Google Discovered These 3 Factors Make a 38 Percent Difference in Team Performance

Why the best team players beat all-stars.

Imagine you’ve been handed your dream opportunity at Google, including a big budget to attract superstars in every field to staff your project. You’ve handpicked an A-Team of proven performers who ultimately were seduced by Google’s great brand, an incredible mission and a top tier comp package. You’re assured about the success of your team, right?

In a groundbreaking two-year study, Google discovered that no matter how many superstars they hired, some sales teams outperformed their revenue targets by 19%, while other all-star Googlers underperformed by as much as 19%, a whopping 38% delta between the lowest and highest scorers.

What was the difference? Google realized that who was on the team mattered less than how the team worked together. Rather than focus on one person’s career success, the winning teams obsessed more over assembling players who wanted to make history together. We’ve all heard inspiring stories about how scrappy underdog athletes with a passion for interdependence have beaten self-absorbed all-star teams during championships. But could that also be true for iconic companies like Google, with arguably one the most rigorous screening processes in the world? Prasad Setty, VP People Analytics, studied 180 Google teams across the world using over 35 statistical models and 200 interviews. Setty presented his findings at a conference I hosted in San Francisco, the 2016 Goal Summit created by BetterWorks, a world-leading goal science software company.

Among the myths toppled by the Google study was the overused metaphor about how team play in professional sports provides the ultimate leadership lessons for management teams. The overall sports comparison breaks down quickly in businesses where the reality of global operations force executive teammates to play together largely without even seeing each other most of the time. The worldwide sales and engineering teams at Google that were studied by Setty’s team, for example, were typical of multinational companies where the people are distributed broadly, flung across time zones and then surgically inserted into varying functions and cultures, often with uniquely different rules and tasks where they’re rarely in the same room together. Even in companies where employees see each other often, it’s common for individual executives to serve on a myriad of teams in many different roles where they don’t even work for the same manager or the division that owns the outcomes.

Under these dynamic circumstances, Google found that the rock star status of the individuals selected for the team played a smaller role in organizational success than the willingness of each member to commit serious effort to work together to achieve big hairy audacious goals as a team. So what could possibly drive the kind of commitment that produces a 38% delta on Google’s sales teams? Setty’s research found three critical differences that ignited top performers:

  1. Impact vs. Meaning. If you want to spark engagement for your team projects, the key is to make it obvious how the goal really matters in terms of external impact. Google’s study reaffirmed vast research about how outside validation of a goal rallies teams into a level of performance where they’re willing to do extraordinary things to “see their place in history,” Setty observed. But many leaders fail to seize that opportunity. Most make the naive assumption that the impact is clear and don’t give enough priority to communicating why a particular goal or project could be a game changer for the company. Some managers can’t come up with an inspiring reason. “When you don’t explain why an initiative has impact, the team sees right through it and assumes it’s just a pet project that benefits the boss’ career,” Setty says. That too often results in suboptimal performance from even the best people.

Why Meaning Matters: As an individual, it’s one thing to know you’re a part of a high-impact project, it’s another to feel that the task you’re doing is something you personally love to do. The need for this internal validation, in addition to the external impact, means that the leader must not only be clear about the outcome, but also understand the motivations of each team member. Setty offered the example of an engineer who had contributed successfully to a project related to Google search. She knew it was an important project for Google, but after many years of high engagement, she was no longer finding that endeavor exciting from a personal standpoint. “She needed to find a new role on the team,” Setty advised, “or she needed to find a new team on a project that feeds her personal motivation. For a great team, you need to balance both the internal and external validation.”

Takeaway for the Leader: Just because it’s clear to you that a project is essential, don’t assume that it is obvious why it should be valued by the individuals who make it happen in terms of external impact and internal meaning.

2. Clarity vs. Dependability. Many managers spend time establishing clarity around roles, authority and structure, particularly at the beginning of a project when it really counts. “But if you keep layering on structure, the team eventually becomes very brittle,” he warned. “People will do just what’s assigned; no more, no less, and innovation and enthusiasm decline. The team will not be well positioned for inevitable change, and it might buckle under pressure.”

The question for the leader is, “Does this structure provide clarity for the team?” Setty asked. “On the other hand, dependability refers to how the team members rely on each other to deliver quality work.” When a team can count on a high level of interdependence, then it needs less guidance from the boss. In fact, if a leader continues to pile on more structure, it will eventually backfire and can build resentment by the team. Too much input from the leader can steal the team’s feeling of ownership. After launching them with clarity at the beginning, the more autonomy you can afford to give your people, the more likely they will get things done well with high energy because it has more meaning to them.

Takeaway for the Leader: “What do you want to pivot on as a leader of your team?” Setty asked. “Do they need more structure, or do you want to shift to a culture of greater inter-dependability?”

