Does your team have heart?

As human beings, we need a heart and a brain in order to live. We need most of our other organs too, but our heart and brain seem to represent the two main engines that fuel and shape our survival and health. You could view these as the ‘Yin and Yang’ of our well-being.

We could continue to exist without a heart or a brain but it wouldn’t be much of a life.

Well, it is the same when it comes to the well-being of any team or organization. In order to be vibrant, strong and healthy a team must have a heart and a brain.


The heart of the team is reflected in people’s passion, commitment and sense of ownership toward the game and the future. You develop the heart by aligning team members around a compelling purpose and inspiring vision and/or strategic objectives that they can identify with, rally around and work together toward.

When the heart of the team is in great shape people are energized, they feel that they ‘are in it together’, they trust each other and the company, and they collaborate and go the extra mile to execute on their shared goals.

When people lose touch with their higher purpose; with why they love to come to work; why they work so hard and why they are willing to put up with corporate obstacles and challenges, you could say the heart of the team is broken or unhealthy. In fact, we often describe a team without spirit as ‘a team that has no heart‘.


The brain of the team is reflected in the strategies, processes and execution plans of the team. You develop the brain by establishing clear and effective processes, metrics, ground rules and tracking mechanisms to ensure the team is, in fact, hitting its targeted milestones and results.

The heart is all about the spirit and motivation of the team, while the brain is all about team effectiveness and efficiency. The brain wants to know “What do we need to do, by when and who will do it?” The heart wants to know “Why are we doing this… for what reason and purpose?

In our human body if our heart or brain is unwell, or if there is a lack of balance between these two key engines, it will have a negative effect on our ability to function, our livelihood and our productivity. It is the same with any team or organization.

In addition, if the brain wants to push us to a higher performance and results it better make sure that the heart is healthy enough to sustain it. Athletes are very clear about that. They know that the more they want to push their performance the more they have to make sure their heart can endure and support their goals. It is the same with any team or organization.

Any organization or team is always a reflection of its leaders. The leaders determine and shape the culture and mindset of their organization. If the leaders bring heart to the game the team will have a lot of spirit and heart. I refer to this leadership style as: “Leadership informed by some accounting.”

However, some leaders only bring a cold analytical number-driven perspective to their leadership. Their leadership approach is one of “Accounting informed by some leadership”.

Unfortunately, I see teams that have no heart all the time. All their leaders care about is hitting the bottom line at any and all cost. They are quick to cut expenses, fire people and take harsh measures in order to make their financial results look good in the short term while weakening and deteriorating the long term.

This approach is very common with Venture Capitalists who purchase sub-optimal organizations only to slash costs and take advantage of people’s sense of survival and loyalty in order to gain quick returns, without regard for longevity or long-term health.

But, I see it also in regular companies who bring in professional CEOs with no long-term commitment or regard, only a short-term focus to turn performance around, show higher numbers and leave with a big payout.

I also see organizations and teams that have a lot of heart. Their leaders genuinely care about building a strong business and brand that will transcend their tenure. Leaders who bring heart to the game care about people. They truly understand and believe that their people are their most important asset, so they go out of their way to invest in inspiring, motivating and developing their teams.

Leaders who only care about the bottom line see their people and resources as merely the means to their personal agenda and end. Their legacy is to make sure their personal brand and resume are stronger and they are richer than they were when they arrived, even at the expense of a poorer organization.

Leaders who care about the longevity and well-being of their organization see themselves as responsible for, and the means to the success of their people. Their legacy is to leave the organization with a stronger brand, capability and prosperity than the one they inherited when they took the helm.

If you want your team to be at its most healthy and prepared to deal with the challenges and opportunities of the present, as well as those of the future, make sure you manage the balance between the heart and brain of your team; build strong practices and rituals that focus your people on both critical aspects of organizational well-being.

In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang describe how seemingly opposite or contrary forces that are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent give rise to each other and form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

You can’t and don’t need to do it all yourself. You have team members around you who are naturally more oriented around (and skilled at) the aspects of the heart to balance the brain of the team. You need to bring all sides together to create the best harmony and balance for your team.

Why is excellence so hard to come by?

How many times have you been blown away by the supreme excellence of an interaction or service experience, in the last week or month?

OK, if blown away is too high of a bar, how about being impressed by an interaction or service or feeling that it was truly beyond your expectations?

I think that if you were honest, you would probably admit that these unforgettable experiences of excellence are far apart.

It’s not that they don’t exist. They do! But they are rare. For the most part, we have lowered our expectations and standards to accept mediocracy in most interactions and services.

If you go online and read the mission statement or values of most known businesses most include the word excellence or reference it. As an example: American Airlines pledges to provide its customer with “The highest quality air travel, including in warmth and friendliness…” Walmart wants to be “The best retailer in the hearts and minds of consumers and employees…” Hilton hotels have a particularly cool set of values based on the letters of its brand name, with a lot of pledged excellence included. In most businesses the vision, mission and values are plastered on the walls of their reception or in their office corridors.

