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The Power of Team – Better Together

The concepts of workplace flexibility, remote work, and virtual learning have significantly taken off in the last couple of years. Advancements in technology and a willingness from senior leaders to consider new concepts of how to accomplish work and provide educational opportunities have opened the doors to vast expansion in these areas. While the pandemic lockdowns necessitated some of these measures, the concepts appear to be very appealing to many for a variety of reasons. Workplace flexibility, remote work options, and virtual learning opportunities can be a great asset and alternative for many organizations, but we do need to be aware of the downside of going too far too often with these concepts.

There is great value in teamwork and being present with one another. A team is a group of people coming together to pursue a common purpose, achieve a common goal, or serve a common need. Teams bring out the best in individuals and help everyone achieve more. There is a multiplying impact of people working together. When teams are led well, team members are encouraged, challenged, supported, cared for, and motivated. Teams also hold one another accountable, offset strengths and weaknesses, and promote development. For teams to have the most impact, members need to be together and present with one another on a regular basis. Teams are strengthened when relationships are formed and developed.

When leaders lead well, the statement “Better Together” is so true and so powerful. Special things happen when people come together, form relationships, and bond over the common themes noted above. The key for any leader is to ensure people come together and pursue those common focus items. When that occurs, true teams are formed. Far too often today, we use the term “team” very loosely. A group of people wearing the same uniform or having the same company name on their pay stub does not make them a team. Teams are formed based on actions and relationships. Real teams are powerful, impactful, and are what people want to be a part of. The desire to work remotely by so many tells us a lot about our former workplaces.

People also develop more effectively when they are able to interact regularly with others. People learn when they can interact with one another, share ideas, ask questions, and experience different views firsthand. While there are benefits to workplace flexibility, remote work, and virtual learning, there are also benefits of being together in team.

After thirty plus years of working in the paper and packaging industry, I can attest to the value of being together! During the pandemic, we were an essential industry and had to find ways to operate safely together. Manufacturing work is not done remotely or in isolation. Our facility leaders did an outstanding job of maneuvering through those challenges. They provided great leadership to our teams in taking care of our people, staying focused on the mission, and meeting the challenges. Those teams are stronger today because of what they worked through together!

Hey, there is a place for workplace flexibility, remote work, and virtual learning. I just encourage leaders of all organizations to be careful going too far too often with these concepts and losing sight of the value to team. The military and many athletic teams are great examples of the power of working together. Leaders create a culture of teamwork and develop teams in the process. Team can be powerful! When leaders lead well, we are “Better Together”.

The Leadership Dilemma

Mid-level managers and frontline supervisors continue to face quite a challenge as senior leaders and owners become further removed from the day to day operations and challenges on the frontlines. Regardless of the industry segment, staffing shortages, supply chain challenges, transportation issues, rising costs, and a whole host of other problems are making it more and more difficult for mid-level managers and frontline supervisors to deliver target results. Senior leaders and owners, while aware of these issues at varying levels. are facing uncertainty in the economy, volatility in the market, and are likely ramping up the pressure to deliver targeted results. The mid-level managers and frontline supervisors are caught in the middle of real pressure from above for results and real pressure from the frontline to take care of their teams, create desirable workplaces, battle all of the obstacles in front of them, and still deliver results.

These mid-level managers and frontline supervisors face this ongoing dilemma on a regular basis. Regardless of time in the job and experience level, the dilemma can be tough and wear down even the strongest of leaders if not handled well. The dilemma is nothing new and is quite understandable on all accounts. Results are important, but so are the people that drive the results. Problems and obstacles are present at every level, and the associated pressures can be passed down or self-imposed. Regardless, mid-level managers and frontline supervisors are facing an increasing challenge today with this dilemma. I would like to suggest the following approach for the entire organization to consider as a means to address this dilemma and ease the strain on the mid-level managers and frontline supervisors.