3. Psychological Safety. Think about how it feels when you are on a team where everyone trusts each other–where you could share bad news and speak freely and creatively without embarrassment or retribution. Bosses routinely ask for input, and then unwittingly punish their team members for doing so. It’s easy to shoot the messenger without considering the greater implications. “Keeping quiet may be great for self-preservation,” Setty acknowledged, “but you’re expending energy solving the wrong problem from the organization’s perspective, and it’s a huge distraction from the main goal.” When you’re playing defense, you’re sacrificing opportunities to learn to serve customers better or outmaneuver competitors. Google’s sales teams that self-reported low ratings in psychological safety in Setty’s survey underperformed their revenue goals by 19%, and those with high ratings exceeded their revenue targets by the same margin.

How do you give your team psychological safety? Astro Teller, who runs X, the Alphabet lab tasked with “moonshot” projects at Google, needed a strategy to reassure all-star executives that it was okay to embrace nearly impossible odds. When he recruited a top team to engage in one of the company’s highest risk projects, Google Wing, its drone delivery experiment, he took a non-intuitive approach. Teller’s role is unique at Google because it’s already well known that most of the projects he’s given are experiments that will fail by definition. For Google Wing, Teller demanded that the team imagine it was the biggest failure in Google history. “Usually you never think like that when teams are assembled,” Setty mused. “It’s unusual to think in terms of how everything could break.” The strategy had three critical benefits: It increased the quality of the product, reduced errors and boosted morale because the group fleshed out all the fears and actually took action to address those concerns in advance.

But the most powerful result was the team bonding early in the process at a point where it could have torn itself apart. Rather than engage in political infighting or endless debates pitting egos against each other, they instead embraced a wide range of painful issues as a team rather than waiting for them to become problems. That builds respect and trust on the team.

“If the project had gone sideways, it’s unlikely it would have been due to the doomsday predictions because they’d thought about it openly and had each other’s back,” Setty said. They were more willing to admit mistakes and more open to new approaches to problem solving. “This is psychological safety at scale,” Setty observed. When you make it safe for a high-powered group to face the brutal truth early in a learning process–as a means to win a place in history together rather than individual fame–that’s a game-changer for the team and your business.

You’ll find a complete recording of Prasad Setty’s Google presentation at the 2016 BetterWorks Summit on YouTube:

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

How to Go to Bed Tonight Happier (and Feeling Richer)

Techniques that made Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Charles Schwab feel better are guaranteed to work for you too.

Seeing Steve Jobs‘s life slip away was breathtaking, but the lessons offered can be life changing. It struck me as strange that I’d never seen him happier more often than in his last decade, which arguably was his hardest health-wise and yet his most successful professionally, as he transformed four different industries.

I started to notice practices that he embraced that enhanced and lengthened his life. The cynic in me would have considered these too Pollyanna-ish had it been anyone else. What the world’s great entrepreneurs know that most people don’t is that optimism isn’t naive, it’s more productive. Steve didn’t succeed on pessimism, so why should any of us indulge exclusively in our brains’ natural catastrophic bent toward depression?

It’s seductive to think that the bad news we get every day is the whole truth, when, in practice, negativity tends to help us indulge in the luxury of tolerating learned helplessness. Why make the effort to intervene when it’s hopeless? But that’s quite the opposite of the action-oriented mindset of entrepreneurs, whose attitude is tilted more toward the audacity of believing we can actually have impact and make things better if we think different.

1. What Worked for You Today, and Why?

What that means for you tonight, as you head to bed, is that you need to not only understand what went wrong, but finish your day practicing the skill of thinking about what worked and why. This first principle was something that worked for Steve and comes from positive psychologist Martin Seligman, who, with the University of Pennsylvania, conducted ground-breaking research into changes in life-satisfaction and depression levels that have been validated in random-assignment, placebo-controlled experiments.

“It makes sense to analyze bad events, so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future,” Seligman says. “For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.”

The truth is that primitive people who welcomed the good news, while also re-engineering their communities to work better collaboratively, lived the longest because they had a strategy to defend against or avoid tomorrow’s disasters and prosper over the rest of the animal kingdom.

The problem with our primal, reptilian habit of perpetual pessimism in a modern world is that we’re rehearsing doom. That impulse ironically could help us become more effective at repeating the nasty episode, rather than being optimistically strategic about the future. At best, the bad news increases anxiety, doesn’t prepare you for better days, and doesn’t make you fun or attractive to people around you.

Here’s a better practice: “Every night for the next week, set aside 10 minutes before you go to sleep,” Seligman advises. “Write down three things that went well today, and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance.”

Write down why those three good things happened. For example, when I wrote down that a close friend referred a great customer to me, it was important to make a note that it happened because I often remember to call him with good news and referrals. It may seem silly at first, but it has been easier for me to focus on a positive insight like this one than it has been for me to practice meditation as regularly as I should. This procedure has the added benefit of being useful at a practical level, because it gives me something I can actually do to achieve better results again tomorrow.