But, how many times have you gone into a store or checked in at a hotel or arrived at your preferred airline counter only to receive an unwelcoming, impatient or even rude attitude from the service representative? How many times have you been served in a restaurant by a sloppy or inattentive server? The list goes on, and this is the norm in most teams and organizations, many of which are extremely successful in their field.

Teams often tell me that they want to go from good to great. It’s a catchy slogan, however, in most teams I coach, interact with or receive service from ‘good seems to be good enough‘.

People don’t return phone calls, they don’t do what they say or take responsibility. Excuses are tolerated everywhere and going the extra mile to get the job done, no matter what, is a rare occurrence.

Most leaders are either not committed to excellence or they are too comfortable, lazy or resigned to care. In many cases leaders simply don’t have the courage and resolve to generate a culture of excellence in their teams, beyond the slogans.

However, when we encounter these experiences of excellence that blow us away they are exhilarating. These moments disrupt our cynicism for a moment and remind us of just how great things could, and perhaps should, be.

When you think of excellence certain brands come to mind. Apple is probably still at the top of the list. The late Steve Job instilled in Apple a culture of insanely great products. He obsessed over every detail and infected his teams with the same meticulous and proud attitude. Still today, even after many other companies have followed suit, Apple is cited everywhere as the benchmark for excellence.

While NASA didn’t come up with the concept of Total Quality Management and Zero Defects, it was associated with it for many years. I guess when it comes to sending people to space no one would expect or accept a lesser standard. So, why can’t we feel the same about the other important parts of our life?

Some airlines simply have poor service. Others are inconsistent. Air Canada is my preferred airline and it has come a long way in improving its excellence. However, when you fly with the likes of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, while they are not perfect, they are still in a league of their own when it comes to excellence.

When it comes to hotels there are the commonly recognized brands that are associated with excellence like The Four Seasons and The Ritz Carlton. I tend to stay at the Hilton chain, which doesn’t have a great reputation for excellence. Some Hilton locations definitely contribute to that bad rep. However, a few Hilton locations have impressed me with their consistent excellent attitude and service. In all these exceptional locations the defining factor is always the hotel leader. A committed leader can drive the mindset of excellence in his or her team. If they are not doing that, they are likely perpetuating the negligence and mediocracy.

Several years ago I supported a new leader who inherited a struggling US sales team in a known technology company. The leader boosted revenue 10-fold over four years to $1.7 billions after getting his skeptical managers and employees to adopt what they referred to as a culture of “unstoppable commitment“.

An inspiring leader I recently worked with wanted to elevate the relevance, impact, and brand of his regional service team. He wanted his team members to “have fire in their eyes” as he put it. After a frank and powerful conversation about the current state of affairs, all members of his leadership team took on a commitment to drive excellence in everything they do! I am confident they will follow through and live up to this because for them, this audacious pledge is a must have, not a nice to have.

Brands are not the product of fancy PR or marketing campaigns. Yes, these help, but ultimately your brand is a reflection of your organizational culture and people’s commitment and attitude.

If lack of excellence is bothering you too and you want to take your team to a new level, start by taking a clear and bold stand for excellence and then infect your team members with the same commitment.

After you get your team members to own the lack of excellence, enroll them in a new conversation and game. Create a new conspiracy for excellence. Brand your commitment in a way that is meaningful to your team, similar to some of the examples I highlighted in this blog. Outline clear plans for implementation and then drive and manage your plan like a NASA mission.

There isn’t a team, business or cause too small or unworthy of excellence.

Are you making THE difference?

People genuinely want to work together in a more authentic, courageous and effective way.

However, even good, well-meaning people often find it challenging to do the right things and behave and act in ways that promote a productive environment. They know what works and what doesn’t work, but knowing and doing are two different things.

For example:

  1. People know that gossiping doesn’t work; ‘trashing’ coworkers and ‘throwing them under the bus’ is hurtful and it undermines trust and productivity, but they still do it.
  2. People know that paying lip service to commitments doesn’t work, but they still do it.
  3. People know that blaming other teams and people doesn’t fix the problem, in fact, it makes it worse, but they still do it.

So why is it so hard for us to do what we know is right and effective?

The collective culture shapes and promotes individual behavior.

If you come to work every day to an organizational culture in which victim mentality, blame, siloed dynamics, lack of accountability and politically incorrect communication are tolerated and perhaps even promoted, you will find yourself behaving accordingly.

The culture teaches you very quickly to get in line in order to get along. Any deviation from status quo could be detrimental. You could think of it this way: In ancient Roman time, an overly enthusiastic and eager slave rowing in a ship’s galley probably did not make it alive through the night.

Frederick Taylor, who in 1909 wrote a book called the Scientific Method of Management and pioneered time-and-motion studies, spent his career perfecting the hierarchical model of the workplace.  He said:

“Hardly a competent worker can be found who does not devote a considerable amount of time to studying just how slowly he can work and still convince his employer that he is going at a good pace.  Under our system, a worker is told just what he is to do and how he is to do it.  Any improvement he makes upon the orders given to him is fatal to his success.”