  1. Purpose: The owners, senior leaders, mid-level managers, and front line supervisors need to identify purpose in their organization beyond just results. Results are absolutely important, but they are not purpose. Purpose is “who” not “what”. Results are the “what” that we need/want to achieve. Purpose is focused on “who” we are going to impact. The “who” can be employees in the organization, customers using our product or service, or people in the community we serve. The “who” can be any focus group of people and provides a real foundation for why we are organized together. Hopefully, the organization exists for something beyond just making money. This purpose provides a basis, a focus, and a motivation for existing in the most difficult of times. The purpose will take precedent over results and provide direction in times of uncertainty. Purpose can be the guiding light and calm things down in uncertain times.
  2. Perspective: Leaders at all levels need to have a proper view and understanding of their organization. Far too often, owners and senior leaders get so short-term focused that they lose perspective of the damage done on the frontlines of short-term decision making. Organizations are not in the business of making short-term profits, but rather should want long-term relevancy in the market and the segments served. Leaders with perspective can navigate through short-term challenges with long-term thinking in mind. Leaders with perspective can make daily decisions with a focus on long-term relevancy as the basis for their strategy. Leaders with perspective aren’t thrown off course by a bump in the road, but stay focused on purpose and strategies that will serve them for the long-term!
  3. Plan: Leaders at all levels need to plan well and have solid strategies that allow for flexibility as variables change in the market and in the workplace. Leaders should continually be asking “Are we doing right things” (strategy) and “Are we doing things right (execution). Strategies that can’t be executed at a high level are a poor plan regardless of how they look on paper. Be honest with your view on execution. If you can’t get there consistently, change the strategy! A well conceived strategy at the senior level will have honest execution buy-in at the mid-level manager level. Strategy and execution have to go hand-in-hand for optimum results. If an organization wants to reduce unnecessary pressure and strain on the entire team, do the planning phase well and balance strategy discussion with execution evaluation.
  4. Poise: A leadership team at all levels that can remain composed and calm regardless of the situation is a strength for any organization. The ability of leaders to remain poised in the midst of challenging times provides confidence, self-assurance, and stability to the workforce, the customer base, and the market. Leaders that are poised make better decisions. Leaders that can avoid unhealthy emotional responses and maintain composure will be more effective leading both short-term and long-term. Poise is an attribute that can make a solid leader a great leader. Poise in the leadership team in challenging times can make an organization a great team, and one this is desirable for people to be a part of long-term.
  5. Persistence: At some point, every organization or team will be challenged. Leaders that have a strong commitment to purpose will work through the most challenging of times together. The leadership team that can press on together and just embrace the grind at times together can form a very solid foundation for the organization. Times are tough in many respects. These tough times require tough leaders to navigate through these times without placing excessive burdens on the workforce. Perseverance and persistence are key attributes for any leader in the organization and are a great example to the workforce.

The key is for senior leaders and owners to recognize the dilemma and consider working with the mid-level managers and front line supervisors on the above progression of management / leadership considerations. We can create great workplaces that deliver results over time if we are willing to communicate and care about one another. There will be tough times, market volatility, economic pressures, and the need to just grind through some days. However, if we approach leadership with the progression of concepts noted above, these tough times will solidify our teams and strengthen our impact. We can create great workplaces that people want to be a part of and reduce this strain on mid-level managers and frontline supervisors!

A Memorial Day to Remember

For so many of us, Memorial Day is thought of as a long weekend, a day at the lake, or another reason to cookout with friends and family.  All those things are fine, but Memorial Day is really a day of remembrance.  Memorial Day is a day set aside to remember those who gave their life for our freedom. In consideration of that remembrance, this year I made the decision to take the Murph challenge.  The Murph challenge is essentially a very demanding workout done in memory of Lt. Michael Murphy.  Murphy was killed in combat while serving in Afghanistan. 

The Murph was the toughest physical challenge that I have ever taken.  While I made it through to completion, I was reminded of two very key things during the workout that we should all remember.

