The Essence of Team

“The important thing is this:  to be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.”

–     Charles Du Bos (1882 – 1939), French essayist and critic

Team.  Defined.

Teams sacrifice what they are for what they could become.

Drop the mic, um, er, I mean drop the keyboard.  Whatever.  The important thing is this — that’s what great teams do, for each other, with each other and sometimes in spite of each other.  In short, they make each other better, and they relish in the growth, even when it’s forced on them.

It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get us here, now.  And it will take something different to get us from here to there, wherever there may be.

One of the easiest traps for successful teams to fall into is complacency.  “Well, this is who we are!  Ain’t we something!?”  “Heck, we’ve won our last 34 bids!  We’ve got this licked!”  “We’re Blockbuster!  We’re the 800-pound gorilla.  We “own” the market…”

The problem with complacency is the needle moves every day, and if we’re not the ones moving it, then someone else, a competitor, a client, a new-market-entitiy is moving the needle and they move ahead of us on the path that determines what we will become.

This approach requires the team to have crystal clarity on two topics:  1) what we are, and 2) what we could become — and we have to agree on those two things to engage together on the path that gets us “there.”

Editor’s Note:  The 3-part series on “Team” will be a five-part series.  If you missed Monday’s post, here it is.  If you missed Tuesday’s post because the author missed the e-mail deadline, here it is, with acknowledgment that I am dopey for missing the delivery deadline — and the requisite apology that comes with it.

Intentional Dissonance

“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking!”

–     General George S. Patton (1885 – 1945)

There is a model of Patton on my desk, a reminder of his leadership, but also of his extraordinary team focus.

Patton spent more time at or near the front than any of his peers, before or since.  He cultivated input, knowledge and perspective from all levels of the theatre.  He leveraged intentional dissonance to reach better plans more quickly.  He acted on his informed instincts and he expected the teams he led to do the same.

Yesterday, we touched on our personal team of advisors.  Every day, we go to work with or leading a team in our own companies — and, as Lencioni calls it, that’s our First Team.

It’s not really a team, though, if we just get together to stroke each other’s feelings and to do what we’ve always done.  It’s not really a team if we’re all of the same experience set, mindset or skillset.  It’s not really a team unless there is some intentional disagreement, differing opinions and perspectives and a variety of ways to approach solving problems.

When those things come together, which the right environment and expectations — and when we’ve chosen the talent around us well — that’s where the spark meets the fuel, and the engine starts to really purr.

If groupthink is our status quo, we’re stagnant at best, and regressing or dying on the vine, at worst.

Choose to challenge one another, and watch the team, and its members begin to grow!



“Don’t just do something!  Stand there!”

–     Richard “Dick” Heston (1933 – 2002), my dad, an Iowa farmer and factory worker and the best business leader you could ever hope to have

We think of being surrounded as a bad thing.  And it can be. Maybe it’s the movies we watch; Butch and Sundance, Thelma and Louise or General Custer…  When we’re surrounded by the enemy with no chance of escape, it can be pretty daunting.

That’s one reason it’s pretty important to intentionally surround ourselves with people who can keep us from getting into a pickle like that in the first place.

As Dad admonishes, it’s also pretty important to take time to gather their insight as we consider what comes next, instead of just diving in.  Our nature might be to just do something, anything!  To see action instead of a course toward a specific outcome.  In those times, we want to be surrounded by the best possible advisors we can access, and we need to take time to consider our options and their input.  Yes, whom we select to keep closest, and have as advisors in times good, bad and neutral makes as big a difference as just about anything else we do.

We don’t have to give this group a name, but if we did, these might be good options:

–   Personal Accountability Board

–   Trusted Advisors

–   Advisors, Counselors and Teachers (I like the ACT acronym…)

–   My Team

Who will always be honest with us (and with themselves in supporting us)?  Who knows our strengths and our weaknesses as well or (preferably) better than we do?  Who understands our hopes and dreams, and is able to see our circumstances in the context of the future we seek?

