Every year there are giant pumpkin contests where a fierce competition ensues to show who has grown the biggest fruit. Only a few months ago, the new world record was set at 2,032 pounds. My wife enjoys baking pumpkin bread, and I cannot imagine how many loaves that monster pumpkin would help create.
In addition to the seeds, you must have the right soil. Scientists study the soil of the winners, developing hypotheses about everything from the correct pH balance to how much potassium and other minerals are needed.
The luck part is less predictable, but the weather is important. Lots of sun is important, moderate rain and protection from extensive wind or too much heat.
Reading about these gargantuan pumpkins, I thought about achieving results. It’s the special mixture of seed, soil, and weather (luck) that makes it possible to create great things.
THE RIGHT SEED
Like the pumpkins, we need to start with the right seed. If you want to create great results, it starts here. Your ideas, your talents, and your abilities are where it all starts. The right seed is a mixture of discipline and innate talent. Much of our lives is spent investing in our education and skill in order to develop the best seed.
If you feel like you didn’t spend enough time creating the right seed, here is the good news: you can start today. No matter your age or present circumstances, you can begin the journey of personal development today.
Spend the majority of your time developing your own unique gifts.
“The only thing that overcomes hard luck is hard work.” -Harry Golden
Not many of us will face hostile enemy fire in foreign lands. We won’t lead a team to intervene in humanitarian situations, nor will we need to manage a crisis with lives literally on the line. Still, the leadership principles from these experiences are adaptable and applicable to all of us.
Jake Wood served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, earning numerous awards for his distinguished service. He has been named a 2012 CNN Hero. In 2010, he co-founded Team Rubicon, a non-profit organization focused on disaster response. The organization gives military veterans a purpose as they intervene in various humanitarian situations. His new book Take Command: Lessons in Leadership offers a unique perspective on how to lead a team through any situation.
Build a High-Impact Team
How do you build a high-impact team?
I think first you have to understand the critical value of having the right team. Oftentimes people think that process trumps people; or willpower triumphs over interpersonal dynamics. That’s just not the case, so understanding the need to build a high-impact team is the first step.
“Passion trumps talent, but culture is king.” –Jake Wood
I write about five components of building a high-impact team in the book, but I’ll just highlight two. First, we have a saying at Team Rubicon: Passion trumps talent, but culture is king. When we’re looking to add team members, we aren’t looking for resumes laden with accolades. We’re looking for things that demonstrate passion. We try to start that weeding-out process from the get-go by having really quirky job postings. We demand that only the most awesome candidates apply and generally warn about how underpaid and overworked any candidate who is accepted will be. If someone reads that and applies with a resume and cover letter that screams, “Bring it on,” then we’re on the right path. The second part of that saying though is critical: Culture is king. Passionate and talented people abound, but are they right for your team? We’ve had high-output, high-passion people in our organization before who were total cultural misfits. They proved cancerous to the morale of the organization, and we had to eliminate them despite their talent. Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.
“Nothing derails morale faster than a poor culture fit.” –Jake Wood
The second thing I’ll highlight in building high-impact teams is roles. My football coach at the University of Wisconsin, Barry Alvarez, always talked about roles. “Know your role!” he’d scream time and again. What he meant was that starter or backup, star quarterback or water boy, we each had a role. Furthermore, each role was critical to the success of the whole–the team. Some were more high profile, others received more praise, but damn it, if we didn’t have new cleats on our shoes when we went to play in the rain, then nobody was going to succeed. Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization. When people understand and embrace their own role, they tend to take more pride in its execution and are more likely to hold others around them accountable for the execution of theirs. That’s a win-win.
“Effective leaders communicate the importance of roles throughout all levels of the organization.” –Jake Wood
Trust is crucial on the battle field, as a first responder, or in business. How do you cultivate trust?
When I talk about developing trust, whether from my time in the military or in Team Rubicon and the corporate world, I talk about three things: training, transparency and trials. When everyone is trained to a common standard, then people feel like they can operate liberally, knowing that everyone around them is competent in the execution of the functions necessary for mutual success. My time in the sniper teams was a great example of this. When our team needed to call in close air or artillery support from a unit we’d never met, never worked with and often didn’t speak the same language as us, we needed to know that that unit was trained in the same protocols and to the same standard as we were. If that wasn’t the case, we might hesitate to call in a life-saving artillery mission, or worse, we might call it in and have an artillery shell land in our foxhole.
Transparency is critical because it levels the playing field. When people feel that they have access to the same information as their leadership, they feel like they are empowered to come to the same conclusion. Secrets naturally breed mistrust. Naturally, some information within a corporation needs to be held in confidence, but to the extent that information can be shared, why not?
Finally, I often talk about the need for a galvanizing trial or tribulation. The best teams come together in times of duress. Those periods reveal what’s necessary from each member and displays each member’s respective worth. Getting all the chips on the table allows a true assessment of one another, and that’s critical for truly coming together. The Marine Corps attempts this in boot camp with the “Crucible” exercise, but nothing compares to the first time a unit gets in a firefight. Doubts about who is capable of what disappear, and suddenly the team is flooded with unwavering trust for one another.
When an entrepreneur starts a business, a tremendous amount of time, effort and (often) money is spent and great sacrifices are made at the expense of friends and family. That is a fact. It is also a fact that losing (ruining) a business after all that sacrifice can be an extraordinarily painful experience. What most people don’t realize is that they can significantly mitigate the risk of failure by learning from the mistakes of others before the clock starts and the stakes are for real. If you truly study brands, you will see a pattern of common-thread mistakes that most businesses both past and present seem to share in common. The ones who are willing to recognize a mistake and quickly adapt, adjust and modify will survive, the rest disappear.
