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Is it all about you or all about them?

I played on the worst high school football team in our division. Maybe in the entire state of New York. During our senior year, with a record of 1-4, we piled onto a bus heading to an away game. Before we exited the bus, our coach gave us a pep talk.

He told us his family was visiting from out of town. He admonished us not to embarrass him.

We lost 50-0.

We had done all the right things in practice—the blocking and tackling drills, the walk-throughs of key plays, the scrimmages. We had had our face in the mud and experienced what it feels like to get hit by someone much bigger.

But we lost 50-0.

You’re a business leader and you’ve done everything right too, haven’t you? 

You’ve had consultants in. You’ve done your strategic plan. You’ve allocated resources to important initiatives. Everyone’s bonus plan is aligned with your goals. However, it’s still not working.

You’ve noticed friction among your managers. There’s an “us vs. them” mentality. Everyone is doing his or her job. However, you’re spending your days refereeing petty squabbles. It’s destroying your ability to focus on important matters. Your team is not effective.

Now what?

Your instincts tell you to gather the team for a meeting. “Let’s review the numbers,” you’ll say. You’ll reset expectations. You’ll communicate more clearly. Your team needs to understand that, unless they can work together more effectively, the company won’t meet its profit target.

If that’s your approach, then, much like my high school football coach, you and your team will lose the game.

Your team will correctly perceive that it’s all about you—your bank account, your big house, your fancy car and so on.

They’ll continue to work hard. They’ll do what you’re paying them to do. However, until you can make it all about them, the squabbles and your problems will persist.

If I’ve described your leadership challenge, you’re in luck. It’s an easy problem to solve.

When we think about work, we usually think about motivation and compensation as the same thing. In reality, people are motivated by challenges, ownership, shared identity and pride in the end result.

So, once you’ve assembled the management team for the big meeting, the first thing you should address is the reason your company exists. It could be creating great craft beer, selling hardware and software, or building houses. Whatever you produce, people are motivated by pride in their results.

Be prepared to share some stories—stories about great successes your company has had as a result of teamwork. Remind them how challenging their work was on that day. Talk about how they helped someone else—a customer, a fellow employee or, perhaps, a member of the community. Talk about their shared identity as the team that produced that result.

Recognition is the most powerful motivator of all. So say the names of the team members out loud when you tell your stories. Reinforce how their superior individual capabilities are essential to the success of the team.

Once you’ve got them thinking of the larger picture, you need to connect the dots. Ask—don’t tell—how they measure their success. Maybe it’s getting the job done on the timeline promised to a customer (timeliness). Or, perhaps it’s producing a product that is superior to that of your competitor (quality). Producing a larger batch in fewer shifts qualifies too (productivity).

Remind them that profits are like oxygen. We take oxygen for granted, breathing in and out without thinking about it. However, if deprived of it, oxygen would be all we could think about. We’d be gasping for our next breath.

For a business to thrive, it must produce profits. Most employees take it for granted, never thinking about how it supports them in their work. However, if the business were to be deprived of it, that would be all anyone would think about. The entire team would be gasping for the next dollar.

Profits are essential to continuing to create a great product. Without profits, a company can’t keep its technology up-to-date or serve its customers.

Your team creates great products profitably when they work together effectively. It’s not about you. It’s about them!

John Calia is a chairman in the Vistage Executive Leadership Program and author of “The Reluctant CEO: Succeeding Without Losing Your Soul.”

9/23/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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