The Done Right Podcast
Episode 4

Collective Excellence: How good leaders inspire great teams

Welcome to the Done Right podcast. I'm Jordan Staples and over the past decade and a half, I've been studying how people live successful and satisfying lives, both in and outside of work. And here's what I've learned. People in the workforce who are successful and satisfied are the ones that show up, pitch in, and make an impact in their companies. They are the ones who know how to get stuff done but do it right. So our mission for this podcast is to deliver insight and inspiration to fuel the way you show up at work today. 

I'm here in Lehi, Utah at Workfront headquarters, and I'm so grateful that you are here to join us for this episode on collective excellence: how good leaders cultivate, inspire, build, and how they develop great teams. 

I want to start off by telling you an awesome experience I had a few months ago. At the beginning of this year here in Utah, we had the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit. There's a great turnout, 20,000+ people this year, and our company Workfront, was a sponsor and so we had a spot on stage at one of the breakout sessions with 2,000-3,000 people, and Alex Shootman, CEO of the company, was slated to speak. So there were some scheduling issues and confusion, and essentially, Alex was planning to be with a customer, and they gave him a date and time and it conflicted. So they had to find someone else as a backup, and that backup fell through. And so it's two weeks before this thing is about to happen, and they're like, “Jordan, can you do this?” And Gary Klinger gave me a shirt because I did it. Thank you, Gary. I had a great time doing it. And we were in the entrepreneur track--which basically means you can speak about anything--and we all knew we wanted to speak about this new book that Alex wrote called Done Right. 

I have this rule that before I get up and do public speaking, whatever I get up and talk about, it has to be real for me. This has to come from an authentic place. And I try and do that for all these episodes, but especially when I'm standing in front of 2,000-3,000 people, you feel that pressure. And I feel the pressure obviously to perform well, I think we all do. But I really wanted it to be real for me because I knew I could speak the truth and speak from the heart and be able to deliver in a way that would be satisfying to me and be the most valuable to the audience. 

So two weeks. I'm going through, and I'm trying to figure out what to talk about--and we're going to actually have a different episode where we're going to dive into this topic more intensely, but I wanted to talk about the essence of this whole “done right” message. As much as the first few episodes we've done for the podcast have been about the individual, and you showing up, and courage, and bringing your best to the table, achievement really happens as a team. 

I learned this from Rahul Varma, who's the chief learning officer at Accenture. They have 435,000 employees; I can't even process that number. That is a population of some major cities in the U.S. it feels like. But he was recounting, in what I was reading, of this research study to understand how performance management was really going, and how effective it was. And essentially one of the points that he made from the research conclusions was that performance happens as a team. It happens as a collective. 

So this idea of collective excellence is what I want to really infuse into our conversation, and the role that leaders can play in fostering that collective excellence. That's what I was trying to get across at Silicon Slopes and so I'm going through and I'm trying to find great examples of these wonderful teams, and the thing that keeps coming up is World War II, Band of Brothers, Lieutenant Dick Winters, and Easy Company.

That story kept coming up, so I got totally consumed by watching every interview, every speech, and all these articles about these men who went and did some unbelievable things for our freedom. And as I'm listening to them tell this story of D-Day and Normandy, and really what they were achieving throughout the war, I'm just thinking, man, how in the world did they achieve what they achieved? I mean, for them to do all these things, all these great stories--and I’m going to share this with you--I just was like, how in the world? So, I go and dig in further and there are just some unbelievable lessons that I've found that I pulled that really exemplify and show what great leaders do to build and foster teams that are capable of extraordinary things.

I'm going to go through and share really most of that talk with you. We didn't record it, so I'm going to do it here with you, but we'll be a little bit more conversational, just to get us thinking about how we can influence the collective--and this goes for whether you actually are the manager of a team or you are a member of the team. 

When they were telling the story of what happened, they didn't know. They were all men from the U.S. in these training camps, and going through all this, and then they were called over to England and they were just working for basically 9-10 months preparing and doing drills in England. And then, finally, a week before D-Day (which they didn't know was D-Day), they were taken to this camp and put on lockdown where they could not leave. Like, nobody was going in and out of that place because that is when they learned about everything Operation Overlord, and that is the D-Day invasion. 

So they were briefed on the mission. They learned the location of every building, and bridge, and stronghold of the Germans, as one soldier put it “until they knew it cold, except for one, Brecourt Manor, they missed it.” The Germans had successfully camouflaged a battery of four 105 millimeter Howitzer cannons. 

