They want to be asked to have ownership.

The Lesson:

I've been asked to take several leadership roles since then, and the first thing I do is I think about the team. And I pull together, what are we here for and what are our goals and objectives? And how quickly can we get there? I make sure that I spend a lot of time with the team so they feel like they have ownership in the plan. And the thing I didn't understand until later is it also creates succession planning. You have to be able to build the leader who can take your place.

Today when we're coming up short on a plan, I pull the team together and I say, “Guys, how are we going to fix this?” You have to do it collectively. I learned that people actually want to contribute; they want to be part of the team. They want to be asked to have ownership.

From a very early age, it's important to understand the value of teamwork and to develop the skills to bring people together and create a collective sense of ownership to achieve a common outcome. And the earlier you do that, the better off you are for your career, probably the stronger followership you'll have earlier in your career, and I think you'll enjoy a much broader experience and have more people over the course of time to rely on.

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Photo courtesy of Deloitte.