When I speak of success I’m not talking about just the material trappings of success. Too often we attempt to live outside-in rather than inside-out, meaning that we think if we have “things”, and the world sees we have “things” then we’ll be a success.
No, I’m talking about real success. Helping others succeed first and in the process succeeding yourself by fulfilling your purpose. Taking the opportunities presented to pour your gifts and talents into the service of others. Being part of a team that cares about you and you care for them. Together, making progress every day.
That’s real success.
With this in mind, I’d like to share a story. It’s one of my favorites. I had been asked to meet with the executive leader of an 8 person team. Her team was in charge of 100 managers who, in turn, had responsibility for 3,000 team members. The state of her business was not doing well. Compared to her peers, her division was performing at the lowest levels. That was the result. The real challenge was her executive team. There were two factions of 3, one faction of 2 and, two people on the team who “hated” each other. When I say factions, I mean factions. There was fighting all the time. Which meant deadlock. Needless to say, they were nowhere near on the same page and as a result, nothing was getting done and no progress was being made. We finished our discussion with a commitment for me to have a phone conference with each member and follow up with a face to face meeting at their offices.
My flight got in early so I decided to head to the meeting. I was about 90 minutes early so I just waiting patiently in the reception area outside the boardroom. The closed-door did nothing to stop me from hearing what was going on. It wasn’t pretty. The meeting was loud and argumentative with a number of curse words thrown in just to put a point on the exclamation. About 15 minutes before I was to join the meeting, the executive leader came out and asked me how long I had been there. I shared “about an hour and 15 minutes”. “So, you probably heard all that.” Yes, I did. With a look of resignation on her face, she said, “Well, let’s see if there’s anything you can do.” With that, I went in and greeted each person individually.
The tension in the air was thick. This group was that, nothing more than a group. They really didn’t like each other. I knew instantly a more traditional approach wasn’t going to work. This team was broken and to fix it we were going to have to go for broke.
Sitting next to me was Tony. Tony is a big guy. One of the few guys on the planet that physically intimidates me. Tony is at least 6’5” or 6’6” and built big. I started with him.
“Tony, why do you want to be successful?” Tony proceeded to share a very tepid response I don’t even remember. It was something like, “I want to be successful to make a difference in the world and in my community.” Coming from someone else it may have been a decent response (I doubt it) but from Tony it was nothing. It didn’t mean anything. I asked again, this time with a little more force, “Why do you want to be successful?.” When I got to the 6th ask I was screaming at the top of my voice, “TONY, WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL?”
To this day I am so thankful to Tony. He broke. He let down his guard. He got real with me and every one of his teammates. This is what he said:
“I have to be successful because my father said I’d never amount to anything.” At that moment time stood still as “real” came into the room. You could hear a pin drop. Some of us began to tear up at the raw emotion that was on display. Tony had gotten real with all his teammates. It was like a sledgehammer taking down a wall in one mighty swing. The real Tony overcame the person Tony wanted everyone else to see and in that instant laid the foundation for a great team to be built. After the gravity of what happened sunk in, we all let out a sigh of relief. I then addressed the team: “Out of respect for his vulnerability in what Tony has shared, I’d ask each of you to go around the room and share why you want to be successful.”
A New Beginning
In turn, each person, with the exception of one, got as raw and real as Tony did. By the end, there was emotional relief as tears came and all the animosity of the past was replaced with a new appreciation and respect for each person and why they needed to be successful. Their world had totally flipped from each person needing to protect their facades to everybody working together to help each other succeed first. This simple but powerful shift in focus made all the difference in the world.
I won’t go into all the details that made up our journey together but the results were pretty incredible. What started in the boardroom that day cascaded through the rest of the organization. This lead to a number of incredible changes in their business. For example: in just 6 months, this team, top to bottom, went from “worst” to “first” in their company!
Everybody thinks they want to succeed when they really need to succeed. But that success only comes when we start getting real with each other, accepting and respecting who we are, whom we can become and helping each other succeed first.
One More Thing
Finally, in the words of Paul Harvey, here’s the rest of the story. Remember those two folks I mentioned who “hated” each other? We had a quick discussion as we exited together. With love in my heart for both of them, I told them in no uncertain terms that there was no place for “hate” on this team. They didn’t necessarily have to like each other but they most certainly had to have respect for one another. I asked them to commit to meeting before our next time together and “get it all out of their system”. I suggested a quiet corner at a local restaurant where they could stay until it was done. My last remark as we departed, “Don’t leave until it’s all done”.
Upon my return, the three of us gathered before the meeting. With a look of excitement on their faces, they were eager to tell me that they had met. “We met for almost four hours!” At that time, they had gotten it all out of their system. They actually found they were quite similar in how they thought…it was just their social styles, how they communicated, that got in the way. They went on to make a real contribution to their team and led the way in modeling for others.
When last we spoke they had become and still were best friends.