One, goals and determination will only take you so far.  I was very determined, had trained hard, and had set some very challenging goals for myself.  However, when your body is so tired and you hurt all over, the importance of achieving those goals can easily be compromised if you don’t have a clearly defined purpose that really drives you.  I had a twofold purpose that day that was more important than any goal that I had set.  My daughter was there with me counting reps and sets on the various workouts.  I wanted her to see me give it everything I had and never quit as an example for her.  I also wanted to push myself beyond limits as a thank you gesture to those fallen soldiers that gave their life for our freedom.  There was no way I was going to let either of those purposes down.

Secondly, the power of team was so evident that morning.  One of the local CrossFit gyms allowed me to join them for the challenge.  While I wasn’t a member of their team and didn’t know any of them prior to the event, the engagement, energy, and encouragement at that gym was off the charts and impacted me as well.   Those team members brought out the best in each other. 

It was a great day of remembrance and reminding.  The remembrance of those that gave so much, and a reminder of the power of purpose and teamwork made that day awesome.  We should all be reminded of the power of purpose in our lives, and the power of a team working together for a common goal.  A clearly defined purpose based on people and a team pulling together to achieve that common purpose sounds like the recipe for success. 

Whether you are striving to improve the safety in your manufacturing facility, the engagement level of your students in an academic arena, the commitment to offseason training for your athletic team, or the community impact of your organization, a clearly defined purpose based on “who” and a true team approach will position you well for long-term success.

Those two things working together can change our life, our business, our community, and our nation.

We Need Bridges Not Walls

I think everyone would agree that there is a great deal of division in our country today.  This division is apparent on a national, state, and even local level.  It seems that many people are embracing a far right or far left view of things.  Political party affiliation seems to dictate how elected officials vote in many cases.  People are shaping their lives and identities around their conservative or progressive positions and apparently are expected to choose a side representing one extreme or the other.  Once these sides are determined, communication becomes hostile, listening to the other side is no longer valued, and walls are built.  These walls of division limit the opportunity for discussion, reasoning, listening, and compromise.

We have seen periods of division and lack of unity before, but with the current social media outlets, and the apparent power of the national media, the impact of this division can lead to a very real threat to the sovereignty of our nation.  History tells us that internal division not handled well can be more damaging than an external threat.  Many of our “external threats” are actively sowing seeds of division in our nation for this very purpose.  Why would these external threats go to the trouble of military or economic aggression when they can subtly sow seeds of division for us to crumble within?

We need to be in the business of bridge building not wall building today with respect to our personal interactions with others.  People have the right to their views on issues and should always hold firm to their convictions, but we also need everyone to accept the fact that others may have different views.  People come from different backgrounds with different experiences and will often see things differently.  When we can disagree on a matter but still show respect for the other person, we build that bridge.  When we have a different view on an issue but are willing to listen to someone with an opposing view, we build that bridge.  When we are willing to seek to understand where another is coming from on an issue, we can better understand their motivation, and we build a bridge.

We need leaders at the national, state, and local levels to return to being statesmen/stateswomen and not purely political party representatives.  We need leaders to set the tone for the rest of the nation and seek to serve and do what’s best for the nation rather than positioning for power.  We need humble men and women willing to listen to one another, to engage in hard conversations, and to make decisions in the best interest of those they are leading.  We need to start building bridges of communication and stop constructing walls of division. 

Don’t forgo your rights to your thoughts, opinions, and views on issues, but respect others, listen to others, and accept the fact that we will have differences at times.  Diversity in thoughts and ideas can either make us better or destroy us.  It will all come down to how we treat one another.  It’s not always about proving we are right or winning a debate.   Why not build some bridges today, and let’s seek what’s best for everyone involved? 

Goals Get You Nowhere

Now before you start looking for ways to respond and tell me how wrong I am for that title, let me explain.  Goals and objectives have a place in everyone’s life.  They are an important factor in the business world, for athletic teams, for non-profit service organizations, and in personal development and growth.  The use and focus of goals are where the problem lies for many of us. 

First, goals in and of themselves don’t accomplish anything.  Daily habits, committed effort, and focused actions drive long-term results.  While goals may provide direction and temporary motivation, long-term achievement is driven by consistent behavior not a goal statement.  Repetitive actions develop habits which lead to a lifestyle and ultimately an identity.  In the midst of that process, we set goals as evaluation points to monitor our progress.  These evaluation points indicate whether we need to make adjustments or not.

