Recently I came upon a podcast by Mark Cuban about “Glue Guys” and I made an instant connection to it as the topic was relatable and closely applied to me. For those not familiar with the phrase, a Glue Guy (person) is someone who brings (glues) people or teams together, someone who is a team player. Glue guy is a term coined by the sports world, mainly Basketball to refer to players who bind the team into a cohesive unit. Mark Cuban in this podcast, “Starting Greatness” that was published by cnbc.com, uses ‘glue guy’ as a metaphor for the business world and talks about hiring the right people for the right roles and the importance of glue guys in corporations. He states that “glue guys are people who know their role and they’re important because they’ll die for the ball and rebound. While they may not get all the credit for the wins, they’re the ones that you can’t live without.”
This podcast with all its sports analogies got me thinking about our life roles, at work and in our personal lives, and how we all wear different hats, but behind every role that we play is an underlying dominant personality trait. This one predominant characteristic that we each possess, to a large extent defines who we are, how we behave, how we relate to others, and how we communicate – it is our identity. Mark Cuban’s characterization of glue guys struck a chord with me because I am that glue guy, I mean ‘glue girl’ (we are all glue people!!!) and that is my most distinctive trait. So, I decided to dig deeper and reflect on what molds our personalities, the distinguishing qualities of glues, and most importantly, what inspires and motivates glues.
Human personality can be viewed from a three-pronged approach. It is a culmination of our base personality we are born with (nature), habits and traits we develop that is greatly influenced by our environment (nurture), and skills we develop through training and coaching (self-driven). The common quote by Vince Lombardi “Leaders are made, they are not born” is mostly true. For example, we can train ourselves to learn certain skills to become a leader, athlete, fashionista, an influencer, culinary expert, wine connoisseur, etc. through hard work and dedication – we are who we want to be. However, we cannot totally transform our true self. Even though we can shape our behaviors and demeanor, our core personality stays preserved despite the environmental influences and training – we are who we are!! So, accepting who we are and being our genuine, authentic selves is perhaps the best approach. And if being a glue comes naturally, then so be it.
In our day-to-day life, we are all glues to a degree in some of the roles we play. For instance, as parents (mostly mothers), we are the glues that keep the families together. We juggle multiple things simultaneously such as schoolwork for the kids, extra-curricular activities, driving the kids around town, organizing the meals, balancing the social calendar, and so on. However, for many people being a glue does not necessarily extend to other roles, interactions or situations. You may be a glue at home, portray a different trait with the extended family and friends and then be totally different at work. However, there are some people who display a consistent personality trait in their various roles. So, a person who is a glue to the core, demonstrates that behavior consistently across the spectrum – with family, relatives, friends, social networks and at work. Being a glue is an integral part of their character. Typically, when we think of someone as a glue, we view them as extroverts, team players, and confident individuals. But in addition to these qualities, glues also possess three other distinctive traits – Perseverance, Leadership and Perceptiveness.
Perseverance is the ability to keep doing something despite the obstacles. One must have the tenacity and will power to stick to a task and put in the hard work to finish what was started. In the context of sports, we see this quality in full display by some sports figures where they persevere for the greater good of the team. Alan Stein in his article “The Importance of a Glue Guy” (usab.com), refers to a glue guy as a player who will make all the sacrifices necessary to be the glue that holds the team together, does not worry about how many points he scores, but rather looks out for the team’s success.
Similarly, perseverance is required when unifying families and friends or when collaborating with co-workers. I have first-hand experience in this domain because I am that person in the various roles I play. Whether it is planning a family reunion, a night out with friends, dinner party at home, planning a vacation, or running a massive project at work, I am that common glue that pulls all the pieces together. You need diligence and patience to push through the barriers, overcome the challenges from lack of commitment and enthusiasm from others, devise a plan, set it in motion and then ensure the plan is executed to fruition. For example, at work if an issue arises, not many people will step up, and own the issue. You need a glue to bring the impacted parties together, assign specific tasks to owners, follow through on the action items, and persevere until the problem is resolved. It takes special skill and ability.