Who takes the phone call at an odd / uncomfortable hour, listens and calmly engages with questions (more often than answers), context and communication that makes us better.

Why not surround ourselves with those people?  Keep them closer than close and consciously seek to put value in to their world, as well…

This week, as we consider the benefit of teaming let’s focus first on being surrounded, in the best possible way.

In the meantime, Jim, Drew, Chris, Phil, Peter and Mark — thank you!

Listening As A Force

“Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force.  The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward.  When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”

–     Unattributed

The quote lays a perfect blueprint for transforming listening from passive to active.  Listening is magnetic, a creative force.  It moves us toward one another.  It creates us, expands us.  It makes us unfold.

It could (and should) be argued that listening is the most dynamic force available to us.  And it’s available to all of us, in unlimited quantity and quality.  All we have to do is claim it and unleash its incredible power.

Random Thoughts: The Long Run

When it all comes down we will
Still come through, In the long run
Ooh, I want to tell you, it’s a long run”

–     Lyric from “The Long Run,” by Eagles

It’s a short-term world, and everyone is trying to trick us into the short-term view.  It’s why I think if IPO is your answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

Yesterday, I got two reminders that we will still come through in the long run.

The most rewarding aspect of my career is the coaching and mentoring that I’ve been Blessed to do.  That’s the real reward, better than money, trips, etc.

Peter is a text-book example of investing in people for the long run.  I recently realized that what he sees as a relationship where I’m some kind of Jedi Master and he’s Luke Skywalker has changed.  For a couple years now, I’ve received at least as much benefit as I’ve put in — and I’d take a bullet for him.

The second example came around a table of very good people.  People I haven’t know for long, but whom I trust.  People with real problems to solve and a real intent to solve them.  That’s the differentiator.  Everyone has real problems to solve.  This team intends to solve them, for the long run.  Life is too short to work with people we can’t trust, or people whose long run doesn’t mirror ours.  And I mean clients, too.  When we have shared goals and a shared vision of where those goals lead us, we can handle some resistance, in the long run.

Clarity is a beautiful thing.  Yesterday, I got two energizing doses of clarity that remind me why I set out to make a difference.  Because when we do, we do so for the long run.

Changing the Conversation(s)

“Sometimes being different feels a lot like being alone.”

–     Lindsey Stirling, pop musician

And sometimes, being vulnerable, feeling alone, is the best way to change the conversation.  It can be the best way to draw a team together for the common good.

“Ask dumb questions, make dumb solutions,” suggests Patrick Lencioni, in “Getting Naked,” one of his amazing business fables.

Difference makers find a way to change the conversation.  Strike that.  They find a way to change the conversations, plural.

There are three conversations we need to change to impart meaningful, sustainable, difference-making change.

The first is the conversation in our own head.  The things that we tell ourselves, that we have come to believe just because they’ve become rote, the perspectives and opinions that we have must be challenged, and the best person to challenge them is us.  It makes those around us more comfortable with the idea of changing the conversation in their heads, which tees up the second conversation we need to change…the conversations in our team.

If Joe is always the voice of reason, are we missing the opportunity for Joe to ask dumb questions or make dumb suggestions, the kind that make the rest of us approach the matter from a different perspective.  If Tammy is always the “Hey, what if we…?” person, having her adopt the voice of reason might be empowering.  It’s not just about playing “devil’s advocate” either, it’s about altering the way we see and process information.  It’s about challenging the status quo with the intent of improving it.  And, in a group setting, it ain’t likely to be easy.

So, here’s an idea.  We all know where we sit in meetings, right?  In a recurring meeting, it’s pretty common for the boss to sit in his or her seat, and the rest of us to sit in ours, even though there are no seats assigned.  Want to get a start on changing the conversation?  The next time that meeting starts, have everyone move to a different seat.  You may be surprised; a) at the level of discomfort and b) at the impact on perspective — the free-flow of new ideas.

Finally, our goal ultimately has to be to change the conversation in our market.  If we’re a market leader, it’s particularly important, because, as Ries and Trout taught us way back in 1987, only the leader should attack the leader directly.