Secondly, I would encourage everyone to start with purpose before setting goals.  Purpose allows us to think long-term and broader in our view of what we are looking to accomplish.  Here again, goals can be used as mile markers along the way to gauge our progress and identify when adjustments are needed.  Goals support the purpose, not the reversal.

For example, several years ago I decided that I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle.  I changed my eating habits and started an early morning workout routine every day.  I set goals within that workout routine from time to time to monitor progress. I even monitor my run times at different mile markers to check my pace and make adjustment where needed.  The goals though are just evaluation points and not the ultimate purpose.

Goals are often finite and have an ending.  Purpose should not end. Purpose continues even when goals are not met.  Purpose continues when the run time is not what you wanted, the scales don’t provide the number you want, or the scoreboard proclaims another the winner.  While goals can be motivating to some, they can demotivate others if used improperly. 

Start with purpose to frame an identity.  Develop a lifestyle to shape that identity.  Commit to habits to lead to that lifestyle.   Take regular actions to develop those habits.  Set some goals along the way that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely (SMART), but keep in mind, these are mile markers only.  Those regular actions are more important than achieving a temporary goal.  Those actions, habits, lifestyle, and identity lead to sustainable results and a purposeful life.

The progression above is relevant for individuals, organizations, teams, and governments.  We should all be known for our purpose(s).  What’s your purpose?  What’s your organization’s purpose?  What’s your team’s purpose?  Give it some thought and go live a purposeful life!

A Different View of Chemistry

I recall struggling with chemistry during my junior year in high school.  While I made it through the classroom part with sheer hard work and commitment, the lab portion was a different story.  After blowing up a few glass beakers in one lab session, I was banished back to the classroom to focus on homework.  Well, I survived that class and got that one behind me.  I was able to avoid chemistry in college and never had to face that lab challenge again.  La Tech probably saved some money on beakers!

Over the last thirty plus years, I have provided leadership in business, coached teams, and led various other organizations.   Based on those experiences, I can attest to a different form of chemistry being important.  This chemistry is the composition of a team and the relationships among those team members.  A good team chemistry has team members that are aligned in purpose, work effectively together, support one another, off-set weaknesses, enhance strengths, and achieve synergies together. 

I have found that fit is more important than the format of the resume when adding new team members.  The value to the team is more important than the magnitude of the talent.  The quality of the individual is more important than the qualifications of the applicant.  As Aristotle so famously stated, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”

There is nothing wrong with talent or a group of talented people, but I will take team chemistry over a group of talented individuals that don’t work well together.  I have experienced both scenarios and will take loyalty, commitment, and teamwork over raw talent when given the option.  I encourage anyone leading any organization, group, or team to consider this aspect in the staffing, development, and culture building aspect of their leadership.

The initial key to this type of focus is to accurately assess the team concept.  Far too many organizations use the term team flippantly and are really nothing more than just a group of individuals getting paid by the same company.  There is no real team culture or team chemistry.  A team is a special group of people that are more interested in team success than personal achievement. 

Take some time and assess your organization with respect to the concept of team.  Consider the value of team and fit for your organization as you make progress through the rest of the year.  The statement that Together Everyone Achieves More for team is so true.  The value of teamwork is just as important in organizations as in athletics.  Chemistry is a powerful thing whether you are blowing up beakers or building teams!

For more information on leadership support, go to dougstrickel.com or contact me at doug.strickel@gmail.com.

If you are wanting to develop leaders in your organization, let me refer you to Leadership Basics for Success. This short book contains 15 minute practical leadership lessons you can use with your team to build and enhance their leadership capability. Just go to Blurb.com for access to this book.

I’m here to help you be a leader worthy of following.

Lessons from the Diamond

Lessons from the Diamond

Growing up back in the 1970’s and 80’s, I played the about every sport offered at some point and learned a great deal from each one.  Looking back, I think those learnings from the athletic fields and courts were as valuable to me as the classroom education.  I make that comment not to lower the value of that classroom education, but rather to elevate the importance of what can be learned in athletic competition.

