MVP Seminars Blogs

I love flying jets. I'm so grateful to have the privilege of connecting my passengers with their moments that matter most. But that's not all I do. In another life I am a musical conductor. And in that arena several years ago I had the great privilege of working with Maestro Travis Branam on a project he called "The 303 Choir." (I wrote about that here.)

The choir was made up of enthusiastic middle and high school kids who have had very little choral training, but who love to sing. As part of that experience we organized an opportunity for them to "meet" internationally acclaimed composer and conductor, Randall Stroope, via Skype. We encouraged the kids to show up with questions, and right out of the chute one of the kids asked, “Why do you write music the way you do?” Not bad. Not bad at all.

Dr. Stroope didn’t miss a beat. He explained that it’s always about enhancing the text. The text always dictates how the music is written. Every aspect of the music – notes, rhythm, meter, harmonies – should be about bringing out the message that the poet is trying to convey. The music should always bring the words to life.

Which brings me to the question of the day: Why do you do what you do?

The art of writing music can certainly stand on its own. Choral music on the other hand, at least as imagined by Randall Stroope, is an endeavor that exists to support others. For example, one of Stroope's pieces that 303 was learning was his setting of Robert Frost's poem, "The Pasture." And the second question they asked that day was, "What inspired you to set that piece to music?

Randall said, "I wanted the music to convey the reality that Frost wasn’t talking literally about cleaning out a pasture spring. He was talking about building a relationship. So I built the notes around that idea.”

As Randall worked to bring that piece to life, his efforts were in complete service to the prior efforts of Robert Frost. He was determined to bring additional clarity and deeper meaning to the poem. In being "of service" over time, Stroope was able to create an entire catalogue of music that would be heard and loved by millions and would become a remarkable legacy in its own right.

Can you do that?

Everyone around us is writing a text, a story - the story of his or her life. What are we, you and I, doing about it? How are we supporting those around us? How are we "enhancing the text" of their stories? Are we working to help them bring their words to life? Are we being "of service?"

Or are you so busy writing your own story that you don't see those around you writing theirs? Yes, creating our own legacy is a worthy objective. We should all be about it. But should it be all about us? Or could you weave their stories into yours? What might that look like?

How about this: Is there something you can do today, tomorrow, next week, next month to enhance the self-esteem of a colleague? Can you add tangible value to a friend's life? Is there a way for you to ease someone else's burden? What notes, rhythm, meter and harmonies can you bring to their stories?

Think of someone on your team who is facing a challenge right now. Is there a level of mentorship you can offer from your own life experience that would make it easier for him or her to win that hard battle?

Randall Stroope is able to make powerful poems even more impactful by adding a musical dimension to the text. You, as a composer of life can do it, too. Let's pick a text today and write a composition that will magnify the writer's meaning for the world.

Thanks for reading!

The  Symphony of Your Life


#stayintheprocess #symphonyofyourlife

The Symphony’s YouTube Channel

Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact Mark today at 720.840.8361 to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization! email: for information.
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Some time back at a Toastmasters Club meeting a speaker had just finished his presentation and round robin critiques were underway. Another attendee, Toastmasters World Championship Finalist Rich Hopkins rose to offer his critique: "The audience won't care about you until they know how much you care about them." Brilliant!

That wasn't the first time I'd heard that sentiment. As a novice speaker several of my coaches had emphasized that every presentation is always about the audience members - not the speakers. I'd heard it over and over again in different forms and different forums, but never quite so succinctly. Bravo, Rich!

These years later I make it a point to pass that idea along when it's appropriate. That's not always in a training setting for speakers.

Some weeks ago I attended a training event for new captains. One module was dedicated to team building. The idea was to give each new captain tools she could use to build the team, i.e., her flight attendants, gate agents, baggage loaders, and mechanics, who could in turn help her realize her vision on every flight.

Rich's wisdom came to mind during that conversation, so I piped up. "Folks, your support team won't care about you and your vision until they know how much you care about theirs." As far as I knew it was one nugget among many during the course. I had no expectation that it might be remembered over any other of the great ideas we gleaned that week.

Yesterday I learned just how much impact Rich's idea had on at least one other attendee. I walked into the operations office at Newark airport and immediately ran into one of my fellow new captains from that course.

"Hey Captain!"

"Well hi Captain! How's it going out there?"

We visited for a few minutes, then he told a story that bowled me over. He said that he remembered what I had shared with the class about his team members not caring about his vision for every flight until they know how much he cares about theirs. And how much effect that approach was having with bringing the flight attendants and others on board. Which was in turn having impact on his passengers. And how grateful he was to have received that one little nugget he could immediately apply to his new captainship and come out of the gate as an effective leader at least in part because of that one idea.

Rich doesn't know I've been sharing it. He has no idea I'm writing it here. Maybe I'll call him. I'd bet he would appreciate knowing how far his 10 second offering at that Toastmasters meeting has gone. First to me. Then to a room full of new captains. On to dozens of flight attendants working for this one new captain in the months since. From there to thousands of his passengers.