When we talk to ourselves differently, and we talk with one another differently, we’ll be read to talk to the market differently, and the market will respond.

Changing the conversation(s) is table stakes for difference makers.

Empathy And The Two Great Motivators

“The fear of loss is a greater motivator than the prospect of potential gain.”

–     theory of emotional direct response copy writing

Continuing our “change” theme — and considering empathy’s role in professional selling…


Scenario #1:

It’s 2:30 AM and you’re in deep REM sleep.

Your phone rings.  It’s me.  “Hey!” I exclaim, excitedly,  “I just found a $20 bill on the sidewalk outside your house!  I am coming in to give it to you!”

“Are you kidding me, Heston!?” you almost scream.  “Just let me sleep, dammit!”

Scenario #2:

It’s 2:30 AM.  On your bedside table is a $20 bill.  YOUR $20 bill.  I creep through the window, and just as I’m taking the $20 and heading back for the window, you awaken.  You spring from your bed and you fight like crazy for YOUR $20.

That’s the way the two motivators work.  Fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than potential gain.  Said differently, we’ll all fight harder to keep something that is already ours than we will to get something that we might want, but don’t yet have.

If professional selling is the “passionate transference of belief,” which involves both the art and science of bringing about change, then empathy becomes a key ingredient.  And until we understand that folks will fight to the death to save their $20 bill from their night stand, but not even roll over in bed for the $20 we’re offering to bring inside, we’ll struggle to be successful.



Fear and Pain

“Change will only occur when the fear of change is overcome by the pain of remaining the same.”

–     Dr. Tom Graf, psychologist and business advisor

We touched on this a bit last week, and to kick off a short series on change this week, the Daily Diff wants to drive this point home.

Human nature is to resist change.  We drove the same way to the office this morning as we did Friday.  We probably stopped at the same coffee shop or had the same breakfast.  We listened to the same radio station, and we watched the same news channel while we got ready.  For some of us, we know it’s :08 / :18 / :28, etc after the hour if the local forecast is on the Weather Channel.

Each of those examples is minor, and those instances of remaining the same probably don’t produce much pain.

The fact remains, though, that even if they do, we’re numb to it by now.  Human nature is to numb ourselves to the pain, so that we don’t have to embark on change.  We all know someone who smoked all the way through a cancer diagnosis that ultimately took their life, right?  Or the person who had “just one more drink” several times a week.  The person who was going to get to the gym “next week,” or the person who figured that one more bowl of ice cream wasn’t going to matter, until it did.

But what about the business context?

The big changes are even scarier than taking a different route to work, of course.  Replacing a long-time member of the team who’s become the problem is scary.  Changing pricing, go-to-market models, the website, the name of the company or of the product — scary stuff.  Expensive, scary stuff.

We’re wired to see and feel the fear.  First, though, we ought to assess the pain.  What if we keep doing “this?”  Business is flat, our market share is down x%.  But we’re still cash flowing, we’re still paying a dividend, we’re still ok.  At least we’re pretty sure we’re ok. We pop a few more metaphorical ibuprofen and we go back to doing what we’ve always done.  But the anti-inflammatory masks the worsening of the pain and the pain deepens, sometimes without us realizing it.

Difference makers seek out the pain points.  We actively engage in regular “check-ups” and we honestly look at where does it hurt.  Some of us remember Hee Haw, and the skit in the doctor’s office; “Doc, it hurts when I do this…” the patient would say.  The “doctor,” played by Archie Campbell, would WHAP the patient with a rubber chicken and say, “Well, then, DON’T DO THAT!”

Difference makers stop “doing that,” and choose to do something different because they accurately assess the pain, and don’t give in to the fear.

Change for the sake of change is not recommended.  Change that addresses and corrects the business pain that is slowing us down, holding us back or pushing us in the wrong direction is what leaders are called to impart.  And knowing the difference between the fear and the pain is key to successfully leading meaningful change in our teams and organization.