These things are huge. In the early morning of D-Day, Easy Company flew 90 minutes across the south of England and crossed the Cherbourg peninsula and jumped into German anti-aircraft fire spewing from the ground, and a lot of soldiers lost their lives. They lost their gear on the way down, and as one soldier described all he had when he got to the ground was his trench knife, a canteen, and about six candy bars to fight the Germans. So Lieutenant Winters rallied his eleven men, and was asked to take care of the artillery coming from over this hedgerow. And they were motioning toward Brecourt Manor. They had not anticipated this, and were like, Lieutenant Winters, take your company, and go figure this thing out. So he took his eleven men and found that howitzers were being camouflaged in trenches around this property. So he split his unit into two teams, with one providing cover with hand grenades while the other charged the first position. 

And in the heat of battle, Private Win, part of Easy Company, he saw this arm with a hand grenade stick out of this tent, so they jumped into the trenches. And this is like one of those potato masher grenades, it had been mashed and it was a matter of dropping this thing before it was going to explode. Private Win says, “There was no way this guy was going to drop it because we were both right next to each other, but he did.” Private Win turns around to try and get out of there, and the grenade goes off and wreaks havoc on the backside of his body. Lieutenant Winters was right there and he witnessed this whole thing. Lieutenant Winters tells the story that Private Win didn't holler out in pain or for help, but hollered out that he was sorry. He'd goofed. 

As Winters is telling the story, he just gets choked up and says how beautiful this was, and how it was a demonstration of how dedicated the men were to each other. So if you guys know Band of Brothers, if you know the story, Easy Company went on to overtake the 50 Germans that were at Brecourt Manor--twelve soldiers to 50 Germans that had four Howitzer cannons that we're firing down on Utah Beach. They went on to fight for the liberation of Holland, they would hold the front line against the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge, and these are the guys that secured Hitler's Eagle's Nest. Just unbelievable. 

As I started to dig into this story like I was telling you, what I found out was that for the majority of these men, this was their first experience in combat. Two years prior to D-Day they were civilians. So I'm incredibly curious to know what happened between their last day of civilian life and D-Day because that team became capable of doing extraordinary things. 

So I want to read this quote. A colleague of mine at work, Jeremy Flores, shared this quote with me, and I think it really paints a picture on leadership that I just don't think I really realized before and that is: 

“To achieve the extraordinary you have to be willing...to do things that have never been done before. [You] need to take risks with bold ideas. You can’t achieve anything new or extraordinary by doing things the way you have always done them. You have to test unproven strategies. You have to break out of the norms that box you in, venture beyond the limitations you usually place on yourself and others, try new things, and take chances.”

So this first part of the quote is not new to probably any of you that are listening, especially if you listened to our episode on courage, but what we often don't talk about is that leaders must take this one step further. Not only do they have to be willing to test bold ideas and take calculated risks, but they also have to get others to join them on these adventures in uncertainty. It's one thing to set off alone into the unknown; it's entirely another to get others to follow you into the darkness. Because that is leadership. That to me is leadership. It is leaning in, and showing up, and seeing the potential in people and ideas--I'm pulling from Brene Brown's leadership definition here. 

“We no longer have businesses that are stable and static for long periods of time. Change and this evolutionary process is now the norm for business, and now it’s a norm for leadership to be able to lead their teams into the unknown, and to get them to follow you into darkness.”

The 3 Leadership Conditions of a Winning Team

The difference between a leader who achieves something extraordinary, and those that don't, are the ones who create conditions that foster or build three things about their team: conviction, capability, and chemistry. So extraordinary teams need you as a leader to foster, and fuel, and cultivate the conviction, capability, and chemistry of that team. We're going to talk about each. 

1. Conviction

Ok, so first conviction. Going back to World War II and the experience of these paratroopers, to be a paratrooper in World War II, you had to volunteer; you had to sign up to join this elite team that had a much higher risk of injury or death, but you also were going to get paid quite a bit more. Some soldiers read the difficult requirements in Life Magazine, as one soldier was describing his experience, and saw it as a challenge and wanted to see if they could do it. Others didn't want to join the infantry, they refused to. They said if they were going to join the military, they were going to be part of something elite, and do something special. 

Whatever the motivation or mission, you need conviction. You need a team that wants to be there, that wants to be part of the mission. So you and I have a responsibility to not only cultivate that conviction and to hire people that want to be there, but we've got to really lead out with that conviction. 

So you might be thinking, “Alright. Yeah. My team is good.” You know they're happy, they're doing their job. But I'm going to just push back a little bit, and just share some research from this recent State of the Global Workplace report from Gallup. Eighty five percent of employees are not engaged, or actively disengaged at work. Eighty five percent. This is eighty five percent of your team is not engaged, or are actively disengaged from the work that you guys need to get done. 

