The West Wing Weekly podcast, an episode-by-episode discussion of the TV show, co-hosted by one of its stars, Joshua Malina, along with Hrishikesh Hirway, recently featured "Parks and Recreation" to explore how the two shows are directly related. Creator Michael Schur and actor Adam Scott's insights were astounding, to say the least.
After almost 20 years in marketing and communications, among large and small teams worldwide, and through my work as a consultant helping professionals develop emotional intelligence, I've come to easily spot the hallmarks of teams and leaders who do it well. And what we learn from this particular podcast about how Schur and team ran "Parks & Rec" is applicable to every team, everywhere.
By definition, emotional intelligent leadership is inclusive.
One of the most important aspects of emotional intelligence is that it involves the engagement of you and someone else. Meaning, it's not only about you. It equally includes the other person in the dynamic. And understanding this basic nature of inclusion is essential for building strong teams that perform well.
According to Scott, Amy Poehler is the "greatest point guard in the history of ensemble comedy" because she loves setting other people up, and gets as much joy out of it as the other person.
When you look beyond the acting to the actual performances, you'll see professionals make room for someone else to succeed. This is a hallmark of emotionally intelligent leadership. The best leaders elevate their team above themselves.
Letting go of the idea of self and elevating someone else can be very difficult. At the very least, strive to hold them at the same level you hold yourself. At the most, act in service of them.
Hire people who are better than you.
Run-of-the-mill teams are built on redundancy of talent that makes it possible to do more. But strong and dynamic teams are built on different yet complementary strengths. Find the people who are better at specific skill sets than you are.
Schur explained: "[We knew] Aziz Ansari had a joke about some rapper. He did this joke the first two times and then changed it every time. And that's fine. It's a modular, interchangeable thing. We don't care about the specific reference. Aziz is cooler than we are. If we've written a joke about P. Diddy, he's going to change it to some rapper who's better and more appropriate and funnier."
This anecdote exemplifies what the most successful leaders understand - exactly what they're good at and what they're not and the importance of hiring folks who fill in their blind spots.
Curating people and playing to their strengths is more important than your actual business function. If you don't build an exceptional team based on their unique offerings, then you won't realize exceptional outcomes.
Trust people to do the job you hired them to do.
One of Schur's greatest delights, and a technique that delighted his actors - is the idea of the "fun run." It's simple, do the scene as designed until it's locked in, then do it the way the actor wants, and the absolute best result airs.
According to Scott: "It was pure fun, but sometimes something really magical happened. If we hadn't built in this system where actors could do what they instinctively wanted and knew to do, we wouldn't have many of our famous jokes."
I've seen this tactic work in corporate environments, too -- although admittedly without the comedic influence. Trust your people to do what you hired them to do and perform from expertise and experience. Give them all of the information they need, make sure they understand the expectations and timing, then give them room to do their work. They'll surprise you every time.
And the outcome could be better than what you originally intended.