Build Your Team With Character First

So much can be said about character. To me, it is the number one thing I look for in another person in any walk of life, not just professionally. Character is our moral fiber. It is what makes us who we are and it provides us what we need when we are at our whit’s end.

Mark Twain said, “It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.” I don’t know if it is so rare or it is just not advertised. Doing the right thing, being paitent and kind, being strong when the chips are on the line, these are things that just aren’t talked about. They are exactly the types of things I look for in those around me.

I am a huge football fan. My team I root for is the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1998, after a very good run in 1997 and a 13-3 regular season record and a disappointing loss to the division rival Denver Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs, Marty Schottenheimer was going all-in to try and win a Super Bowl. He brought in several players of questionable character, but with above average talent. This move backfired and Marty experienced his first and only losing season in his coaching career, going 7-9. Marty went against his moral fiber and brought in players purely on talent. He never did this again in his other coaching stops. He only had one other losing season.

In my own career, I have spent much of the interview process talking with the candidate. I’ve been known to take a candidate to Starbucks and buy them a coffee and just try and get to know them. During nice weather, I might take them on a walk through the trails by our offices if their shoes are up for it. This approach tells me more about the person and I also get a feel for their qualifications. I can always coach them up or teach the person a skill, but I can’t teach them to be a person I trust with the operation and execution of my future and the futures of those I work with.

In short, when looking to who to surround yourself with, look to character before talent and you’ll do much better in the long run. I’ve mentioned George Washington as one historical person I’ve looked up to as a leader. He was quoted as saying, “It is better to be alone than in bad company.” There is so much truth in this short statement.

Celebrate Every Win

In the fast paced world we live in it can be very easy to skip from one thing to the next and expect for things to work out or just flat out expect to win. I do this. I expect to win, no matter the situation. I can be teaching someone a skill, building something, playing a game, having an argument or even driving to work, I expect to win. I would argue, this isn’t a bad quality at all, except when you don’t recognize your accomplishments. Learning to celebrate success is truly what winning is about at any level.

It took me years to realize that sometimes winning can happen in losing too. No one celebrates losing. Losing imagery usually looks something like this:

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The truth about losing is sometimes things don’t go as planned. Sometimes you can win and still not reach the pinnacle. I think back to the 2014 Kansas City Royals coming 90 feet from tying the game in the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series against Madison Bumgarner and the Giants. They didn’t win the game or the series, but they proved to everyone in Kansas City that they were a force to be reckoned with. They eventually won the whole thing in 2015 against the Mets and are off to a promising start in 2016 despite the projections of regression.

Winning has become second nature to the Royals. How did they get to that after decades of losing? It’s my belief that winning for the Royals started while they were still losing ball games. The players they brought in and the players they had developed knew what winning was. It was something they lived and breathed everyday in their work ethic and execution. They knew, in order to be successful, winning is sacrifice, determination and hard work. It’s believing in yourself and your team.

I listen to many podcasts about leadership and I recall an interview with Joel Manby, who is the new CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and former President and Chief Executive Officer of Herschend Family Entertainment. He says, “The enthusiasm of the guest experience can never rise higher than the enthusiasm of your own employees.” This is 100% true!  The Royals displayed that when they were drawing 8,000 fans to a game on a Tuesday night in mid July because they were 15 games out of first. They would show so much enthusiasm that it was making opposing teams angry. They would celebrate every little victory in a game, even though they might lose the game. They took much heat over signing hand gestures back to the dugout when getting a big hit or stealing a base. They still do them!

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Through all of these acts of showmanship, they were demonstrating and building a belief in themselves as players and the organization. They were playing with enthusiasm for their job, team, city, and fan base that had not been seen before. It paid off as the club set attendance records in 2015. The fans bought into that enthusiasm. The increased winning on the field also helped that cause, but before the wins came they were creating a mindset for success. They were building a foundation, and this my friends, is winning even though you are losing. These are the building blocks to greatness.

How does all of that relate back to being a better leader, team member, partner, or employee? It is up to you to find it in yourself to show unbridled enthusiasm about what you are doing. You must outwork your competition. You must have more focus and better execution. It is your choice to believe that you will achieve in whatever you are doing. Even when you fall, you must get back up again, because each step forward is a win, even if you get knocked back a few times along the way. You too can be like the 2015 Kansas City Royals and have the greatest success in your business or chosen profession, but first you must commit on the deepest of levels to being a success even before being a success. Most importantly, celebrate every single step towards your goal, and don’t take any of them for granted.

Carrots and Sticks

The subject of motivation came up several years ago in reference to some employee turnover as well as increasing salary costs for IT professionals. What truly motivates us as individuals and teams to accomplish goals beyond carrots and sticks? If you aren’t familiar with the term carrots and sticks, it refers to the idea of providing rewards for results, carrots, or punishment for lack of results, sticks.

