It’s so flattering to be called in to save the day. This happened to me once – being hired to “take a team to a new level.” (not my words, the words of the person I went to work for). I wish I’d asked a lot more times, “Why are things not yet at that level? Is what I’m able to bring to this job going to change that? Will it be enough?”
The job ended up being a failure for me and for the organization. What was missing wasn’t something that I (or anyone from the outside) could bring in. The problems were internal and cut to the core.
This experience taught me once and for all that a job title, its formal authority, the job description, salary, what I’m officially being asked to do…all of these masquerade as things that really matter. Give me an “A” team that’s part of an “A” organization, and give me any set of goals that are important to the organization – that’s all I need to know. All you need is the people and the runway to make great things happen – and the willingness to work damn hard to get there.
What about an “A” title, job description, title, rank, authority…but a B team in a B organization? Man, I’d be skeptical and ask a lot of questions about what the organization is willing to change to support the change they say they’d like to make. This is why I’m skeptical of most job descriptions and am very careful when I hear from headhunters – the risk is that they (the headhunters, the job descriptions) convey lots of information that’s essentially unimportant.
It gratifies the ego to be told that you are going to come in and save the day. It’s possible, but working alone against the current (and against culture and entrenched interests) is a big job with a long time horizon and an uncertain payoff. Great things happen if you can pull it off (for example, Steve Jobs) but it’s harder than it looks.