Note: what follows is a figurative backdrop of why I started writing about high-performing teams.
I first became interested in team leadership working as an IT consultant at Corning and Ally Bank in my early 30’s. It marked the first time in my life when I was responsible for leading smart people through million-dollar projects.
The work was intense and stakes were high. Your work quality was constantly scrutinized by executive stakeholders and it was common to see team members dismissed for under-performing. I was determined to avoid this fate because while it's bad for your image when you're dismissed as an employee, it's bad for your career when you’re the consultant hired to lead the team.
I quickly realized if I was going to make it as a consultant I had become a strong team leader and convincing communicator. I started to read the business and leadership literature of John Maxwell, Jeffery Gitomer, Michael Gerber, and the great Stephen R. Covey.
I had a successful run as consultant for 7 years with the privilege to work with teams at great companies including Coca Cola Enterprises, General Electric, Flextronics and Barry Callebaut. I left the corporate world in early 2015 to create a tech startup in the retail industry. I had no experience in retail at the time, but I had a vision and a plan and was ready to get to work.
For the first six months, it was just me. I grinded 80 hour weeks with no days off. Eventually I was able to convince a talented engineer to be my co-founder and build the product. Three months later we hired our first employee.
I welcomed the pressure that came with being the CEO and team leader, but the experience was very different compared to my consulting days. For me, the stakes were much higher because we were pursuing a vision I concocted and we were entirely financed by my personal friends and family. It was an exciting and anxious time.
Fast forward one year...
The team successfully built a first-of-its-kind retail technology that enabled on-demand clothes shopping. We successfully launched in our first test market and had happy customers, first revenue and a growing partner network. We garnered coverage by notable tech bloggers and had media hits in the Portland Business Journal, TechCrunch and Street Fight Magazine.
Despite our progress, we struggled to generate the level of traction necessary to attract the venture capital dollars we needed to scale the business. We were proud of what we were able to accomplish, but the writing was on the wall. Sadly, the company shuttered in Summer 2016.
Shutting down the startup was a difficult time and I felt embarrassed, defeated and depressed. It was as if I had lost a battle versus all of the naysayers I encountered while building the company. The thought of those morons smiling when they learned we failed really pissed me off.
I used my emotions to drive me understand why we failed and what I could have done differently. I wanted to squeeze every bit of learning I could from the experience and then immediately start planning my next move. I said to myself "If I was going to fail, I was damn sure going to fail forward."
I was determined to become more self aware and to understand where I needed to develop as an entrepreneur. I knew I had blind spots and was willing to dig as deep as necessary to uncover them. I knew building startups was what I wanted to do so it was very important I developed the entrepreneurial skills that were missing. I needed to evolve.
What followed was a period of intense reflection and self evaluation. I was on a mission to discover something about myself that previously eluded me and that would make me a more capable business leader.
During this process I came across the works of Commander Mark Divine by the way of my personal business coach. Mr. Divine is a retired Navy Seal, author and serial entrepreneur. His self-proclaimed purpose is “to master myself so I can serve others to achieve their maximum human potential”.
Through his books, online academy and world-renowned Kokoro Camp for mental toughness, Commander Divine teaches people they’re capable of achieving 20x more than they ever thought they could.
His book ‘Unbeatable Mind’ was a game-changer for me. It completely shattered everything I thought I knew about mental and emotional training. More importantly, it forever changed how I thought about teams.
Up to that point, I looked at teams as a group of individuals brought together to perform a set of interrelated activities intended to create desired results. This perspective suggests team are execution-oriented and they exist to 'get things done'. While this may be so, Mr. Divine taught me my perspective fails to see the full potential of a team.
He explains teams don't exist just to do things, but that they also represent the "ultimate crucible for enabling individual peak capacity". In other words, participating on a team grants access to a level of human potential unavailable to an individual working alone.
When I read this it really jumped out at me. It got me to look back on my own life and realize my greatest personal achievements almost always happened when I was operating as part of a team. Whether I was winning athletic competitions, building innovative technologies or doing high-impact philanthropy work, I was part of a team acting in alignment with a vision and pursuing ambitious goals.
That's when it hit me... I've spent the better part of my life making teams perform better through leadership.
Since this moment, I have made a commitment to learn as much as I can about building and motivating high-performing teams and to become a source of learning for people who want to get the most from their own teams.
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