So the economic impact of this norm is around seven trillion dollars in lost productivity. Staggering number. But specifically eighteen percent of the eighty five percent are the group that is actively disengaged in the workplace vs. the sixty seven percent that categorizes not engaged. You can do something about this. The latter group makes up the majority of the workforce. They are the majority of your team, and they are not your worst performers, but they are indifferent to your organization. They're indifferent to your mission and the work your team is doing. They give you their time, but they're not giving you their best effort, and they're not doing their best work. They're not giving you their best ideas. But here's the thing. “They” are us. “They” is not this distant relative, this distant person that we can't relate to, that's not part of our team... They likely come to work wanting to make a difference. Can you relate to this? I think you can. They want to make a difference, but nobody has ever asked them to use their strengths, or worked with them to use their strengths to make an impact for your company; really helping them do their best work. Getting them focused on those strengths like we've talked about. 

So is this surprising to you? Like are those numbers surprising to you? What was your first reaction to this? I want to know. This is a tough pill to swallow if you lead or manage a team. So what I want you to do is, I want to do a quick evaluation of someone on your team: are they wanting to make a difference? Picture somebody. Choose somebody on your team, and answer the question. Are they wanting to make a difference? If not, they are actively disengaged. They are the 18 percent who are actively disengaged. If yes, if they do want to make a difference, are they committed to the organization and its goals? If not, they are not engaged. I'm going to guess that it's pretty easy to tell if someone is committed to the organization and its goals, because they use what's called “discretionary effort”. They're the ones that are picking up trash in the parking lot. They're the ones that are staying late hours because, nobody asked them to, but they want to ensure that the presentation is happening tomorrow... that we just kill it. They want to ensure that the customer is completely satisfied, and even that you know, there's kind of a magical moment for the customer. But your team will never do great work if your people are not doing their best work. 

So here's your first action item: you’ve got to make work matter. You’ve got to make it clear to each team member how their strengths will make a difference to the organization and its goals. And you can just connect those dots for them. Just help them connect those dots. You'll know you've succeeded when they can answer these three questions with a “yes”:

1. Do they know their role?

2. Do they believe it matters?

3. Do they have the opportunity to be proud of their work? 

That's when you'll know if they believe their work matters. 

2. Capability 

The second aspect of these great teams is capability. You have to have the right talents, skills, and experience to achieve the extraordinary. However, you are going to hire and inherit team members who have never done what you are about to ask them to do. And that's ok! Here's why. The rate of innovation and change in business today is faster than experience or education. Let me say that again, the rate of innovation and change today is faster than experience or education, which means you have to normalize risk taking as part of your group culture. Give your team the space to try, fail, and learn, then reward them for it. 

Spanx founder, Sara Blakely, tells this awesome story about how her father did this for her all growing up. She recounts that every night around the dinner table, her dad would ask her what she failed at that day and praise her for it. Sarah's dad totally normalized the process of figuring things out, of stepping into the unknown and learning from it. What a good guy. 

We interviewed the team that was working with Alex on the book. They did a lot of different interviews, and one of the interviews they did was with Mark McGuinness. He's a former Navy SEAL commander, and he gave this advice: “Ensured that the purpose and parameters of the mission are clearly understood, then trust your team to deliver the actions to get you there.” Again we've got to give our team the opportunity to test, to try, and learn, and we've got to be deliberate about that. 

The whole thing with World War II and using the story of Easy Company, it was just so perfect because the further I dove into it, the more lessons I learned that reinforced these principles, that were just so key. And that is that the way they trained paratroopers is exactly how you and I need to foster this collective capability of our teams. Let me explain. 

So paratrooping school is a three-week program. Week one is ground week. The first thing soldiers are taught is about the parachute and harness. They practice jumping out of mock doors four inches off the ground, teaching them how to make an individual exit out of the plane. They learn how to land properly, sliding on this little zipline four feet off the ground. They learn how to load onto an aircraft, what to do while on the aircraft, and how to exit the aircraft. This training isn't in a classroom, but outside in literally what looks like a playground built to roughly resemble the dimensions of a plane. 

Once they have the basics, they progress to 34 feet. The tower is where they get their first real taste of what lies ahead. And this is the key. It's the first time the soldiers are really at a height where they are taught to rely on their training to do this “unnatural act” of jumping off a tower. 

I was going through some footage and some videos of these instructors at paratrooping school, and they use this term “unnatural act”, and I loved it because the second week they get them to understand. They strap them into a harness, and they want to understand what it feels like to float down from 250 feet in a parachute. So they literally put them into this harness, and they have this open parachute strapped onto them, and they raise them up in this tower, and they drop them. And there is an instructor on the ground with a megaphone yelling and coaching and encouraging the soldier on technique. 