While all those sports played had a role in my development, baseball is probably the most representative of real life.  Baseball exemplifies life in so many ways.

In life:

  • We are going to fail at times (strike out) and that can be very disappointing.
  • We are going to find success at times (a base hit) and that can be so good,
  • We are going to make mistakes (errors), but we must learn from it, put it behind us and get ready for the next challenge.
  • We may do some really impressive things (great catch in the field), and we need to celebrate and cherish those experiences.
  • We are going to experience others letting us down (left on base without scoring), but we have to understand, forgive, and/or just move forward.
  • We are sometimes just going to have bad days (give up three homeruns in one inning – Yes, I did that), but there will be better days too.
  • Things aren’t always fair (bad call by umpire), but life must go on.
  • We are going to see others have success at times while we struggle (hitting line drives right at people and no matter how hard we try we can’t get on base), but life goes on.
  • We are going to see others that we are close to struggle (teammate in a slump), and we do all we can to encourage and help them.

Through all those failures, successes, mistakes, letdowns, bad days, great days, unfair situations, and struggles, the key is to just keep playing the game.  In baseball, one team wins, and one team loses based on the results on the scoreboard.  The only “loser” in life is the one that quits competing, quits playing the game, or quits trying.  Failure is not losing.  If we aren’t failing at times, we are likely not challenging ourselves enough! Those that play it safe will never reach their potential.

Whatever season of life you are going through right now, consider what getting back in the game means to you. Sometimes getting back in the game starts with just being a good teammate toward others.  Maybe it’s a big step forward in faith out of your comfort zone.  It could just be battling through a tough time with the support of a few close teammates. 

Just like baseball, life can be hard, unfair, and disappointing.  It can also be fun, impactful, and rewarding.  The key is to just keep playing the game!

Doug Strickel – dougstrickel.com

Leaders Make a Difference

At 57 years old, I recently competed in my first ten mile trail run competition. This race was the typical trail run with steep hills, water hazards, and constant terrain challenges. I had set a few goals at the beginning of the race, and those were to finish in under two hours and never get passed going up a hill. With all that said, my biggest concern during the race was just staying on the right course. While the course was marked, it was my first time on this trail, and it was easy to get off the path.

With those goals in mind, I quickly discovered that I needed to get behind someone that both knew the course and was running the pace I needed to be successful. After a few missed attempts in following different groups, I found the right couple. They had run the course many times and were running at a pace that would ensure we finished well under two hours.

This race represented so many aspects of life and leadership. My first attempt to run with another group led me to a group that knew the course very well, but they were going way too slow to achieve success. My second attempt led me to a small group that was running a solid pace, but they didn’t know the course very well either and got off the path a few times costing us valuable seconds. The third attempt, a few miles into the race, was the right choice and made a huge difference in that competition for me.

A leader that knows where they are going makes such a difference in the lives of other people by showing the path, promoting success driven actions, and encouraging others during tough challenges. On that trail, the couple leading the path couldn’t make the trail any shorter for me. They couldn’t make the hills any less steep nor the terrain any easier to manage. The race was still going to be a really hard challenge. They could; however, ensure that we stayed on the right path at the right pace. It was also great to hear the guy leading us offer encouragement to his wife every few minutes. I soaked up those encouraging words too.

Life and leadership are similar in that we can’t always eliminate the obstacles or make life easier, but we can provide direction, ensure we stay focused on doing the right things, and offer encouragement along the way. Leaders make a difference in the lives of other people every day by doing those basic things. Just like the race, life can be a real challenge at times. We need leaders to help others through those challenging times. While I will be more familiar with that trail on the next race and lead others, we all need to be making a difference today. Leaders have the opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone else every day. How are you going to make that difference today?

Leadership can be tough as well. If I can help you or your team be more effective in leading your people, please let me know. Ultimately, I want to help you be a leader worthy of following! dougstrickel.com

If you are looking for a simple way to invest 15 minutes a week in developing your leadership team, take a look at Leadership Basics for Success on Blurb.com. I wrote this short, 20 lesson book, several years ago to use with supervisor teams. It is geared to developing others in very short weekly time frames using very relevant topics for leaders in all industries.

