The Power of “We” in Building High Performing Teams

 

Bosses versus Leaders

 

Many years ago, I got the opportunity to sit through a lecture given by an executive of a large company in Atlanta.  He had come to talk about his experiences in business and some of his key lessons learned.  I meticulously logged and wrote down his words that night, more than ten years back, and have kept them close ever since.

One particular jewel he provided which has alway stuck with me was “Seek Results Not Credit”.  Now that one little statement seems innocuous enough but I believe it is full of life changing wisdom, particularly for entrepreneurs, if it’s root meaning can be truly grasped and applied for good.

Too often in business, individuals and teams get very caught up in the “credit” side of their endeavors and they often fail to appreciate the much more important “results” side.  If we look at some of the most successful enterprises of modern day, particularly in the software / SaaS arenas, you will see highly motivated, often organizationally flat teams that rallied together, sacrificed and bled together, and in the end triumphed.  The triumph was not the act of a single contributor but the act of the team, the WE.

Unfortunately, often times the WE gets overlooked and organizations fall into what my wife and I like to call the “pronoun game”.  (Writer’s Note:  Since writing this article I’ve been informed that the pronoun game actually has a meaning in LGB communities too…who’d a thunk it). 

In our house, a common yellow-card foul is when one of us invokes a particular “I” oriented phraseology to indicate arduous or more than a fair-share of the work.  For instance, “well was busy with that fantastic microwave dinner, while YOU were searching for your latest “Art of Zen” Adult Coloring Book”  so I have no idea who used permanent marker on our new bed sheets”.   Our kids like to jump in on the pronoun game occasionally too.  “Mom & Dad, did all the work and They didn’t help.”   You get the picture.

In our home, the pronoun game is a fun little policing mechanism that we all use to help us paint boundaries around the culture of our household that we choose to have.  However, in corporate scenarios, the pronoun game is not a joking matter.  Environments that are plagued by “I” mentalities if left unchecked can wreak absolute havoc to business productivity, achievement and morale.  These “I” environments, as I’ll call them, generally are allowed to exist by the culture of the founders, entrepreneurs or executives and are not easily changed.

At it’s root, business is a team sport.  Great businesses…aspirational businesses are built through a loose amalgamation of great people banding together and agreeing to not only help one another but focus on a higher good, the customer, the idea, the next-great breakthrough.  In these environments there is no room for “I”, there is only room for the “We”.

As I sat through that night and listened to this great Atlanta executive opine and summarize his many decades of experiences in succinct and hard-hitting verses I was mesmerized.   That one statement has meant a great deal to me over the years and I think can be a catalyst for great change in your enterprise if you are currently playing the pronoun game.

Lessons in Entrepreneurship via the Lemonade Stand

This past weekend I got the awesome pleasure of working for less than minimum wage in the hot Georgia sun!  What you say?  I got to be a  barista of a different order, instead of being a fine purveyor of wonderfully roasted coffee beans and scrumptious delights, I was pushing a fine yellow powder kissed with just the right amount of water and with a tinge of sweetness.  Really confused? I hope not. Simply put, I had the awesome pleasure to help my daughter in her very own lemonade stand.

The “big event” had been some weeks in the making and finally our big break occurred.  The neighborhood was hosting a garage sale.  What goes better with other people’s dusty junk and the Georgia heat and humidity?  If you answered Ice Cold Lemonade from a pretty, blond-headed five year old you would be right on the money.  Although my daughter probably was more focused on drinking some of the fruits of her entrepreneurial efforts I had a slightly more educational approach in mind.  I had the pleasure of reading a post some months ago on Sebastian Marshall’s blog regarding entrepreneurship and what it really means to be an entrepreneur.  Its a great article linked here:  “What Skills Do You Need to be an Entrepreneur, Only Two”.   In the article Sebastian mentioned showing his future kids the path of an entrepreneur at an early age, showing them specifically how to (1) add value to the things they touch & (2) get some share of the value they create.  This is a wonderfully simple idea and kudos to Sebastian for boiling down an idea that graduate business school professors (no offense to my special professor buddy at a great school) spend months trying to teach.

My goal in this endeavour was simple, help Mackenzie understand the concept of entrepreneurship and particularly the concept of investing and most importantly “PROFIT”.   All in all it was a tremendous success and something that I will continue to repeat in different forms and fashions with both Mackenzie and my other daughter Carrigan.  The formula for us that worked so well was pretty simple:

  1. I let Mackenzie use her “investment” envelope to buy the supplies.  She counted out the money, she knew how much she was investing & I let her decide what she wanted to purchase (with a bit of guidance).  Her total investment was $6.50 – including bottled water, ice, lemonade mix, fresh lemons, etc. (NOTE: We use the Dave Ramsey school of thought with our daughter.  Each week she gets a small allowance that she allocates (her choice) to four different envelopes (a) spend (b) save (c) invest (d) donate.)
  2. I let her carry her money, pay the cashier, etc.  (seems small but the concept of money, profit, revenue, etc. is an elusive one when your 5)
  3. We discussed our marketing, how would we get people to purchase her lemonade.  The concept of competition, marketing, sales tactics … you get the idea – some great concepts here.   This was particularly funny part of our endeavour in that Mackenzie decided one of the best tactics for drawing in customers was dancing around, smiling big and waving while shouting “Ice Cold Lemonade”.
  4. During our selling I encouraged her with some ways she could interact with her customers (selling) and attracting the crowds (marketing). This also resulted in a funny outcome.  One particular patron who was perusing earlier said “dusty junk” was not in the mood for lemonade.  However, after four very convincing sales pitches from the 5 year old she folded like proverbial cheap suit.
  5. I encouraged her to manage her money and the transactions. Giving people change, managing the supplies, making more product… it was her business and I helped her keep track of the moving pieces.
  6. As we wrapped up the day’s activities we had a lengthy sit-down where she counted her sales for that day.  We talked a bit about the concept of sales, etc and what that means.
  7. We then payed her investment envelope back (the whopping $6.50) and were left with her profit.   We talked a bit about profit and the idea that in those 4 hours she made $15 in profit.  Normally her allowance is $5 per week.  The point she got very quickly was in a few hours of work she made “ALOT” (her words) more than what she normally does.  …This was the best realization – she labored, she applied her ingenuity and her talents (ADDED VALUE) and then got to pocket the profit (GETTING A SHARE OF THE VALUE SHE CREATED).
All in all – the lemonade stand was a total success and a really exciting time for me too.  To see entrepreneurship and these sometimes difficult concepts come into clarity for my five year old daughter was truly awesome!  For me to get back to my love of entrepreneurship and see it through the early lens of my daughter was equally awesome!

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Feel Good Movie…for you

Happy New Year everyone! So one of my new year’s resolutions was pretty simple – live life superbly. In 2009 and 2010 we have seen some pretty gruesome times. Lost jobs, lost riches, lost homes…and on and on. Pretty bleak… or maybe not. I had many of these issues affect me personally from a business standpoint in 2009 and 2010 and as best as I can figure I’m still here and fighting the good fight. When you sum it all up, I think we are pretty fortunate no matter how down the cards may be. Pretty fortunate because we live in an awesome country where we can get up each day and change whatever reality may have affected us from the last. No country rewards persistence, vision and stick-to-it-ness like the US. So in keeping with one of my resolutions I thought I might share a clip of many hundreds of people living life superbly. Caveat is this is filmed in Heathrow .. but our UK friends need love to.

So enjoy and I hope in 2011 you can live life superbly and always find time to be in the moment.

Rocket Shoots & Little Ponies

So yesterday, my oldest and I headed out to our formal rocket launching site…similar to Johnson Space Center but without the high overheads and government bureaucracy. In attendance for the formal launching of our awesome space craft courtesy of Estes Rocket Building Kitwere none other than the esteemed Princess Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and My Little Pony (Ms. Sparkles…?). Also on hand was another VIP guest named Ms. Chloe, although my daughter pronounces it Ms. Glowey. In the video footage you hear my daughter saying…”Now Ms. Glowey you need to be very brave.” With firm words of encouragement that would make even Gene Kranz proud we did a final adjustement for wind direction, speed and began our countdown.

The video is only a little over 1 minute in duration but pretty cool and was a neat way to spend a couple hours on a Sunday!

Leadership Lessons from Dancing?

I came across this video while perusing another friend’s site and had to post this. Watch the whole thing, is really fantastic and has a great message. I suspect we have all played both roles in our lives – the lone crazy guy dancing around and the suspect crowd.

Great stuff. Hope you enjoy this and the message.   A key lesson I learned out of high school and during my “Plebe” year of hell at the US Merchant Marine Academy was you first have to learn how to be a great follower and team member before you can ever attempt to be a great and inspirational leader.

Our Road Trip to Tennessee

I just love road trips! This past weekend me and family packed up the truck and headed to the Tennessee mountains for a wedding of one of my wife’s cousins. The wedding was held in a town called Monterey which is….a little way out there. Total drive time was approximately 5 hours and amazingly enough the kids did awesome on the way up and on the way back. The road trip was filled with all the cliché occurrences, “daddy are we there yet?”, “I have to pee”, “I’m bored”, etc. AND I loved it all. We got to stop and check out beautiful scenery and reconnect as a family. In the day to day scramble that has become life in the 21st century there is something strangely and perplexingly wonderful about locking yourself in a car for five hours with people you absolutely adore.

I hope that I can go on more road trips to scenic places like this in the future. I’ve included some great pics of the event!