I’ve found this is a helpful habit to build in our personal lives, too. While friends and family resisted it at first, it’s clear we never were hesitant with complaints! The inverse was much more rewarding, and what a refreshing twist to have people you care about actually go out of their way to say something constructive. By the way, these ideas and a lot more are available in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, which is well worth keeping on your e-reader.

2. Who Helped You Be Successful Today, and Why?

A second practice that pays incredible dividends is to write a testimonial to someone every week. It’s not something Steve Jobs did, but I’m grateful to see it all the time with world-class thought leaders, like former Ford CEO Alan Mulally and No. 1 executive coach (and bestselling author of Triggers) Marshall Goldsmith, whose encouraging emails warm my heart and frankly help me stay on course and do more than I ever imagined. And I’ll never throw away the sweet notes I’ve received from my friend and mentor Richard Branson (who recently also wrote a heartwarming note to his new grandkids) or my former boss, Charles “Chuck” Schwab, who always knew intuitively how writing an authentic note–that simple act–could permanently improve and energize relationships. When I’m gone, those notes will still be there on my desk.

On a personal level, imagine the impact it can have when a father sends a fact-based (not fluffy) endorsement to his teenager daughter for all the ways that she inspires him, or a son sends a thank you note to mom for real stuff she did for you?

Surely you haven’t achieved what you have in your life and career all by yourself!> In my research project on how people become more valued, respected, and admired for what they do, we asked high-achieving executive coaching clients to remember all the people who make them successful. (You can find a copy of the research in Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value, a book I co-wrote with my wife, Bonita S. Thompson.)

Here’s how it works, in Seligman’s words: “Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who, years ago, did something or said something that changed your life for the better. [Thank] someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face? Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and (if possible) deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about 300 words: Be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.”

Do it now. “When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life,” Seligman predicts with virtually certainty. “Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.” This exercise gives you a “do-over” of epic proportions, and makes it incredibly hard to be depressed that day.

The bottom line is that highly effective leaders focus on what they’re for, rather than what they’re against. When you do that at home and work, you’ll get more done, feel richer, and, yes, you’ll even sleep better!

What If I Don’t Have Passion?

Six Questions to Identify Your Passion

Passionate Heart of Fire

Passionate people try hard to achieve their goals, and are happier. In the office they’re more productive, creative and innovative–they’re even paid more, but they’re worth more. It’s so important to identify your passions because if you continue to do what the powerful people in your life want you to do at the expense of pursuing your dreams, you will never achieve your highest potential.

When we don’t spend much time focusing on our passions, they’re often difficult to identity. But we all have passion; it’s just a matter of discovering it. My co-author of Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value, Bonita Thompson and myself identified six fundamental factors that can help you determine when passion is present in yourself or any of your MVPs (Most Valued People).

  1. Flow: If you lose track of time while doing or thinking about something, you’re often in a state of passion.
  2. Failure: You will persist despite failure when you’re passionate.
  3. Free: We’re not suggesting that you work for free, but the truth is that you go above and beyond when your’e passionate about the outcome.
  4. Distraction: Pay attention to what is distracting you; it could be a passion.
  5. Against the Grain: A passion is something you’re drawn to even when your MVPs are not. It’s something you’d like to do even it’s not popular.
  6. Irritation: Everyone has a short list of things that really annoy them when done poorly. Tune in; these are things you care about.

You may notice that many of the tests of passion appear negative. That’s because when the things you value are violated, you become upset. Listen carefully; your irritation may lead you to your passion!

In the words of Warren Buffet, “…putting off passion is a little like saving up sex for your old age. Not a good idea!” Column: Why Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh, and Al Gore Told Me to Stop Networking

5 Awesome Ways to Win or Lose the Most Valuable Relationships

The worst thing about networking books is the advice often feels so manipulative, mercenary and self-serving. The world’s best entrepreneurs routinely tell me that a better way to think about growing your business is to “seek to build a community — to make better choices in the people with whom you partner — that’s the only way to have greater long-term impact on the world,” Jeff Bezos told me as we tromped through the snow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s time to shift to a longer view of relationships, rather than seeing everyone in the room as this quarter’s target for business development.

(Read article on

Traditional networking leans too heavily on creating short-term contacts intended to meet your momentary needs and ambitions. Long-term success is not just about quick wins; it’s about going deep to find the people who matter most and to learn what’s happening out there in the market that is likely just out of your field of vision. Consider theses five ways to shift your thinking in favor of a bigger, longer-term Return on Relationships:

1. Don’t confuse transactions with relationships! says Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos and What if you knew when you first met someone that they would be a long-term colleague and resource? Would it shift the way you approach that conversation? People can smell superficiality. “Go deep to find out why you’re better off working together,” Hsieh said.