“Only brands willing to recognize a mistake and adapt, adjust and modify will survive.” -MJ Gottlieb
It’s not that aspiring entrepreneurs don’t want to learn from failure, I think society is simply focused too much on the end result (the success) and is viewing things through rose-colored glasses. Most of the information that I come across focuses on the small percent who are succeeding, as opposed to studying and learning from the vast majority who are not.
Statistics show 90% of start-ups fail and 70-80% of all businesses fail within 10 years. Despite these facts, the market is flooded with how-to books and courses on how to succeed. Here’s my concern with this. Every business is different with its own unique blueprint to success, so there is absolutely no way you can tell someone how to run their business. You can, however, find the key mistakes that most businesses seem to share in common to start to swing the percentages in the other direction and give more hope to the entrepreneur.
Learn From Adversity
How has adversity helped make you who you are?
I think it’s all about one’s perspective on the word. Corny as it may sound, I have come to crave adversity and look at it as yet another great opportunity to grow. The only reason I can see that perspective is because I operated from the other side for a very long time. When I was young, I ran away from everything and accomplished nothing. It wasn’t until I was able to turn around and look adversity in the face that I was able to take the power away from it and use it to my advantage.
I think adversity not only makes you a stronger person but also is the only way to see what you are truly capable of. I think there should always be adversity to some extent, as it will always challenge us to grow. Without adversity there is complacency, which I think is a four-letter word. I always want some goal ahead of me that I have not yet achieved or some stumbling block I have not quite yet moved aside.
“It is just as important to know where you are as it is to know where you want to be.” -MJ Gottlieb
For example, basketball was my salvation, and I played every day until I couldn’t play anymore and had to get my hip replaced. I still do two hours of physical therapy every night because I not only want to get back on the basketball court but also want to dunk again. The doctor says that is most likely not going to happen. I say it most likely will. While he is showing me the adversity, I choose to take it as a challenge and an opportunity.
Take me to the dark days after your first business failed. What were you thinking?
Attending a conference recently, I had the opportunity to see leadership in action. We were sitting in a small, windowless room after a long day of listening to speeches. I was asked to attend this meeting mostly as an observer. The first person to talk immediately began explaining a problem. It wasn’t a few minutes into her explanation when heads were nodding. Apparently, the problem had been discussed time and time again.
But no one did anything about it.
Finally, a woman stood up and said, “I was at the last meeting and we are no farther to a solution now than we were then. We have to do something. Here’s what we are going to do…”
What she proposed was bold and somewhat controversial, but the atmosphere changed instantaneously.
Why? Someone decided to lead. Objections were raised, but she was determined. You could hear the determination in her voice. Her eyes were intense as she proceeded to outline the plan. She was prepared, ready.
She had the guts to lead. She was demonstrating, as you will see, M.O.X.I.E. Moxie is a leadership formula, a set of characteristics, that distinguish leaders from others. It makes a leader, like that gutsy woman, start to make things happen.
Lead With MOXIE
My friend John Baldoni is a leadership expert who has recently written about moxie in his latest book, MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gusty Leadership. You may recognize him as the author of numerous books such as Lead With Purpose, Lead Your Boss, How Great Leaders Get Great Results and Lead By Example.He has also authored thousands of articles in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal, Inc.com, Fast Company, Forbes, to Harvard Business Review. I recently caught up with John to talk about his latest book.
“Moxie is the guts and determination leaders apply to achieve their goals.” -John Baldoni
Moxie in its purest form is the guts and gumption and determination leaders apply to achieve their goals. Implied in that definition is the ability to meet and overcome adversity. Few leaders achieve much without facing up to hardship. Resilience is inherent to moxie. There is no shame in getting knocked down; it’s what you do next that matters.
MOXIE BY JOHN BALDONI
And please know I borrowed the word from the movies. Think of characters who overcome the odds. We say they have “moxie.”
M.O.X.I.E. is an acronym that really is a blueprint for effective leadership. Let’s briefly touch on each letter:
Mindfulness. How does a leader become more mindful about her self and her team?
Practice Self and Situation Awareness
Mindfulness, as I define it, is a combination of self-awareness as well as situation awareness. You develop self-awareness through practice of self-reflection. You strengthen it by asking for feedback from trusted colleagues. Situation awareness comes from knowing the score, that is, what’s happening and what’s not happening. Leaders need to know how their team and organization is doing and they gain that perspective by asking questions, observing, listening, and evaluating what they learn.
See Opportunity All Around You
Opportunity. Opportunistic leaders look for ways to improve everything. Is this a mindset that can be taught? How do you coach someone to be more opportunistic?
Leaders are those who see opportunity where others see obstacles. Leaders view challenges as occasions to address problems and find solutions. True enough some of us are more disposed to opportunity than others, but it can be learned by watching how leaders navigate challenges and turn them into opportunities.
“Leaders see opportunity where others see obstacles.” -John Baldoni
History is shaped by such mindsets. As I write in MOXIE, Nelson Mandela viewed South Africa’s hosting of the 1995 Rugby World Cup tournament as an opportunity to bring both white and black together as a unified people, at least for a sporting event Mandela developed such an opportunistic attitude during his long years in prison where he did all that he could to understand his captors, even learning their language Afrikaans. As South Africa’s first black president he led by example. He did not cave into bitterness; he exemplified reconciliation which was institutionalized and put into practice through the nation.
Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” – Truman Capote