On the road through the Tennessee mountains, North East of Chattanooga

Near Dunlap, TN – really beautiful. Stopped to take this by the side of the road

Old cabin on the property where the wedding was held

My wife extremely geeked out. I can see Steve Jobs counting his money in the background

The obligatory road-side pit stop. “Daddy I have to pee really, really bad!”

Look out point stop on the way back to ATL

No road trip is complete without Cracker Barrell and checkers

My youngest enjoying the Cracker Barrell rocking chair

Entrance to the where the wedding was held

Kids playing in the gazebo at the place we stayed

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Rocket Shooting…

Had a great Father’s Day yesterday with the family. We had our 2nd attempt for launching the rocket, dubbed APOLLO, we built the previous weekend. Our 1st attempt at the park in seemingly 100 degree weather ended in a verifiable melt-down. CNN wasn’t on hand to view the aborted attempt but rest assured it was filled with all kinds of drama that only four year olds can manifest. Our entire mission control team was on hand, the 4 year old played the role of Gene Kranz (see her in pink in pictures included), I played Gene Kranz dutiful assistant. My wife did an awesome job of representing the press, my father did a great job playing the role of Walter Kronkite, my mom and our youngest, Carrigan, played the role of gawking space nerds minus the telescopes. On a minor note, my Dad got slightly out of character when the rocket took off, you hear him in the background going “Holy Crap!” LOL (check out movie).All-in-all a neat experience that brought me back to my childhood days in scouting and being in love with flight, rockets, and things that emit lots of fire and smoke. For my oldest daughter, it was a great way for her to see her creation come to life. From cutting the balsa wood, to sanding down the fins and assembling the parachute, she did a wonderful job and is already asking me when we can build the next “bigger” rocket.

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I Run Because…

So at midnight I got one of my every so often urges to hit the pavement.  With an incredulous stare from my wife and the obligatory “wear you’re reflective vest” – I hit the pavement.  Tonight was one of those unique nights where the steam seems to hover ever so slightly above your feet and the moonlight blends with the street lamps and moist air to create a hazy, mysterious glow around otherwise dull objects.  I felt particularly good tonight and could have ran forever it seemed but have to be up and at em’ in, uh… 4.5 hours now for an early morning meeting in Alpharetta.  The vacant streets and the black painted veil of silence conspired to set my mind spinning.  So, I do what I do best when I run, I had a conversation with myself (I love those).  The conversation was centered around a seemingly innocuous question, “why do I run?”.  Here is what I came up with.

I Run Because...
I Run Because...

I Run Because…

I like it

I also like beer

there are those that can’t

it makes me feel alive

you never know when it might be your last

I like to commune with myself

it helps me escape

I like to test my limits

I like to get lost

I fancy myself as a counter-culturalist

I always have

I like to get high 🙂

I want to be better

it makes me better

a man I most admire does

it doesn’t require a membership

its natural

its stretches you

it makes me better for those I care about most (see video)

… I could go on but these were a few that flowed freely on a really cool night for a run.

Also here is a great article from the NY Times on running – enjoy.

The Parallels of Adventure Racing & Business

C4 Adventure Race Pic
C4 Adventure Race Pic

A few weeks ago, I participated in a small adventure race in Woodstock, Georgia (Northeast of Atlanta). It was put on by the YMCA of Cherokee County and was a bunch of fun (many thanks to YMCA and Toby Bramblett for their efforts in pulling the race together).  The format included trail running, mountain biking and kayaking with land navigation and various challenge obstacles mixed in.  The team structure included three person, two person and solo teams.  I participated as a single team (solo) and raced under the banner “Kenzie-Carr”… in tribute to my two little girls! 🙂

Leading up to the race, and especially during the race, I had much opportunity to reflect and be a bit introspective.  In fact, I had a bit too much time to reflect because the race was 18 miles and 4 hours of cold river and lake crossings coupled with copious amounts of mud, sweat and salt.

This reflection lead me to start drawing the parallels between adventure racing and life.  Attached are a listing of just a few of those parallels.  I guess it is these parallels and the mental challenge of laboring through pain, nausea, fatigue, etc. that really draws me to the support of adventure racing.