2. Don’t ask for anything until you’ve added value, Al Gore mused as we stood in line on the way into a TED session. I asked him about how he felt about networking. He shook his head, then shrugged: “The only way to earn reciprocity from anyone else is for you to show generosity first.”

3. Don’t make this about you. “An appreciative listener is always stimulating,”Agatha Christie once famously quipped about how much people are moved by the rare person who can shut up long enough to hear and understand what others are saying. If you’ve ever wondered about how to interest people in talking with you, then embrace a critically important piece of advice: No matter how cliché this may seem, it’s absolutely true that the best way to be interesting is to be interestedAbraham Maslow’s historic “Hierarchy of Needs” research ranked “being understood” as one of humanity’s most desperately treasured desires.

4. Don’t go after the biggest network. Strive for quality in your network, not quantity. Networking can be overwhelming and often pointless if you simply try to amass a large number of people. Instead, select fewer, deeper, more interesting folks. Invest in your Most Valuable People, or MVPs, as they’re called in Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value. In a national survey of Gallup’s Most Admired People and Fortune’s Most Admired Companies, it was clear that most people “don’t know what is valued by the few people who are the most important to their success.” It’s a simple matter of reciprocity to know what others value before expecting them to value you!

Make a list of the people who are essential to your future and find out what they love. Are you spending the time necessary to understand what they value? Could you be devoting more attention to this relationship? Is there someone new you would like to add, but haven’t put time into that connection yet? When you focus on being more valuable to your network of MVPs, the natural result is more value flows back to you.

5. Don’t just go along for the ride with any network. Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang suggests that you find out what your MVPs care about and help take a leadership role in the community organizations that are most important to them. For example, most nonprofit groups are “hungry for help,” he said. “No one will ever turn down your offer for genuine support for a worthy cause.” You’re always welcome as a volunteer to manage or do work for free. If you commit to a sincere effort, you will be invited to lead something valuable to them, or to join the board for an event or for the group — and in so doing you will have the opportunity to deepen or expand your visibility and community.

Let’s hope you’re next!

(Read more…) Column: How to Make Sure You’re on Larry Page’s 2015 Wish List

Here are four ways to become an irresistible acquisition target for the search giant…

When we received an offer from Google to buy our company, you can imagine the excitement. Like most startups, an exhausted crew of unshaven entrepreneurs had been throwing themselves at the task 24/7 and the tiny firm was growing by leaps and bounds. It’s obviously huge validation to have your firm acquired by Google or other innovator, but it’s not as rare as you might think. They’ve been buying more than 50 companies per year–we were just one week’s purchase! (Read article on


Why do Facebook, Yahoo and other notables continue to buy companies at a blistering pace, and how can you make yourself irresistible for their next offer?

Solve these four problems first:

1.  Can You Pass The Toothbrush Test? Google CEO Larry Page is legendary for saying he won’t buy your company unless the product or service is something people need and use throughout the day–the toothbrush test. But it’s not only that. The service has to be something people ‘want’ as much as they need, so for more than a dozen years Page has insisted that startup teams demonstrate first-hand experience with solving customers’ most compelling problems. Before Google tapped YouTube to come aboard, founder Chad Hurley would often lament “the great pain of uploading video and the great joy that came from seeing your stuff instantly online,” he mused. “At that time, there was no easy way for the mass of consumers to do this. The solution was born from our own frustration!” Back then only a few visionaries (like Google) could see just how enormous that business would become. I sat next to Larry Page in the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos after the Google/YouTube deal had closed. On stage there were a bunch of tech prognosticators showing off for the cameras, expressing dismay at Google paying more than a billion for YouTube (back when that was rare). Page turned to me with a smirk: “I think we’re going to do okay on YouTube,” the Google cofounder chuckled. “Don’t worry about us,” he started to whisper. “No one seems to realize yet just how necessary it will be for people to broadcast themselves every day!” (Broadcast Yourself was one the original YouTube slogan.) I told Larry Page that even the stock market was smarter than the critics in the snowy Swiss Alps that day, as Google’s stock price had leapt almost $2 billion after the deal was announced.

2.  It’s The Ugly Stepchild Not The Sexy Stuff That Wins Long-Term. While some successful businesses capture the public’s imagination and dominate the media’s attention at the beginning, those companies often become the rare, few victors in fiercely competitive markets. More often it’s better to solve a problem that may be less glamorous, but still necessary to a market niche. At the turn of the century, “bandwidth was limited, so it would take forever to upload even YouTube videos, and playback was haltingly slow,” Hurley observed. YouTube was an ugly stepchild in the sexy media industry, but it would soon become a necessity.

