Pulled by Purpose
What do we really want? Certainly, we want security—a roof over our heads, warmth in the winter and cool in the summer, food for the week, transportation, and safety, which may be higher on the list in the last few years. Once those are basically satisfied, we want significance.
The most powerful personal affirmation occurs when another person acknowledges the strength of our character.
Although it is very satisfying to know deep down that we are pursuing purpose, perhaps the most powerful personal affirmation occurs when another person acknowledges the strength of our character. When someone of significance affirms us particularly in a deep way, certain beliefs are formed. These beliefs are stored in our core—that person living inside us who thinks, feels, forms opinions, and quietly speaks to us. As opportunities and circumstances occur, beliefs direct our actions. Research has shown that affirmation from others whom we respect forms beliefs in our core that guide our actions.
Affirmation—The Means to Influence
Let’s establish at the beginning that positive influence is the outcome we seek. Affirmation is the means by which we achieve that influence. If we want to exert extraordinary influence and bring out the best in those around us, we must master the art of affirmation. We must learn how to affirm individuals, teams, and even whole organizations. We must also learn how affirmation can help someone on the fast track and the underperformer.
The Three Levers
The three dimensions of team member, team, and mission are highly interdependent, and when not in relative balance, the team loses its stability. It’s like a three-legged stool with only one or two legs.
Great leaders know how to bring out the best in teams through maintaining balance among the individual team members, the collective team, and an inspiring mission. A team leader must keep these aspects in balance to experience the power of teamwork so often touted. At any moment in time, the leader must bring one of these three entities to the forefront through nimble attention to any imbalance. Most underperforming teams lack balance and proper emphasis on one or several of these dimensions. How does this work?
Individual Team Members—the I
“There’s no ‘I’ in Team.” Actually, there is an I in team. It’s the individual team members
Individual team members must also be developed according to their specific needs and acknowledged for their individual contributions. Focus on the We to the exclusion of the I creates an imbalance team leaders must address.
All cynicism about well-intended team slogans aside, team leaders must find ways to recognize and to affirm the individual members of a team. Compensation, titles, special recognition, and career paths represent just a few examples of actions that can be considered for individuals on even the most healthy and well-functioning teams. Attention to individuals does not reflect inattention to the team.
Attention to an individual team member could mistakenly appear to foster a “me first” attitude or narcissism. Rather, as individuals we exist distinct from others. We have our own hopes, dreams, plans, and aspirations that are important to us. We hold opinions and insights that we self-authored. We have our own voices and our own part of the mission. As Stephen Jobs said, we all want to make our own dent in the universe. Any team leader who ignores the individual needs of team members invites a highly disruptive imposition of those needs on the performance of the team.
Conversely, excessive attention to any individual for any reason, positive or negative, creates an imbalance.
Extraordinary Influence on the We
To harvest the benefits of teamwork, an effective team leader must generate a strong sense of the We. Like any enduring relationship, the potential synergy of working with others does not spontaneously materialize. It requires disciplined intentionality. Extraordinary influence on a team requires that the leader equip the team with the necessary skills and processes to be a great We. Many excellent books have been written on the topic of how to build an effective team, such as MacMillan’s The Performance Factor and Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Like any enduring relationship, the potential synergy of working with others does not spontaneously materialize. It requires disciplined intentionality.
A Team’s Collective Core
Some teams are confident, interdependent, and collaborative across their respective functional areas. They have a pride about their team’s work and believe in the power of their well-functioning We. They trust each other to do their jobs and they trust in each other’s integrity. While they may have conflict periodically, the disagreements lead to clarity versus rancor
Following are four dimensions that invite affirmation of the We with Words of Life when a team performs well.
- Respect for fellow team members. Every interaction among team members must manifest regard for each other.
- Openness and candor on the part of all team members. Hidden agendas spell doom for team trust.
- Participation emotionally and mentally. When team members are physically present but emotionally absent, the spirit of the team evaporates.
- Empathy for each person on the team. Team members must show appreciation for the inherent reality that each team experiences a constant barrage of distractions, competing interests, and conflict from a variety of sources.
Extraordinary Influence on the It—the Mission or Quest of the Team
When thoughtfully formed and skillfully communicated, a purpose or mission (the It) provides motivation for the team. A great mission becomes a quest. A team leader exerts extraordinary influence with this powerful tool. It contains the potential to take even the most mundane work or project and lifts the collective self-esteem.
A great team mission becomes a quest.
The leading hotelier in the world and founder of the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company and Capella Hotels, Horst Schulze, makes a practice of personally opening all his new hotels. We would probably agree that public perception ranks some hotel jobs lower on the desirability scale, such as housekeepers. Yet, Schulze urges his housekeepers to be the best in the world. During training, he stresses to housekeepers, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Along with many other supporting policies and expectations, housekeepers are empowered to make many decisions in the interest of providing a superior customer experience to all guests. Schulze’s mission to be the best, supported with hundreds of other quality practices, led to the Ritz Carlton receiving the prestigious Malcomb Baldridge award, not once but twice, thus making it the only company in the hotel industry to achieve such a distinction. Schulze has also trained seven hotel managers presently serving as heads of major hotel chains.
Schulze’s mission to be the best might better be described as a quest. His quest mobilized an army of dedicated hotel managers, concierges, food service professionals, valets, dishwashers, and housekeepers excited about changing the world of lodging for discriminating guests.
A great mission creates purpose, meaning, passion, and even urgency for a team. Leaders who want to provide extraordinary leadership for teams (and organizations) transform the task into a quest. Connecting a seemingly mundane task to a higher calling raises the importance and even the self-esteem of those completing the task. Putting new tires on a car can be about air wrenches or about keeping a family safe. It’s the same task, but one perspective inspires a different level of attention to detail and excellence.
A great mission creates purpose, meaning, passion, and even urgency for a team.