Parallels of Adventure Racing & Life:
  1. “Competition is always more intense than you believe” > No matter the race, I always have a false notion that somehow the competition is going to be lacking, non-existent, or unprepared.  However, with each race I complete, I am ever more mindful that there is always a tier of well-prepared, intense and driven competition that will not simply roll-over.   Business is very similar to this adventure race parallel.  No matter the business, or challenge, there is always a group, no matter how small, that will pose significant competition to you and is prepared to sweat, sacrifice and bleed on equal levels to your own. Believing that there is no competition or the competition is going to roll-over is a fallacy.
  2. “Don’t always follow the crowd…or at least be conscious that you’re doing it” > During the race I got into a segment of the course where the terrain was unfamiliar and my land navigation became quite lacking.  It was at this time that I started checking for another competitor that was making better progress than I.  I found an experienced team that clearly had a great level of background in this tedious portion of the course.   In effect, I began following the crowd.  In business, we often follow the crowd.  Call it “group think” or a similar derivative but the end-effect is the same, your in the shadow of some one else.  More importantly, when your following some one else, you are intrinsically linked to their fate.  In my case, the group I followed helped me find a key checkpoint that might have otherwise been elusive.  In business & life, we follow the crowd at times.  The key is to be conscious when you are doing it and recognize that eventually you have to step out of the collective shadow and into your own light.
  3. “Stuff happens..deal with it and frame it correctly” > We all know it happens, the real question is how will you deal with it.  In my adventure race all was going wonderfully until the final stage, kayaking.  The day had been filled with some very fast trail running and equally fast mountain biking.  Each of these stages included lots of river passes and mud bogs which resulted in some very frozen feet.  When I reached the transition area for the final leg I looked forward to a change of shoes and a nice dry pair of socks.  Being fully outfitted with dry wear, I grabbed my kayak and headed for the lake and my miles of paddling.  At the lake’s edge I was confronted with the scenario to walk in the lake and get my newly acquired dry feet apparel wet again, or try to do an awkward beach “push-off”.  The allure of dry feet was too much.  I decided the awkward, and in retrospect risky, beach “push-off” was the best bet for me.  With the grace of a sea lion,  I “pushed-off” from the beach and for a good few 3 seconds my feet were dry as the Sahara.  ….BUT… suddenly, unexpectedly, the kayak began to shake and wobble with the vigor of a stuck Sea Lion.  Suddenly, the kayak rolled & SPLASH.  In short, “stuff” had just happened to me.  I had 3 choices, (1) quit; (2) trade in my completely drenched clothes for semi-dry clothes at the transition station and burn 15 minutes; or (3) take a breath and jump in the kayak and paddle on.  I chose option #3.  Let’s face it, I was cold but had already been cold.  I chose to frame the optimistic view point which was I was nearly 70% done with the race and feeling great.  I excitedly pushed on and dried out pretty quickly.  In our daily business interactions we all know “stuff” happens.  I would argue that one of the things that separates an enduring enterprise from a short-lived one is how they view unexpected challenges and overcome them.
  4. “Try new approaches” > It’s easy to get bogged down in the application of the same methodology, or tools, that you have grown accustomed to and comfortable with.  Being able to recognize and appreciate that the “traditional” way may not be the best way is a critical aspect of success in any discipline.  For me, during the mountain biking portion I realized I had a mechanical. In essence, my bike wasn’t shifting right in the lowest of gearings.  I was forced to try a new approach.  Sometimes life and business force you to try a new approach.
  5. “Persevere – its easy to throw in the towel, but much more difficult to finish” > In life and in business, I have seen it all too often that a person or organization’s default response is to run for cover, throw in the towel or generally accept defeat.  Some people, more than others, have this as part of their standard “toolkit’ of life.  Too difficult = I’m going to do something else.  Probably one of the characteristics I like best about the adventure races I have been in is that they challenge you to dedicate, focus and persevere in order to finish.  My moment of this race was when I took an unplanned swim in Lake Allatoona on a very cold day in February (see item #3).
  6. “Challenge yourself” > Once in the race, I had the choice to just be a participant or to really try to push myself to my limits.  I think in business it is easy for organizations, teams and individuals to just participate.   They show up at the office, check some email, cup of coffee and on, and on, and on….  Businesses and team members should challenge themselves.  What is a new innovation that could springboard the company? Is there a new lead, new market opportunity or product enhancement that could be fast tracked?  Challenging yourself (or the business) is key to separating yourself from the pack and leading the charge instead of being just another passenger that is along for the ride.
  7. “Train & prepare for success” > I think the parallels here are pretty obvious.  Whatever the challenge, business or physical, you have to prepare for success through proper training and preparation. Too many times in business we enter into a competitive scenario without fully preparing ourselves or our organizations.  Members of a business organization have a propensity to believe that their competitors and their own organizations are static.  Worse yet, sometimes large organizations rely on their own perceived brand without realizing they need to always be “in training”.
  8. “Got to be in it to win it” > The last one is not only a cliche but also obvious.  However, this may be one of the most important parallels of all.  Too many times in business, as in life, we choose not to participate because the challenge is perceived as too taxing.  There are a thousand other cliche phrases I could use here.  Simply put, in life and business, a large part of your success is deciding to show up.
C4AR kayaking
C4AR kayaking

As for me, I was glad I showed up, challenged myself and got to go through the many emotions and physical challenges that make adventure racing such an awesome high!  I have several others races on the calendar in 2010 and look forward to continuing to get to know myself, my limits and having the opportunity to frame life differently and be truly appreciative for all that I have.