Team Building 101


When I was very young, I had it all figured out. I was going to be an astronaut.

I got busy learning about astronomy, mathematics and the physics of flight. I drank Tang (if you know what this is, you’re just as old as me!).

Of course when summertime came, I became distracted riding my bike and exploring the woods. I decided instead I’d be a daredevil. I built ramps and jumped over stuff. I climbed on every roof I could and jumped off. I attached ropes to tree branches and jumped from increasingly higher parts of the tree to see how far I could swing. The list was long and grew by the endless days of summer that passed.

That was 1974.

Fast forward a few years, and once again I had it all figured out. I graduated high school and left for college to embark on my pursuit of linguistic and literary fluency in French. This came as a shock and surprise to many mathematics and science teachers who saw me excel in those subjects. But my curiosity led me toward the study of economics, language, history and political science. When people asked me what I wanted to “be” when I finished college, I didn’t have an answer (or one that made much sense anyway).

The reason was, I didn’t have a plan.

I began by thinking I’d fly lunar landers. Along the way, I did a deep dive in science and math. I even spent several years on stage acting (or trying to anyway). Then I studied language and history and politics and economics. In French.

It was great, except there wasn’t much practical application of this mishmash. I didn’t have a plan.

Then one day in my senior year of college, the head of the business department came to me and invited me to be part of her senior business major’s capstone class.

After I cleared the blank stare off my face, I replied with “I have never taken a single business or accounting class, how could I survive in your business CAPSTONE class?” (Translation: I was a senior in college and I wanted to take BOWLING instead.)

Her answer? “You have a gift.

I thought she meant she was going to give me something. Instead, she repeated these words: “You have a gift.”

No one had ever said anything like that to me before. I still remember every detail of where I was and what was going on around me, to this day.

She continued, “You should consider a career in business and finance. You don’t need to be a business ‘major’ to excel in business. Join us, she said. I really want you to be in this class with us.”

I was floored. If I wasn’t such a (poser/fake/imitation) tough guy, I could have misted up right there.

Words like that, words of affirmation, from mentors and educators and occasionally even strangers, turn us into the people we become. This was the beginning for me to develop my plan.

Do you remember anything like this happening to you before? What were the words? What was THE word?

If you have been influenced through affirming words – think of its power as you consider who you influence – and who you can influence.

The opposite probably holds true, as well. But trust me, I don’t recall with such pinpoint accuracy the negative things I’ve heard as I do this (and other) positively influencing statements.

Dr. Lindell (the business prof) sought me out. And it changed everything for me (my first “real” job out of graduate school was in the Japanese Investment Banking Group at Merrill Lynch in New York City).

Seek someone out, tell them what you see in them. It can make a lifetime of difference.

What can you do to impact someone positively?

How will this benefit you in your company? In your family?

Think of the possibilities words of encouragement convey to the teams you lead.

Who’s on your list to encourage?

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