Leadership Development

If you are interested in developing leaders under your direction, take a look at Leadership Basics for Success. I wrote this book several years ago and used it as the primary means to develop supervisors and managers. It contains 20 short leadership topics to facilitate a development session with your team.

You can find this book on Blurb.com. Just search for the title or Strickel.

Leaders Know When to Make Adjustments

While I completely agree that a key attribute of a good leader is perseverance, I would also say that a leader also needs to know when to make adjustments. As leaders, we need to persevere through challenging times based on those core convictions and purpose that we have predetermined to be our unchanging values that we will never compromise. We maintain these guiding principles regardless of the situation and display whatever toughness is needed to navigate through the challenging times. Leaders with a solid foundation and clearly defined purpose are best equipped to successfully guide their followers in such times.

However, it is equally as important for leaders to know when to make changes in the tactical approach during such times as well. While neither the purpose nor the core convictions change, we may need to make adjustments to our strategy or detail plans to achieve our desired results. The key for any leader is to recognize not only what changes to make, but when to make these changes. One of a leader’s greatest challenges is to make the right adjustment at the right time while not compromising our convictions or purpose,

I learned this lesson playing high school baseball. I was a very good high school fastball hitter. I rarely swung and missed at a fastball regardless of how hard the pitcher was throwing. However, I was not a very good curveball hitter. I rarely got a hit on a curveball. Knowing this fact, I played to my strengths all three years of high school and summer ball. I got in the back of the batter’s box and hit the first fastball that was near the plate. My goal was not to see many curveballs. For the most part that worked well since the next three guys batting behind me in the lineup would all eventually get drafted to play pro baseball. No one wanted to walk me; therefore lots of fastballs!

That approach worked fine until the state semi-final game of my junior year. We were facing a pitcher that threw pretty hard and had a great curveball. It was late in the game, we were down by one run, and I came to bat with a runner on third and one out. The pitcher started me off with two outstanding curveballs, and I wasn’t even close to hitting either one. The game was on the line, and I had to do something different. There was no doubt that I was committed and wanted to succeed as much as anyone, but there was still a challenge to overcome. I moved as far up in the box as I could get, moved closer to the plate, and choked up a little more on the bat. I would try to hit that curve before it broke. I made sure the catcher noticed my change in approach thinking he may notice and go fastball on the next pitch. He did just that and I got enough of that pitch to get a hit between short and third. Not a great hit by any means, but enough to get the run in and tie the game.

While it’s a great attribute to be super committed and persevere, there are times that we need to make adjustments. We have to refocus on our strengths and offset our weaknesses. There are times that we need to change our approach given the circumstances and variables in play at any given time. If we aren’t getting the results we desire, evaluate both strategy and execution. Is our strategy (doing right things) sound in that it will lead to success if executed well? Furthermore, are we equipped to execute it well? A great strategy that can’t be executed well leads to failure. Are we executing (doing things right) at our level of capability? If we are not, why not?

Don’t be too proud to ask for help. Too many leaders take too much pride in the position and don’t get help when they are in trouble. The leader doesn’t have to provide all the answers, but the leader does need to be relentless in getting those answers from all available resources. The leader doesn’t always have to provide the best idea or solution, but the leader does need to engage as many people as possible until the best ideas and solutions are developed.

A solid leader is close enough to the situation to recognize when changes are needed. We need to be sensitive to the follower’s abilities and needs, as well as the circumstances surrounding the team. The leader needs to maintain those core values and purpose, but make adjustments as needed. Leaders should play to the team’s strengths, compensate for those weaknesses, get help when needed, and be a leader worthy of following.

By the way, we ended up winning that game. One of those future pros got a hit right after me, and I scored. I don’t think he had to make any adjustments! He never gets to bat if I don’t swallow some pride and punch out a hit though. Where do you need to choke up and lead your team more effectively today?