Malcolm Gladwell’s 2002 book, The Tipping Point, shares why certain products, behaviors, and ideas spread like epidemics. The focus of the book is not about the brilliance of any specific product, behavior, or idea; but rather about how we can intentionally initiate and tap into the epidemic itself.
Of the many powerful ideas Gladwell shares, one of them has shown itself consistently in my leadership journey and the journey of those I’ve been able to observe. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell describes the three types of people that foster change: mavens, salespeople, and connectors.
Mavens know what’s going on, but a lot of people are knowledgeable. The thing that separates a maven is their willingness to share their knowledge. Unfortunately, the willingness to share is not a given. Especially for someone possessing a unique product, coveted behavior, or revolutionary idea. Mavens, however, give openly and they do so with clarity.
Salespeople sell. They convince others that what is being sold is not only desired, but needed. Salespeople communicate clearly and have the emotional intelligence to know when and how to best position the message or product being sold. They genuinely believe in what they are selling and are passionate about helping others by including them in the benefits.
Connectors distribute and collect information, but more importantly they link one person to another. Connectors know who knows what, where to send others with questions, and how to get the information needed to move forward. They are critical to the spreading of an epidemic because they are the ones that share it with others.
Turning our focus to leadership, the importance of mavens, salespeople, and connectors differs slightly from Gladwell’s epidemic application but it applies equally as well to teams.
Why Should We Care?
Teams are always a dynamic collection of individuals. None are the same and none are simple. The diversity of a team is its greatest strength. That is, when we recognize and support those differences. Mavens, salespeople, and connectors certainly provide a vast array of differences.
Most leaders openly recognize the contributions of the mavens. Their wisdom and brilliance is typically viewed as the foundation of the team. In sports, this is often simply thought of as talent. There is no shortage of value placed on talent. The same can be said for most businesses as they are also on a constant hunt for the next superstar.
Salespeople are also clearly valued in the team setting. Virtually every business has an entire division designated specifically for sales. As the leader of a team, it’s important to understand that your salespeople are not only those working in that division, they’re also your fans - the people that believe in, follow, and support your team.
The connectors are the most undervalued team members because their contribution to the group is not easily measured. It doesn’t show up in new products or clients, like mavens and salespeople. And, in sports, it typically doesn’t show up on a stat sheet. But, it’s connectors that ultimately make a team, a team. Without connectors the group remains a collection of individuals. The connectors are the ones that help everyone appreciate the roles of each individual, celebrate each other’s contribution, and push the prioritization of the team over the individual.
REAL TALK - Action Steps
The talent, confidence, and unselfishness of a maven fits perfectly with the passion and brashness of salespeople on a team. The connector’s value of the team over all else melds the whole thing together. Teammates with characteristics of all three are what make a team special.
Here are a few ideas on how to grow or foster each aspect of those great teammates.
Everyone on our team brings something to the table. Ideally, all possess a portion of the maven, salesperson, and connector Gladwell described. Pay special attention to the connectors. When teams are performing beyond their talent or skill level, it’s almost always a result of exceptional connectors at work.
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I'm a teacher, coach, and parent seeking excellence while defining success on my own terms.