"Branches & Roots": A Look at Strategy and Competition Through the Lens of Business and Sport
A Banyan Tree Strategies Communication
The Secret Ingredients to Winning Teams - #1 Humility
Whether 2015 has brought you joy or sorrow, success or failure, or life or death, each passing year the virtue of humility and its teachings are never far away. We hope you enjoy our findings and of course would love to hear your own perspectives on the topic here.
We would like to thank you for your support and encouragement in 2015 and look forward to our interactions in 2016. Who knows, we may even come up with another poem to kick of the year. Most certainly we will be following up with additional secret ingredients of winning teams, after humbly kicking off the first below.
A recent Wall Street Journal article caught my eye and it started us down the path of what makes a humble leader and how it works in sport and life.
So what on earth does humility have to do with business and sport leadership and team success? Depending on your bent, either nothing, or everything. Webster’s Dictionary tells us that humility is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. Others have described humility as not thinking less of yourself, but of thinking of yourself less often. Regardless, in a performance driven world being confident and humble at the same time appears to be a paradox. Our attempts to solve this riddle have led us to seek out the most humble of confident groups, the U.S. Navy Seals. The men who have earned the right to say they served as a Seal are an accomplished and confident group, yet as you get to know them the dominate trait they share is a searing passion for humbly serving their team.
It appears the Seals have figured out how to have a high performing team full of confident people, who are all willing to risk everything to support the team’s mission. The correlation to other team environments is worth a closer look. How do they do it, what is their process, and can you duplicate it with your team? To start, let’s take the miles of running in the sand, the racing and beaching of small boats in high waves, and the sleep deprivation out of the equation. Most of us are just looking to get our work or sports team to come together and be a caring unit, so that we can optimize our chances for success in a highly competitive world. So what is it that we can mirror and learn from the Seals?
We have noticed three key behaviors all tied back to their humble spirits. First, you will never hear them ever speak poorly of another member of their team. This may not seem like a big deal, but bagging on a teammate is a classic trait seen in teams that are average performers. They haven’t taken the leap to care enough about each other, and they just might be over their skis, or not have a clear picture of what winning looks like. When you witness this behavior, make a note of it, and then at a private moment share with the offending party how cancerous this is to the team’s health.
Another big leap the Seals take is being fully accountable to the team for the review of their performance. If the unit does not feel they did their best, then they did not do their best. The giving up of one’s personal performance review is a huge leap for most people, and as a leader it is hard to see where your team is on this metric. Yet this mindset is the beginning of a most powerful seed called trust, and as you see people grimace and squirm when they are reviewed by their peers, you are witnessing them “leak” physically as they mentally struggle with this issue. As the leader, make sure you keep your direct reports aware of how challenging this step can be for some people. Hammering an offender will not lead to trust, it takes curiosity and some tact to get most people to take this step.
The final trait tied to humility we have witnessed with the Seals is that they have found the deepest human energy reserve that is known to exist, a fanatical commitment to serving the team. When it comes to energy, we all have some interesting emotions to tap for our internal fuel. Hate and anger are powerful fuels, however they are akin to sugars that burn hot and fast. The challenge is that sugars do not sustain you and have toxic exhausts that make you hard to be around. Joy and happiness work extremely well for creating contagious energy, yet are too ephemeral to last and sustain, they are like pixie dust. The long term protein of internal fuels for humans is the service of others who you are committed to help. When a person is tapping the emotion of helping those they are committed to, they have fuel for days.
The Seals teams’ commitment level is life or death. For us, the stakes are often far less serious, yet getting everyone on the same page about the level of commitment to the team is important. Most groups of people you are involved with have different pictures of success. Many are defining their success individually, and have vastly different levels of commitment. As a teammate, team captain, or coach of the unit, you might consider the power of implementing some Navy Seal humility.
"Extreme Ownership" by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
This book just came out and is already the number one ranked business book in the United States. The two authors walk you through the lessons they learned in combat in Iraq in 2006, and how it can correlate to our work environment. We found the book to be very current and aligned with other teachings about decentralizing decisions and building highly adaptive teams. It also comes with a stiff challenge, if you are a leader of a team and it is failing, it is your fault. Period. No excuses. You are to blame and you need to marshal all your personal resources to adapt and improve. Both Willink and Babin are Navy Seals and they share openly about their mistakes and the lessons learned while serving our country. Both men come across as competent, assertive, confident leaders, and yet each chapter addresses areas where they made mistakes. Extreme Ownership is a book that teaches the virtue of humility amidst the chaos and the fog of war.
The Year of the Humble Champions in Golf
2015 treated us to some of the best major championship competition we have seen in years, and the top performers all had one thing in common. They were humbled by their moment and gracious in their moments of triumph. Jordan Spieth’s body of work across all 4 events takes you back to Ben Hogan days, and if he had won all four events we bet they would have had a ticker tape parade for him in Dallas. His demeanor and competitive grit make him one of the easiest golfers to root for in the history of the game.
The British Open champion Zach Johnson was a self-described emotional mess. Whilst fighting back tears he was adamant in declaring he is the tip of the iceberg, meaning everyone sees him play the game but without his team he would be nowhere. He deserves a hearty golf clap for taking down a stacked field and a wind and rain swept timeless St. Andrews links.
Jason Day left a birdie putt short to join the playoff at the British Open, and in that moment of despair turned the corner to become the dominate player in the world for four months after, including the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. His walk to victory saw him leaning on his caddy and lifelong mentor Colin Swatton on many occasions, and he fought back tears of emotion that come from representing his family in their joint quest. It was only in the weeks after his victory that he shared with the world the horrors of his upbringing, and again we are amazed by the humbleness of this athlete.
Looking ahead to 2016 we are curious how Rory MclIroy will perform, and also have an eye to the bright future of Patrick Rodgers and a young amateur by the name of Maverick McNealy. If they are taking notes on how to be the best, it would appear they might want to take note of these 2015 champions and make sure a dash of humility is part of their morning coffee.
Complete Annual Newsletter Volumes