Then the third week is what they call “ jump week”. As you can imagine, this is where the soldiers actually jump from a plane. They do five jumps that week, the final being at night in the dark so they are prepared to do what paratroopers most often do in combat: get inserted behind enemy lines at night. 

So this paratrooper training is what happens today, and it's what prepared Easy Company for the invasion at Normandy years and years and years ago. But before that ever happened, those soldiers were in Tacoma, Georgia standing on the 34-foot tower relying on their training to do that unnatural act. That's the only thing they could think about. They weren't nervous about Normandy that day, they were nervous about Georgia. 

So here is the lesson for us, and our action item. You've got to encourage the extraordinary by creating momentum and progress toward uncertainty. You can do this by understanding that there are four types of goals--and I'm not going to do a deep dive into goal setting here and now, but I want to explain this aspect of goal setting. The way you set goals, having clear goals, and stretch goals, and extraordinary goals, or however you're going to qualify the goals in terms of difficulty, that is your four foot tower, your 34 foot tower, your 250 foot tower, and your--I think it's a 12 hundred foot jump out of a plane. That progress has everything to do with the goals that you're setting with your team. You will create momentum toward the extraordinary when your team knows they can handle the low risk goals and objectives that you're setting with them, and when they know that their leader has their back, and that they have a team who will sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears to keep them safe. 

3. Chemistry

So this totally leads us to our last topic, and that is chemistry. Trusting and leveraging your team members for help begins well before you're on the ground in Normandy. Well before you set this extraordinary goal in front of them. I think that the majority of the listeners here have heard of Simon Sinek, he is another famous TED speaker and has some really interesting insight around leadership, and he has this quote:

“We call them leaders because they take the risk before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe, and protected, and so their people may gain. And when we do, the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us. They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader's vision comes to life. And when we asked them, why would you do that, why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person, they all say the same thing: because they would have done it for me.”

He's spent some time with the military, and really asking over and over again that question of “why would you do that?” And that's the answer he always gets, “it’s because they would have done it for me.’” So that chemistry is built well before we go after those big goals. 

One of the members of Easy Company, Shifty Powers, he said this of his team, “you know these people that you are in service with. You know those people better than you will ever know anybody in your life, and you will know them right down to the final thing. That comes when you start your training, while that progresses.” In other words, as you build the capability of your team to do the extraordinary they will learn to come together, rely on each other, and serve the needs of those they work with. 

Here's the thing, we did, at Workfront, this State of Work Report. We were doing these different survey questions and to change it up, we asked this question about rating your colleagues' work, and we did it on a five-star scale like you would an Uber driver. And guess what the average was: 3.7. And the most common source of conflict that they cited in this survey with other department store teams, was conflicting priorities 57%, lack of communication 56%, and lack of understanding of urgency 47%. 

Let me ask you this question, how do you think Easy Company would rate the man on their right and left a 3.7? Do you think they had conflicting priorities? Do you think they had a lack of communication or a lack of understanding of urgency? I don't think that they were flawless, but that just seems laughable when you think about it in the context of war. So if you want a team with chemistry, you have to give up your time, or even opportunities, to make sure they gain and succeed in their clear and stretch goals. These 34-foot towers, these 250-foot towers, you've got to ensure that they win, that they succeed in those, and that you're there present to help them succeed. 

So here's your third and final action item. You need to give for their gain; win their loyalty to your mission and to each other. And you can do this by reviewing the projects your team members are working on, find out what they need, and personally make it happen. Give them your time, and enable their win. That's how you can foster chemistry. So for any of us to lead a team, to do extraordinary things, or to even be on a team that is going to do extraordinary things, we have to have the courage to do something different or new. 

You can't sit and wait idly for the people manager to do it. And if you're in that privileged, superior position of leadership, and you are saying, “well my people aren't doing it,” that's not the right approach. We have to figure out how to be a leader of extraordinary achievements by doing things to become better leaders. And that's certainly what this podcast is all about. 

Today’s next best action:

So here's kind of a summary of what we've hit on: you've got to be willing to step into the darkness just like Easy Company. If you create the right conditions, your team will follow. So, build conviction, make their work matter. Help them know their role. Help them believe that it matters and that they have the opportunity to be proud of their work. 

Secondly, build the capability of the team to do the extraordinary by creating momentum from clear, to stretch, to extraordinary goals.

Finally, foster that chemistry. Give for their gain. Serve those you lead. Give your blood sweat and tears to ensure your team members win. 

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode. You can find more information about the topic and continue the conversation at donerightpodcast.org. The Done Right podcast is hosted by me, Jordan Staples, the show is produced by Workfront. Our team includes Jeremy Tippetts and Marc Hansen. 

Thanks for listening. And if you like what you hear, rate and review the show, it helps other people find us. See you next time.