Quitting vs Seeing It Through

“Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

–     General Douglas MacArthur (1880 – 1964), Five-Star General and Chief of Staff during World War II; United States Army

Today, and most days, we’ll be faced with a choice.  See it through, or quit.  Believe in the process, or abandon it for the status quo, the comfortable, the thing that we always did before we knew we needed to do something different.

Today, and most days, the choice will be easy, but it will seem very, very difficult.

A wrinkled soul makes for a regretful future.  Count me out.

One of the founding principles of The Heston Group is that “change will only occur when the fear of change is overcome by the pain of remaining the same.”  Today, and most days, when we’re faced with the choice to quit, or to see it through, it will be easy to mistake the fear for the pain.  They’re not the same thing.

Fear is a lie.  It is a tool of the enemy to draw us away from the Truth and the Light.

So, today, and most days, when faced with the choice, and when the fear feels a lot like the pain, remember, the pain is what led us to change.  See it through. Unless new information has presented itself that fundamentally changes the game, see it through.

Ironically, but not coincidentally (’cause there ain’t no coincidences…) this is Jimmy V Week, in honor of Coach Jimmy “V” Valvano, who bravely fought cancer back in the early 90’s at the peak of his popularity as a college basketball coach.  Even when Coach V knew the outcome he chose to see it through.  “Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up!” he bravely admonished millions of viewers in a speech on ESPN’s Espy Awards.

Nearly $300 million dollars has been raised by people who took Coach V at his word, and who haven’t given up.  By people who chose, and still choose to see it through.

Today, and most days, Lord willing, we won’t be battling cancer.  Lives won’t be at risk, nor will people lose limbs over our business decisions.  We’ll still be faced with choices, though. And, when we’re embarked on a mission towards meaningful, difference-making change, will we see it through, or will we quit?

Difference makers see it through, never mistaking the fear for the pain, and relentlessly seeking a better way forward.

Strategy Over Structure

“You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.”

–     Unattributed, therefore I can claim it…right?

Forgive me a longer-than-normal post on a complex and critically important topic.  In every case, leaders are called on to honor strategy over structure.  Every.  Single.  Case.

An example:  A CEO said to me once, “I know the _______ division shouldn’t report to “Bob,” but “Bob” measures his value by how much reports to him.  I can’t shake him up like that.  He’s been here for 25 years, and I just can’t do that to him.”


In this scenario, unless the hard call is made, either the CEO or “Bob” are in the wrong role — perhaps both of them, in fact, probably both of them.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for Bob, though.

Strategies change.  It is completely foolish to think that we can have a one-size-fits-all structure where we just plug new functions, changed functions, whole or parts of teams in to the structure that was in place prior to the change.

So, what does honoring strategy over structure look like?

  1. It means we never talk about structure until after we’ve agreed upon a strong solution to the problem we’re trying to solve.
  2. It means we never draw an organization chart with any names in it until we have agreed upon the work we need to get done.  There is no more powerful moment in an executive team’s cohesion than when it reaches the point that “blank boxes” are the preferred means of solving organizational needs.
  3. Tenure, personalities and hurt feelings take a back seat to doing what’s right for the employees, the clients — and therefore, the shareholders.
  4. Choosing not to place strategy over structure is a choice made with eyes wide open and the consequences recorded and agreed to in advance.

This is why an outside perspective can be so helpful for an executive team that isn’t “there” yet.  And, the longer a team has been together, the more susceptible they are to putting structure first.

This is not an easy intersection to navigate.

That’s why the empty boxes exercise is the best way to get through it.  And that means all the boxes.  Even the top one.

What problem are we trying to solve?  What outcomes are we seeking to accomplish?  How do we want our clients and employees to feel, and what do we want the trajectory of the business to be?

If we start with the structure we have, we’ll end up missing on some or all of those questions.  If we start with strategy, and use blank boxes to build the structure, we’ll then put the right people in those boxes, or, we’ll identify where we have people gaps — to which we can hire, de-hire, train or develop.

When we get this right, and we deploy the REELAX model within this focus, as Dr. Suess said, “Oh, the places we’ll go!”