By Paul David Walker, author of Invent Your Future: Starting With Your Calling
One of my clients shared her experience in her spinning classes. She said,
“The authentic commitment and energy of the leader starts up the class. As the energy builds each members commitment and energy syncs with the others. The class feeds off each other and reaches a level they could not have achieved individually.”
She was glowing as she told me this story. The classes have transformed her energy and improved her health dramatically. Imagine a business team that feeds off each other’s energy. We are working together to build each of her facilities into healthy high performance teams. Her story and experience will be key to this work.
Ask yourself, do the teams you are leading look like her experience in the spinning classes? Most do not, and many feel it is impossible to achieve this kind of synergy for a business team. Of course, with this attitude, it would be impossible. I have experienced many leadership teams who started out feeling stuck with the level of teamwork they had, and like my client in her spinning classes, achieved what I call a Healthy High Performance Team.
The first step is knowing and experiencing the possibility, like my client who experienced it in her spinning class. Once you know something is possible, your words become alive with authentic inspiration and commitment, which provides an experience for those who follow you.
Casey Sheahan, Former President and CEO of Patagonia, said this to me during his interview for my book, Invent Your Future-Starting With Your Calling:
“Inspiration has to start with you. If you don’t believe that you can affect positive change, then it won’t happen. But if you can inspire people, as opposed to motivating them with fear, then you know there is a better outcome possible … I think you can really light people up. You can light your customers up, and you can light your manufacturers up too. When people are inspired, you get a better result, working conditions, and high-quality products. It is a priority for us.”
When you know the possibility from your experience, people can feel it and become inspired, and motivated by your presence. Your presence is 93% of any communication. It has been proven that the content is only 7% of communication. Your tone, body language, and the energy that comes out of you tells the story. If it is inconsistent with the content of your message people know, and will question what you say. If it is consistent, people are inspired because they are caught up in your experience.
It Starts With You
If the leader of a spinning class was out of shape, and had to take breaks while the class was peddling their hearts out, soon there would be no class. The same is true with leaders of teams in business or public service. It is often said, “Who you are speaks louder than what you say.” The most successful leaders are living examples of their vision. This is something you cannot fake, and takes courage.
We cannot create something we cannot conceive. So how do you get those following you to conceive a possibility they have not experienced? It starts with the stories you tell about times when you experienced a high performance team. Along with a compelling picture of the future state, the stories you tell about your experience become a living example. Told effectively they are an experience for a team or individual to feel.
Silos and Workarounds
The opposite of a high performance team is silos within organizations. Groups of people who are doing workarounds to avoid accountability, or at best be part of a small team that they can control. When you try to inspire teams to exceed their own expectation most people say, “Easier said than done, or you don’t understand what we are dealing with.” This complicates getting things done and creates suspicion, backbiting and a slowing of the growth of the organization. Multiple silos lead to a bureaucratic effect.
Many say life’s greatest teacher is experience, but if this is the case why do many who are experienced people repeat the same mistakes. From research on brain chemistry it is clear that bad or traumatic experiences form neuropathways that harden and create fears that seem real. People will go into a form of “fight or flight” that once protected them when similar situations present themselves. Silos are a form of protection, and if they have created safety for people in the past, they will default to them. Only more compelling experiences will mitigate these defense systems. People will still have the fear that is presented, but after a number of positive team experiences they will default to teamwork.
Teams Committed to Each Other
If people feel part of a team that is committed to each other’s success and the success of the business or organization they will feel safe participating in new behaviors. They will still experience fear, but with leadership that reinforces team commitment and illustrates the dangers of the opposite with authentic stories that create an experience, they will change. The team becomes a sanctuary of safety and inspiration. As the success of the team and the business grows, they will become more committed.
Prior to success it is important to find experiences in each individual’s life when they were part of a good team, or have seen one, while watching sports. An experienced leader finds ways for them to recall times when they experienced high levels of teamwork so they are inspired to let go of old safe habits that form silos. Breaking this natural human tendency requires that they can see, feel and hear a better way.
Creating off-sites for a team that creates an experience of a healthy high performance team is effective. You can do white water rafting or other similar outdoor experiences, but it is critical each experience is related to the organizational or business challenges. What is even more effective is dealing with difficult business or organizational challenges while creating the experience of teamwork directly relevant to work. Well- facilitated, these off-sites create a living example of the possibility for the team, and create success stories.
As individual and team success occurs, it is important to tell success stories as part of the organizational day-to-day process. These stories reward people and carry the wisdom forward, creating an organizational mythology. Each story should embody the feeling of success and the strategy that created that success.
Like the spinning class, there is no denying the value of a high performance team experience and the feeling of power and pride it embodies. The more you and your team can experience the power of a team, the sooner it will become an organizational reality. It will not happen overnight, but as it is achieved, the performance and wellbeing of the organization will grow rapidly. Once healthy high-performance teams are woven into the fabric of your business or organization, it will retain and attract the best talent, produce performance beyond your expectations and provide a powerful barrier of entry against completion. It is not easy to create, but what of real value is easy.
“Here you will find a treasure trove of distinctions, tools, and models that will allow you to engage people in a way that naturally harmonizes and enhances working with others—and that in turn advances the mission and purpose of the organization. More than that, you will be introduced to the thinking that guides and directs our most advanced leaders. There are years of learning available in Invent Your Future. Do not be surprised when, in the days and months to come, you find yourself referencing this book. It’s that good.”
-John King, Bestselling Author of Tribal Leadership
Permission is needed from Paul David Walker to reproduce any portion provided in this article. © 2020
Paul David Walker, CEO and Founder of Genius Stone Partners, is one of the early innovators of leadership consulting and coaching at the executive level. For more than thirty years, he has successfully guided the CEOs and senior executive teams of such Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies as New York Life, Mutual of Omaha, Chase GIS, Finance One, VONS Grocery, Pacific Mutual, Rockwell International, Conexant Systems, Harrods, Anne Klein, Union Pacific, StarKist, The City of Long Beach, Long Beach Fire Department, Culver Studios, Shout Factory, Lazy Dog Restaurant and Bar, NTS, Archstone Foundation, The Queen Mary and many other thriving organizations. He is author of Invent Your Future-Starting With Your Calling and Unleashing Genius: Leading Yourself, Teams, and Corporations. He specializes in building teams of leaders committed to each other’s success and the success of the business. Feel free to contact Paul by email firstname.lastname@example.org or his cell 562-233-7861.
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