Don’t get too excited. You are not off the hook. The other side of the equation is that:

Individual behaviors can change the collective culture.

In fact, the only thing that can change the collective culture is when individuals take responsibility and start changing the dialogue, rhetoric, beliefs, and mindsets of their colleagues around them.

They change “We can’t” to “Yes we can!” They encourage people to move from “It will never work” to “Let’s try!” And they take action to turn “Nothing will change” to “Let’s start changing things together!

Declarations and commitments turn into new actions and behaviors. New actions and behaviors reinforce the new collective culture you are creating.

Margaret Mead (Scientists, author) said it well: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has

Individuals really do make THE difference. YOU make THE difference. You just need to own up to that and not hide in the shadows.

You have a choice whether to be right or be wise. Not choosing is the worst form of choice. It’s choosing without taking responsibility.

Choose to make THE difference:

  1. Refuse to participate or engage in gossip, negative and backchannel conversations.
  2. Always have a positive outlook.
  3. Address issues openly, directly and completely and not let issues fester.
  4. Take responsibility for challenges and failures.
  5. Communicate and share information even when you feel vulnerable.
  6. Call people to the carpet when they are not doing what they said.
  7. Do what you say or let people know you won’t do it.

Making THE difference means doing the right thing, doing what you know works and always staying true to your principles, values and higher self.

It does not mean being perfect. If you take on making THE difference, you will make mistakes, screw up, stumble and fall. But, every time you falter don’t dwell in self-pity, blame or guilt. Quickly return to your commitment and become stronger for it.

Taking on the role of making THE difference, definitely requires courage.

However, if that choice is an expression of who you are it will greatly empower and energize you. Try and see.

The Power of Starting

Many years ago, I played the classical guitar. At the time I was even half-decent at it, and it brought me great pleasure. I stopped playing about 26 years ago, but about a year ago I picked it up again and I have been playing ever since.

To be honest, it took a while between the time that I decided to start and the actual time that I started. I kept procrastinating the starting point because every time I intended to start playing negative thoughts came up about the challenge of starting again from scratch. Starting again as a beginner felt daunting, so I convinced myself to start another day, and this happened a few times.

I was coaching a highly committed and passionate professional on his wellbeing. He was struggling with his commitment to lose weight and get in shape. He lost a lot of weight, then gained it back again and he wanted to lose it again. He knew what he needed to do. In fact, he had a comprehensive plan, including exercise and a meal plan from a nutritionist. However, he couldn’t get himself to restart the program.

Have you ever experienced this type of situation in which you wanted to start something new or restart something you had done in the past, but you found yourself delaying starting because of overwhelming feelings of invalidation, fear and/or doubt?

Well, the good news for me is that I did start playing about a year ago and in the process, I learned something simple, but profound about the ‘Power of Starting’:

Starting is critical for success. Being able to start is powerful. I know I am stating the obvious. However, even though everyone knows this, so many people get stuck in starting. Another proof point that knowing and doing are two different things.

If you want to be someone who can start effectively here are a few of my thoughts:

To be a powerful starter you need to untangle the act of starting from all your thoughts and internal conversations about it. You will have thoughts and feelings. They will try and delay and stop you. It is a natural human reaction to any uncomfortable situation which ‘starting’ is always one of. You need to expect the thoughts and feelings and act anyways.

To help you focus while you have all the noise in your head, I recommend you clearly state to someone you trust what you are going to do and then do it. In simple terms: “Say what you will do and then do what you say!” Make it very explicit. Something like: “I will go to the gym 4 times a week on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday for an hour” or “I will practice 4 times a week for an hour”.

When you start you may feel that your initial actions are not ‘natural’, ‘easy’; they are mechanical, contrived and artificial. That is completely natural and alright! Even if you feel that what you are doing and the way you are doing it is counter-intuitive still go ahead and do it. In simple terms: “Fake it till you make it” Put one foot in front of the other until it becomes walking motion.

It takes tremendous courage to start. Don’t underestimate that. It is a big deal.

When you are about to start it may feel like you are jumping off a cliff and you will learn how to fly in the process of falling. It is not a comfortable feeling. It takes a leap of faith and trust in yourself. That takes courage!

If you have missteps in the starting process, don’t over think it, make it mean anything or agonize about it. Just start over! Say what you will do next and do what you said. Keep it short-term – what you will do today, not this month. Keep it very practical, not aspirational or visionary. Box yourself in day by day, say what you will do and do what you say. Follow this routine until you start to see that you are back in a routine.

The more you do what I told you here, the more you will begin to regain your power and self-confidence. This will quickly lead to higher energy and motivation and enable you to promise bigger things and deliver them.

Motivation and action are like the chicken and the egg. They feed, fuel and inspire each other. When you are at the top of your game, your motivation inspires your action. That is the time to declare your vision, commitments and what you stand for, set goals and act spontaneously.

But, when you are stuck, promising what you will do and doing it will get you unstuck and back on track with your motivation and commitment. You will regain your integrity and recover your motivation and power.

It may sound too simple, but it really works.