In reference to the workplace, at some point it cannot just be about dollars and cents. If this were the case, as employees, we would continually move from place to place accepting offers from the highest bidder and never care about the work we were doing. Some people make a career out of this I suppose, but I am not one of those types. I’ve been at my place of work for 15 years and while every day isn’t always roses, I have enjoyed my time there and have never really given much consideration to leaving, ever.

What are the things that add intrinsic value and not just compensational value to a person like myself? I know in my own case, I have turned down many opportunities over the years. I have been offered total package compensation as much as three to four times what I was making at the time. Was I a fool for letting that go or are there aspects about my job that are worth more to me than money? How do I convince or recruit other like-minded individuals so we get long term employees and work towards a common goal without having to stop and restart as people come and go?

Daniel H. Pink is an accomplished author and speaker on topics of business and in particular gained much notoriety on the topic of motivation with his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This seemed like just what we were looking for to help answer some of these questions.

I have a long commute in the morning, so I opted for the audiobook.  Either way, it’s a short read or listen and can be digested in just a few days. The book itself is only 288 pages and many are filled with worksheets and other tools for analysis. I can’t say I agree with every word that streams from Daniel H. Pink, but I do think his core ideas are solid in their foundation. As someone who has found intrinsic value in my place of work, I was able to look at my own situation and see what made me happy in my career and try and work with the company I work for to help others feel those same things.

Daniel H. Pink also did a TED Talk on the topic of motivation and if you really want to be entertained, the RSA did a cartoon animation of the talk. I highly recommend at least listening to the TED Talk or watching the video. The ideas of giving employees the ability to have autonomy, the ability to have mastery over their skills and a sense of purpose in their career are intrinsic values which, as long as the employee is compensated well with their peers, creating an environment where they can flourish will reward an organization well. Daniel H. Pink mentions in both the book and the TED Talk about the software company, Atlassian, and the idea of FedEx Friday’s as well as the open source movement as examples of getting value back without a carrot or a stick.

Once I digested the information, it was time for action. How do we turn a workplace into a place where others feel the same levels of autonomy, mastery and purpose that I have felt. This is a lot harder question to answer than it is to ask. We started with efforts around the office like free soda and lunches or company outings. We switched to agile methodologies for the entire IT department. We had been operating in small, dedicated teams, so we tried one big team. We then tried smaller teams once again. We tried giving ownership of design, or ownership of process. We even tried the FedEx Friday idea. We changed the structure of teams and how they functioned over and over. There were small improvements, but nothing terribly lasting or exciting.

At some point it dawned on me that in order to have those things, we needed to retain the right people and hire the right people to make it happen. We needed folks that weren’t just here to do a day’s work and go home. We needed people who had what I referred to at the time as entrepreneurial spirit. These are people who are invested and have the spirit of innovation and risk-taking that all great entrepreneurs share. At this point I realized that I was not just an employee of a company, but rather the CEO of my own personal company and that is how my role had formed inside of the organization. We needed people that, while they may not see it in themselves, we saw that they were the CEO of their own self. This is the magic straw that mixes the Daniel H. Pink drink.

If you give someone autonomy who doesn’t have the right spirit, they become scared that they aren’t doing their job well. They become lost without direction. They are constantly looking over their shoulder and wondering if they are doing the right thing. They don’t know how to be a self starter. That same person doesn’t have the burning desire to master their skills. They might try an online course or a night class, but it’s money and time wasted. The content will go in one ear and out the other, because they don’t really want to learn it. They have no desire to become a master. That same person will feel lost and without purpose, and finally, that person will quit and go work somewhere else. I know this sounds very harsh, but it is the reality of the importance of finding the right mix of individuals to work together towards a common goal. Daniel H. Pink was right in his attributes of where motivation comes from, but he was definitely missing one important element. This is the root of the why.

Simon Sinek had a great TED Talk called Start With Why which talked about this very topic. I enjoyed his talk, however, I’d be lying if I said I bought into his entire talk, but I do agree with his core message. The why is just as important as the what, if not more important. Like I said before, this is the missing driver in making the motivation operating system work in the first place. You must recruit the best talent that also is wired with the burning desire to be motivated in the first place. I cannot make you motivated. This is something that exists within you. As a leader, it is my job to give you the tools to become a master, the reasoning or the why to give you purpose, and freedom or autonomy to do your job to the best of your ability and then it is my job to get out of the way and let you do your thing. If you fail or succeed, you did it on your terms, and this is ultimately what is best for the organization as a whole. If I did my part in recruiting the right people, we will all work together in accomplishing the goals we set out to do without having to use carrots and sticks to drive results .