Row, Row, Row Your Boat

0704_1936-olympicsLeveraging Your Team for Greater Impact

I’m a sucker for historical biographies. The one that’s got me hooked right now is a book called “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown. It tells the inspiring story of nine students from the University of Washington who shocked the world by winning Olympic Gold for the U.S. against the mighty German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. The Olympics were remembered most because of the runner Jesse Owens winning 4 gold medals, and in doing so, helping crush the Hitler myth of Aryan supremacy. But what was missed in history was the colossal upset of these nine lower middle class young men who had only been rowing together a few short months. The book emphasized the importance of “synchronization”, even over talent and experience. In a short amount of time these young men learned how to work together to accomplish the impossible. They learned the power of LEVERAGING TEAMWORK!

Our greatest impact comes when we learn how to “row in sync” with the people in our organization. When your team is giving maximum effort, connected by a common cause, “winning gold” will be the result! That will happen when the common cause MATTERS deeply to them. And this cannot be accomplished without the help of equipment, like a kayak gps, without which, the whole team would go haphazard.

Does your vision MATTER as deeply to the people you lead as it does to you? Would they “storm hell with a water pistol” because they care that deeply for the vision? When it MATTERS and when you can LEVERAGE that into TEAMWORK, you are going to strike “gold”!

As leaders, how do we help ensure that it MATTERS to the people we lead? May I suggest 3 “Matters” that Matter for Team Leverage

1. IT matters
Every organization has an “It”. It’s that one thing that fuels everything your organization does. It’s the reason you get up in the morning, it’s the thing you stay up at night dreaming about, it’s the reason you all are a team in the first place. The ’36 U.S. rowing team knew clearly what their “it” was… win the gold medal! How clear is your “it”? How often do you bring your team back to “it”? Could everyone on your team define and explain “it”? How creatively do you weave “it” into your team, week in and week out. “It” makes all the sacrifices worth “it”! “It” is the VISION worth living and dying for!

2. I matter
Even though there’s “no I in team”, a person needs to know they matter and play a pivotal role in the “it” of your organization. Tenaciously communicate care, affirm their accomplishments, and make sure they are in their “sweet spot”. One of the most important roles we can play as leaders, is to help people find their greatest strength and help them leverage it for the organization. Mark Miller in his book “Chess Not Checkers: Elevate Your Leadership Game” says…

“When people are given the opportunity to do what they do best, you engage much more than their hands. When you allow people to contribute their unique gifts and ask them to work from a place of personal strength, you do much more than get work done- you honor them and their contribution.”

3. WE matter
This speaks of the  power of TEAMWORK. A big piece of this include the other 2 “Matters”. When your team gets and believes in “it” and clearly know their role and importance, you’re on your way to “gold”. But building teamwork is a continuous process. Again, Mark Miller has some great words for us in this regard (he uses the word “alignment” for teamwork)…

“…don’t assume alignment is something you can fix and walk away; it will be an ongoing challenge. Think of your organization as a car driving at high speeds down a bumpy, dirt road. The car will constantly be knocked out of alignment. Part of your never-ending role is to keep the organization aligned on what matters most. When your organization gets out of alignment, you lose energy, focus, momentum, and results.”

Partly inspired by “The Boys in the Boat”, I’m taking our leadership team kayaking/canoeing in a couple of weeks (who knows, maybe we have some gold medal winners). And as much as I like kayaking… kayaking isn’t the point. What is? Communicating that IT Matters, I Matter, & WE Matter! It’s not the cure to the challenges of leveraging teamwork but… it’s a step (or should I say, a “row”)!

What could you do this week to help your team “row in sync” toward organizational “gold”?

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