“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” -Hellen Keller
“I’m overwhelmed” - my client, who works in a high-profile leadership position said, almost breaking down. “It feels that I’m doing everything by myself. My support staff is either new, they all have an attitude, or I simply can’t trust them to do things the way I need. The systems in place are not working. I can’t even see anymore where I’m going and when I do I feel I will never get there because I get distracted by other things that I need to take care of!".
I’m almost sure that by now you’ve heard about U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, who became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage. She swam for 53 hours without a break, more than 100 miles in the open ocean! At first I thought the news was about a crazy lady, and I didn’t pay much attention to this huge accomplishment. For some reason, when my client said “I don’t see where I’m going”, I mentioned Diana Nyad to her, and I realized that I do actually admire her, not only because of her endurance and perseverance to go after what she wanted - at 64 years old!, but also because among the many important decisions she had to make, she knew that her goal couldn’t be achieved by herself. When Diana waded ashore she said “... it looks like a solo sport, but it is a team”, her victory was a true team effort.
After each try, over the past 35 years, Diana consulted with experts on how to do better the next time so she can remain focused on her goal, and that’s how she started building her team. The support team accompanying her included coaches, physicians, technical personnel, a boat crew, accompanying kayakers, and equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her to keep sharks away. There were also divers standing by to deal with sharks in case they came close, and researchers who developed a topical anti-jellyfish cream especially formulated for the long hours she would spend in the water. A boat also dragged a line in the ocean to help keep her on course. A pulmonologist was part of her team to help her with asthma she had developed on a previous attempt. There were also observers recording everything, handlers who put food in her mouth and wrapped her ankles with tape at night, kayakers handled her water bottles, divers adjusted the hood on her protective jelly fish suit, and a navigator and operations chief among others. This team of professionals made sure she was focused on her goal and nothing interfered with her mission, they kept the waters clear of sharks, jellyfish, distractions, and currents, all for her. Thanks to her team, Diana Nyad always knew where she was going, and she remained focused on getting there.
Bottom line, you can jump into the unexpected and giant ocean alone, with the intention to get ashore safely, but the chances are you will be hurt, exhausted, lost and even might drown in the process. You heard this many times and you know it, great achievements demand more than what one person can deliver. With no exceptions!
Think of the talent you need to bring together in order to achieve success. We all face some sort of currents, storms, jelly fish and sharks. No more excuses: yes, the reality is that a team approach may take longer, but in the long run teams achieve better results than going alone. Yes, it is true that you don’t choose everyone on your team and many times you inherit them, but there is training and checklists to assure efficiency. Yes, there is attitude, but it can be addressed. Yes, not everyone is motivated, so motivate them. Yes, you don’t always have a budget for a good team or a team at all, but you can be creative and outsource some of your work or work with volunteers and if you can’t do even that, be your own advocate by planning ahead and don’t jump in the ocean if what you can do well is jumping into a pool. Yes, you think working with others is one more complication, but really? Be a good leader and make it work, or just know that it is your choice to feel like drowning, but it is an option you can change as soon as you decide.
From my experience working with my own teams in the past, I learned a few things that are important to remember:
- Move from support staff to a team mind set. Ownership and knowing that my success is yours, motivates everyone.
- Every member of a team has a different role, but what makes it a team is that everyone adds to the success of the mission. Collaboration is key, and helping each other is a must, but for everyone on a team to be focused on one specific area is what guarantees success.
- Surround yourself with people who know what you don’t know, who are subject experts. Hiring people that add to your success is a no-brainer.
- Respect your team and listen to them. Trust is key in every team, and a precondition for any team to succeed.
- There should be people on your team for different stages of the process, those who will help you get ready, those who will be with you during the journey, and those who will follow up. Make sure to have support all along the way.
Nyad came out of the ocean with her face bruised, swollen and sunburned. Even though she had the best possible team, her journey was extremely challenging. But who said it would be easy? The main thing is to be prepared and know that regardless of how difficult it will be you have a team ready to weather the circumstances with you and they know what to do to help you accomplish your mission.
Diana shared with the media that she was determined with each stroke forward to “push Cuba back, and push Florida towards” her. Think about the following questions:
- Which one is your Cuba and which one is your Florida? Be clear from where to where you are going.
- Who do you need on your team to keep the sharks and jelly fish away? Who do you need to fight currents and storms? To make sure you don’t get lost? To keep you doing what you need to do without distractions?
- What will it take for you to make it happen?
Just as Diana Nyad, the speaker for the USA Oracle Team, who recently had the greatest comeback in the history of sailing and won against the Emirates Team New Zealand tweeted: “On your own you’re nothing, but when you’ve got a team like this around you, they make you great”.