3.  The Dirty Little Secret About Innovation. Innovation requires experimentation, but what’s the most likely result from most bold new tests? Failure! Do big company managers enjoy high-profile flops with their bonus and reputation on the line? Nobody does, with one notable exception: startups that lack the scale, experience, customers and resources–they don’t have the obvious competitive advantages of their bigger competitors–so they have no other choice but to take disruptive action and embrace daring risks to solve problems, please customers and win market share. For all the lip service given to innovation and entrepreneurship, almost no well-established leaders do it in a serious way because they have to deliver quarterly earnings and are burdened by regulatory complexities and peer pressure at their own companies. There isn’t much incentive to innovate if you’ll be fired for doing it!

4.  If You Can’t Beat Them, Buy Them. For many risk-adverse firms, the solution is to hunt for startups whose businesses are have done the pesky R&D for them. Why not buy a company that has already slogged through the humiliating setbacks and taken the research and development risks and demonstrated successful traction? Google is a master at this kind of talent search. As Darwinian economic forces cull the vast majority of the herd of entrepreneurs in any emerging industry, the visionary buyers have the opportunity swoop in to acquire and integrate the most promising, road-tested survivors.

As an executive coach and angel investor, I often lay half-awake at night with dreams about getting that exciting call from an acquirer. I’m grateful to have been a part of more of dozen happy exits–along with dozens of happy entrances by visionary managers at big companies. Each time I’m amazed to see how great leaders embrace risk so that the company and their customers win over and over again.

Let’s hope you’re next! Column: What Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Told Me about Getting Out of My Own Way

Billionaire entrepreneurs relate the warning signals they wished they had seen before making bad decisions. 

When I ask self-made billionaires what they wish they knew when they started out in business, one of the insights they most frequently share points to a common experience for all leaders when it comes to decision-making: They struggle to get out of their own way.


(Read article on

1. You don’t get paid to make all the decisions.

“You can’t grow or scale your business quickly if you’re making all the decisions. It’s not about you,” warned Vinod Khosla. The billionaire has had a few notable failures, but is best known as a co-founder of SUN and a pioneer in venture capital at Kleiner Perkins and his own firm, Khosla Ventures. “It’s too risky to bet year after year on a company that depends entirely on one ego.” The job of a leader is to “recruit and develop people who can make better decisions than you. What you’re looking for in leaders is the ability to build the teams that can make decisions on their own–while the leader asks great questions and provides guidance. They’re more of a beacon than a commander,” he smiled.

“If they are proactive CEOs,” he continued, “just the fact that they asked a particular question may change the direction in which his or her team thinks. Of course, the leader has to be there to resolve differences between team members, but most of the time a leader’s job is putting together the right team, and putting the right questions in front of them to change their inherent internal built-in biases.”

2. You don’t get paid to do what others are doing.

At the turn of the century, market analysts wrote about how Amazon was going out of business. “They had low margins and the company was under enormous pressure. Amazon started to raise prices for a little bit, and that made Wall Street happy temporarily,” Khosla shrugged. “Jeff Bezos realized it was the wrong long-term strategy, so he reversed that decision. ‘We’re going back to low prices,’ Amazon announced, which earned greater customer loyalty, but thinner margins. They took a pummeling in their stock price.” But the long-term decision he made was correct and today Amazon is the world’s biggest store.

“To me, leaders are too influenced by what Wall Street and the press have to say,” Khosla insisted. “This gets worse the bigger a company gets. Overreacting to what someone writes (who hasn’t run a business like yours) is risky. When the press criticizes your direction, it’s likely because they’re following conventional wisdom, which is what everybody else is doing it anyway.”

Steve Jobs showed great counterintuitive “courage in announcing the iPhone in 2007 at a price point everybody thought would be disastrous and with no keyboard, which everybody thought would fail,” Khosla reminded. “You should look at December of 2006 and see how the press predicted doom for the iPhone. Everybody wanted them to follow BlackBerry and Nokia. Guess what would have happened if they’d followed those two other market leaders at the time?” It’s not your job to follow the crowd.

I shared that story with Khosla’s disruptively brilliant friend Elon Musk. “You don’t get paid to copy the other guy,” he laughed. “It’s too easy to fall hopelessly behind; it’s your job to have the courage of your convictions and dare to disagree,” the founder of Tesla and SpaceX said.

Musk’s sentiment is reflected in the headline on the opening page on Khosla Ventures’ website: Change depends on unreasonable people.”

3. You don’t get paid to chase the next crisis.

“When you sit down Sunday night to look at your week, what percentage of your calendar is focused on being proactive?” Khosla asks. “What direction do you want to lead that will create a clearer path to growth and profitability, as opposed to just responding to one meeting request after another, or an emergency here or there? There will always be crises that must be managed. But the difference between being proactive rather than reactive is making the time to really decide” where you want to lead your organization.

“How will you help others solve problems to build a better future, not obsess about the past?” Bill Gates once admonished me when I whined about a crisis that had wiped out my day. We were at the World Economic Forum in Davos to talk about reinventing business and America’s richest man thought I was missing the point. “You have to learn from your problems, but stay focused on the road ahead, not just what’s in the rearview mirror.”