The second quality of a glue is leadership. The term leader is often misunderstood, we commonly confuse leadership with management and view a manager to be a leader when in fact a manager may or may not be a leader. The unique qualities that set leaders apart is their ability to influence, inspire, and guide others. In my own experience, I have observed that being a glue is synonymous with leadership. In corporations, glues are the leaders who take the initiative and influence the teams to deliver on the company’s goals and mission. They also know when and how to delegate so they don’t become a bottleneck. Driven people have the tendency to take on too much and do everything themselves, and in the process cause unnecessary roadblocks. Knowing when and how to delegate demonstrates trust in your co-workers, and it brings camaraderie within the team. Additionally, recognizing talents, strengths and weaknesses of the people you work with, leveraging and channeling those capabilities and shortcomings effectively is a sign of a good leader and a glue. Similar leadership qualities are required to be the glue when running a household. As parents, we influence, inspire and guide our children, we delegate to keep up with the daily demands on our time, juggle various priorities, while building a strong sense of family and unity.
The third quality of a glue is Perceptiveness – the ability to see both sides or multiple sides to a situation and being insightful. This is perhaps one of the hardest skills to master. Whether you’re in Engineering, Operations, Sales or Marketing, everyone is on the same team because we all are part of the same company. As a Program Manager, I face this challenge quite often. People when working on projects are so absorbed within their silos that they forget the end goal, lose sight of the big picture, and instead get hung up about their own achievements and self-preservation (CYA). In such scenarios, you need a glue to remind the teams about the common objective and the importance of winning as one. Ironically, even on a larger scale, most people have difficulty with multiple perspectives in their personal and social lives, and that is one of the key contributors for some of the societal issues we face such as racism, discrimination and injustice.
Another aspect to Perceptiveness is being insightful. Very often we come across many brilliant people who are excellent at what they do but when these individuals bring their egos and attitudes into the mix, they become a pariah, and no one wants to deal with them. In the book titled “Mindset for Mastery”, Ryan Harris talks about how pure talent is not enough, those who work hard and are team players are the ones that have a longer career. “Glue guys know they wouldn’t be where they are without their dedication, hard work and attention to detail”. Glues are pragmatic and understand that building alliances is key to success. Careers, professional success, hobbies, talents, and passions are extremely important for our growth, self-esteem and character building. It brings gratification and provides a sense of achievement, but these achievements and successes are pointless without meaningful relationships because we are nothing without our valued connections.
Mark Cuban also states that very often glues do not get the credit they deserve. In corporations, management gets involved when there is a problem that does not get addressed expeditiously. But if a glue steps in and mitigates the problem before it comes to the forefront, then the issue is averted, and all the hard work put in by the glue goes unrecognized. But smart managers know who these individuals are, how they operate and comprehend their true value. Similarly on the home front, we see housewives putting out daily fires, overcoming multiple domestic and external challenges by weaving their magic discretely and seamlessly. They play the role of a glue so perfectly that very often their efforts are overlooked. Although being a glue can be a thankless job, on the flip side, the gains are monumental. As Mark Cuban states “glues are the ones that you can’t live without”. And that is the driving force that inspires and invigorates glues, knowing they are valued, wanted and needed is the best motivation and compliment for them.
Not everyone has to be a born leader or an extrovert to be a glue. Anyone can work at becoming a glue, if that is what they choose to be. But to do that, people must branch out from their comfort zone and be willing to work on developing the skills needed to be a glue. I have established that I am a glue, and although that trait comes somewhat naturally, I constantly make a conscious effort to Persevere, Lead and be Perceptive. I am vigilant of what goes on around me, picking on subtle clues, listening and learning through observation. The term ‘Glue’ is not a glamorous title. So What?? Society gives too much importance to titles. CEO sounds great but CEOs are nothing without their employees. Maestros and Conductors need their Orchestra as much as the Orchestra needs them. Quarterbacks are ineffective without an excellent offensive team and Chefs are handicapped without their sous-chef and the support team. We all have different roles to play, and nobody succeeds as a lone wolf, we win when we work and play as one, while keeping our egos at bay. What matters in the end is that we keep contributing and providing value wherever and whenever we can.