That’s what your clients are counting on when they give you their hard-earned time and money to do business with you. That’s why investors will take a bet on you. And that’s why the best employees and leaders risk their careers to come to work for you. What are you creating that’s bigger than you are?

(Read more…)

Five Leadership Lessons from the Wildcard World Series

by Mark C. Thompson and Daria Wagganer

We’re only minutes away from Game 1 of the 2014 World Series, and the Hollywood screenwriters couldn’t have written it better… two teams – one perennial postseason powerhouse and one who hadn’t seen October action since the advent of the cell phone – have proven all of the oddsmakers wrong this year and have breathed new life into our nation’s pastime. The Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants, both “wildcard” teams who got into the playoffs by the skin of their teeth, fought off the toughest teams in baseball and delivered their clubs to the championship this year with unparalleled drama, excitement and true grit.

There are always great business lessons from the sports world, but these two hard-scrapping teams and their leaders – managers Bruce Bochy of the SF Giants and Ned Yost of the KC Royals – are providing us with perfect examples of “Most Admired” leadership along their path to this year’s World Series. Bochy, a seasoned postseason veteran who led the Giants to two of the last four championships, is a master of putting the right team with the right skills together at the right time of the season. Yost, an eleven year manager who had never had a team suit up in the playoffs, is the underdog whose lack of postseason experience made no difference to his “never say die” Royals who fought their way through four extra-inning games to win eight straight and make him the only unbeaten manager in postseason play.


On the surface, these managers and their teams couldn’t seem more different, but listening to their players in post-game interviews – you definitely hear common leadership themes that provide lasting lessons for leaders or team players in any organization.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Wildcard World Series –

  1. Put together the right team with the right skills at the right time.
  2. Never look past the upstart competitor who has nothing to lose.
  3. Trust and Respect your team and you’ll earn theirs.
  4. Great ideas and contributions can come from anywhere in the organization.
  5. Lay it all out on the field, have fun and be grateful!

Lesson #1: Put together the right team with the right skills at the right time. 

Sometimes the team that’s cruising through the season isn’t the one that ends up on top at the end. It’s the one that pulls together the right players to play the right roles and comes together with a “never say die” attitude and takes every play seriously in every game. Both Bochy and Yost have been masters of strategy en route to the series – utilizing specialty role players at critical points and never looking past the play in front of them at the moment. Which leads us to lesson #2…

Lesson #2: Never look past the upstart competitor who has nothing to lose.

The last time the Kansas City Royals had suited up for a post-season game was when they won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. So they definitely had nothing to lose. Squeaking in to this year’s postseason as a wildcard team – they laid it all out on the field every night and swept through 8 games including 4 that went into extra innings against three much more highly favored teams.

Not to be outdone in the drama department, the Giants pulled out their wins in equally exciting fashion with almost every win a “come from behind” triumph including one game against the Washington Nationals that went 18 innings and was the longest postseason game in history!

Both of these teams played each game leading up to the World Series as though they had nothing to lose. One of the biggest reasons that repeating a championship is so rare is that great sports teams, like great companies, often begin to “coast” after great success. Every team has to continue to play like they have nothing to lose – and continue to innovate and scrap for each win – or they may get blindsided by upstarts who are leaner, quicker and more agile.

There’s always room for improvement – even when you are on top. And if you are the upstart company looking to knock out the market leader – never cede a potential deal or customer to the entrenched company who has “always won that business” or “owns that space”. The companies and teams who think this way year after year continue to innovate and grow and end up standing tall at the end of the season.

Lesson #3: Trust and Respect your team – and you’ll earn theirs.

How do great leaders bring talented individuals together with such passion and unity? How could Yost, whose team hadn’t picked up a bat in the postseason for 29 long years, pull this team together to believe that they’d be the ones to break that long drought?


Ned Yost is the kind of leader whose decisions have not always been trusted by the commentators, sports writers or the fans. After 11 seasons as a manager of a low budget team in a relatively small market, the last eight games that the Royals have played are Yost’s first postseason games ever as a manager. But the Royals didn’t need a manager who had “been there, done that” this year. They needed a leader who believed in each of his players – and could elicit the kind of reciprocal trust from the team that he’d lead them in the right direction. “Ned’s probably not getting his due for his ability to communicate with his players,” a former Royals manager noted. “You never see that. It’s an unsaid thing. It’s clearly one of Ned’s greatest abilities — getting his players to buy into his philosophy.”

“I’m glad I’m playing for a guy like him, for sure,” said Travis Ishikawa of Giants manager Bruce Bochy, “He just seems to have the right intuition with every move he makes.” Michael Morse seconded this sentiment, “To be a part of his (Bochy’s) program and his team is such an honor. That’s why coming here was a big thing for me.  Everybody comes here happy to be here, nobody ever has a bad attitude. Everybody has one goal, and that’s to win together. To me, it’s the perfect balance of having fun and having success.”

Yost and Bochy both lead by example – creating a culture of trust and respect that infuses all of their players. In the celebrations and postgame interviews after both the Royals and the Giants advanced to the World Series, all the players expressed how each person on their teams felt valued for their unique contribution to the team and was treated like family by the coaching staff and the other players. This mutual respect and admiration allowed each team to come through some really low times in the middle of their 2014 season and ultimately earn a championship berth.

Giants League Win 2014 Lesson #4: Great Contributions can come from anywhere within your organization.

No game exemplifies this better than the SF Giants “come from behind” win in Game 5 against the favored St. Louis Cardinals. San Francisco’s heavy hitters hadn’t had a home run in over 220 trips to the plate during the playoff games leading up to their last game against the Cardinals, but Bochy was able to get his team to shake off their slumps and adjust to a strategy of just getting on base and making things happen play by play. He trusted his specialty role players – his designated hitters, pinch runners and relief pitchers – to use their specialized skills to do what they do best.

Three “role players” stepped up to pull the Giants out of the home run slump in this last game and helped launch them into the World Series. The first one to send one out of the park was the Giants’ 23 year-old rookie 2nd baseman (and ironically named) Joe Panik. Giants’ hitting coach Hensley Meulens commented, “Nothing Panik does surprises me. He plays way beyond his age – his overall demeanor and the way he plays the game – he’s calm, cool and collected. Nothing ever seems to rush him at all, at any point during the game. Maybe it does, but he never shows it.” Next, Michael Morse – a 10 year veteran – stepped in as a pinch hitter and sent a solo shot into the stands and rounded the bases smiling ear to ear with the joy of a little leaguer hitting his first home run.

The final star of the night was Travis Ishikawa – a veteran player who almost gave up the game after being cut from the Giants, bounced down to the minor leagues, and traded to other teams over the past few years. Ishikawa was called up by Bochy just weeks before the start of the postseason to fill in for injured Giants players. He was placed in an unfamiliar position in the outfield – and was nearly the goat of the game when he dropped a line drive that allowed St. Louis to take an early lead in the game. But, he never gave up and played every at-bat as though it would be his last. And in what can only be described as a perfect Hollywood style ending – he stepped to the plate on the final out of the 9th inning and sent a three-run shot that almost made it into McCovey Cove in San Francisco Bay. After that walk-off home run, Bruce Bochy walked calmly out of the dugout to join the exuberant group hug going on at home plate – as though the script had been written this way and he expected it all along.

This trifecta of unlikely heroes proved that the winning contribution doesn’t always have to come from your superstars – and a great leader who values to the contributions from all of his/her players will get the best effort from each person and the highest level of performance from the whole team.

Lesson #5: Lay it all out on the field, have fun and be grateful!

To be a part of a winning team and a successful organization, one of the most important factors is to play with passion! Both the Royals and Giants took many games to extra innings to get the job done during their postseason march to the championship. Players on both teams laid it all out on the field every single game, and truly in almost every at bat.

“We know what’s at stake, and getting to this point now, we’re excited,” Manager Bruce Bochy said. “You go out there and you play like there’s no tomorrow, and these guys have done a great job of it. They’re keeping their poise and finding ways to get it done.”

Yost said the same about his Royals, “This is a gutty group. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I will say that they will leave it all out on the field for you.”

Royals 2014

Giants’ superstar slugger Pablo Sandoval – choked back tears in his postgame interview when asked why this team – of all of the great teams he’s been a part of – was so special. “The chemistry we have – all these guys are special – the whole team plays hard for each other.” It’s exciting,” he said. “You win or you go home. That’s what we try to do every single day – not get too excited in situations. You want to… have fun no matter what the situation is, what the score is… Just have fun out there.”

Michael Morse, Giants designated hitter said, “I’m just happy to be here! Any role, anything, I’m just a guy who will do whatever it takes. In Spring training, we said that we were a World Series Bound team – and to be around 25 guys who have one vision is incredible.”

The players on these two teams and their leaders exemplify the lessons of organizations that are Most Admired and achieve long-term success – grit, trust, respect, passion and gratitude. So, here’s to the boys of October! This World Series promises to be one for the ages! column: Steve Jobs’ 3 Most Surprising Secrets to Success

The Apple founder’s advice highlights the biggest paradox you’ll face in manifesting your dreams.


In the final minutes before Apple’s press conference, my thoughts drifted to what Steve Jobs would have thought about his legacy. I envied him in high school as one of the few guys for whom the creative die seemed to be cast as a teenager. His swagger throughout life and his approach to leadership never seemed to change–until the years just before his death.

Steve never lost that sparkle in his eye or that ever-present flow of ideas, even in his last moments. But in the final weeks before his passing, he shared three things that shocked me–not so much because he admitted them, but because the first one was something he’d embraced only fairly recently, while the other two were lifelong values.

1. “Ditch your ego completely at least once each day.”
Dump judging others as well as the self-criticism. Be open to hear what you need to change on the long, winding road to building your dream. This is something that Jobs acknowledged was a real challenge for him. (Perhaps it would be for any of us!) It’s a bit of a paradox of ambition plus humility. You need a lot of hubris to believe your ideas can be the best in the world, but you also risk losing your edge and falling behind unless you’re an obsessive listener. You have to soak up the brilliance of the people and customers you’ve worked so hard to recruit.

2. “Be unapologetically ambitious about your passion.”
This was Steve’s (and is most leaders’) blessing and curse. Your obsession to live your passion against all odds is one of the greatest of all assets, but arrogance is also your biggest weakness. Steve lamented that he led Apple to an unnecessarily high rate of lost talent, as well as ideas that he’d attracted but ignored–particularly back when his career and Apple hit the skids in the ’90s.

3. “Be grateful to others for what they contribute, but don’t do it for validation.”
Remember, there are plenty of loving critics and critical lovers who will unintentionally (and intentionally!) sabotage your ambitions because they care for you or they’d like to see you fail. If your venture is meant to impress someone, you’re setting yourself up for endless confusion.

The advice of a dying man, particularly this guru, is hard to ignore: “Don’t give yourself to anything unless you’re clear that it really matters.” Column: 4 Secrets to Success Richard Branson Learned From Nelson Mandela

Instead of getting angry when dealing with the headaches of launching a new business, Sir Richard draws on lessons Mandela taught him for overcoming a struggle.

Richard Branson

As Virgin America announced plans for its long-awaited IPO, Sir Richard Branson confided over a late-night beer just how maddening it can be to launch any high-flying business, even with more than 350 other companies under the Virgin brand. Back when the Bay Area-based airline was getting started, Virgin America’s competitors viciously contested the newcomer’s arrival for what seemed like an eternity. Price wars, lawsuits, and regulatory battles all soaked up precious resources.

“The knee-jerk reaction you feel when you’re under attack is to assume a siege mentality,” Branson said. But your fight-or-flight instincts are “a self-indulgent waste of time and money.” Instead, the legendary entrepreneur and his partners focused on reinventing the customer experience for domestic air travel, eventually winning share in the insanely competitive airline industry.

Branson said that rather than ever feel threatened or even sorry for himself, he’s always comforted by four principles that guided his longtime mentor, Nelson Mandela, whose circumstances were obviously far more desperate than any of us will ever experience.

[read the full article]

Labor Day Message: Love Family & Friends NOW

Your eulogy won’t be about the office!

Labor Day is a perfect time to suggest that our lives aren’t supposed to be all  about work. In the tough global economic environment, everyone is working  harder out of necessity and most of us find it difficult to take a break from work, even on a mandated holiday! Sometimes I feel guilty abandoning work to live out  the shared dreams of my family. But it’s so much better to feel guilty about the office than to miss my daughter while she’s still with us at home. That’s becoming  evident to me now more than ever since she started high school this fall. Her childhood and our time with her is just flying by.

I have been especially struck by some recent eulogies heard at funerals that I’ve attended this past year. The grieving loved ones never mentioned the extra time  those departed souls spent in the office. No… instead they were remembered  and admired for the love they shared with family, friends, and community and even for the customers whose lives they had touched.

When I reached out to friends that I hadn’t seen in months to invite them to  Bonita’s birthday this summer, it was eye-opening and heart wrenching to hear from so many friends whose lives had been impacted by sudden changes of fate during the past year. The co-author of one my books has been enduring very challenging health problems and yet is still inspiring everyone with his undaunted enthusiasm for life and work. Several other friends and family are battling cancer of every kind, including my wife’s beloved father. It felt good to talk to so many  people whom I’ve missed during this busy year, but it was also a warning.

Whatever the dream you have for your life or your family, do it now. Carpe Diem.

On a trip to Africa in the 1990s, my wife Bonita and I were working with an  organization called Save the Children. We were in the midst of the busiest time in our professional careers, but on that trip we made the life-changing decision to become parents (before it was too late). We had been together 20 years already and we were in our early 40s when we were finally blessed by the arrival  of our sweet little girl. We had been constantly traveling the world for years, and couldn’t wait for Vanessa to be old enough to join us on our adventures—especially to see Africa, the cradle of life. We dreamed of exploring the world  together and showing our daughter many cultures and natural wonders.

In this brief video, my daughter and I share a moment of our dream. (Thank you, Sir Richard for the invite to Ulusaba in South Africa!) Over the past 7 years, Vanessa has visited more than 40 countries with us and I’m not regretting a moment of any professional sacrifice we might have made to have the extraordinary life that we share. As Jack London said, “I’d rather be ashes than  dust.”