And  there were 17 new captains in that class. If you take a minute to do the math the numbers get pretty big pretty quickly.

You just never know how far what you say or do is going to go.

Have you thought about that? Are you conscious of what you are saying and doing with those within your sphere of influence? All the time? Are you being deliberate with how you are living day-to-day?

Something else I learned at that captain development course is that "everything speaks." Your influence is being created with every aspect of how you are living: how you present yourself to the world all the time every day. What are you saying to the world by how you show up?

Are you good with that? Give it some thought. That would be a great way to let everyone in your world know how much you care about theirs.

Thanks, Rich!

The Symphony of Your Life
#stayintheprocess #stepoverthebar #leadership #teambuilding #employeedevelopment


Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-777s around the world, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact MVP today to schedule a free personal consultation. Mark can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization!
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A “Symphony of Your Life” blog with Captain Mark Hardcastle

Captain's Log Photo


“Right is right, even if none be for it, and wrong is wrong, even if all be for it.” – William Penn

But how do you know what’s right?

I’ve been reading, enjoying, and learning from Gus Lee’s memoir, With Schwarzkopf: Life Lessons of the Bear, perhaps the best book on leadership I’ve ever read. One of Lee’s stories took me back to early 2005. In the summer of that year I was a brand new real estate agent with a rental property of my own I was ready to flip. The work on the house was done. It was time to get it on the market.

And sure enough an offer came in. But as I read the offer I realized that something was very wrong. It was as if the buyer’s agent had written it on my behalf. Almost every negotiable item was written to my benefit.

Think back with me to the summer of 2005. The Denver market in which I practiced had not yet started the spectacular decline that was already on the horizon. The economics were still fairly well-balanced, unlike today as I write in 2018 with the market heavily tilted in favor of sellers. So back then there was no reason for a buyer to make a particularly generous offer. I was puzzled.

As I looked more closely it became clear that this agent was new. Not only were the terms poorly-written, but there were technical errors, lots of them, in the way the contract had been prepared.

This was my very first transaction as a licensed agent – I had no idea what to expect from other real estate professionals. But it wasn’t my first deal. Over the years I had acquired and sold multiple properties as an investor. So despite my “greenness” in the agency world, I was able to recognize that this agent was exposed. Were I of such a mind, this would have been an opportunity to take advantage of her inexperience. I could just see some of my fellow investors licking their chops.

But it didn’t feel right. I was after a fair deal, sure. Maybe even a “good” deal. This, though, had the potential to cause harm to the buyer. And that reality hung me up. Because this was my own property, I could do whatever I wanted. Ultimately I would completely re-write the contract.

But what if I were negotiating on behalf of a client? Having just graduated from real estate school I was powerfully aware that my fiduciary responsibility would have “required” me to negotiate the absolute best possible deal for my client regardless of what I might do on my own.

I didn’t want to be that agent. You know the one I’m talking about. The hard-nosed, hard-driving stereotype of an agent who takes advantage of every unintentional slip without any regard for good faith.

I needed guidance. Newly minted, I didn’t have the tools. And having recently hung my shingle with the largest real estate company in Colorado, I feared that they would expect me to be… aggressive. Still, I went looking for advice.

Unfortunately it was a Saturday. The broker wasn’t in. The agency trainer was enjoying his weekend as well. So I went to the front desk receptionist to ask who was taking agent questions. She pointed me down the hall to a senior agent whose name I didn’t yet know.

His door was closed, but the light was on. I knocked. When the door opened I was looking up at a mountain of flesh with a face of thunder who was clearly wondering why I’d interrupted his desk work. My palms started to sweat. Quaking, I stammered out my dilemma.

I’ll never forget his answer. He didn’t roar at me. He was actually rather gentle. In the voice of a father, he said, “you know, Mark, it’s simple. Just do the right thing.”

Do the right thing. He didn’t ask for numbers. In fact, he didn’t ask for any details at all. He didn’t care about the commission split to the company. He only had one concern: do the right thing. Not necessarily easy. But simple.

If up to that point I’d had any reservation about whether I’d made the right choice of agency to join, those doubts evaporated in an instant and I knew I was home. And as ethical questions came up during my years as an agent I found great comfort as well as utility in his advice.

In his book, Gus Lee reminisces about Schwarzkopf telling him, “every real question in life comes off as a tough ethics question. And the answer’s always the same to tough questions: do the right thing.”

Of course, the point here is that those “real” questions are called “tough” for a reason. The right thing sometimes requires personal sacrifice. And The Bear had plenty to say about army “careerists” protecting their own interests at the expense of the “harder right.”

Still, as humans living in the real world we naturally want to avoid that. And our own interests can be legitimate. It’s ok to be as fair to ourselves as to others. In the case of my first real estate transaction, it wasn’t really all that hard, partly because I was a principal to the deal, partly because I knew that even if this particular deal failed another buyer would come along.

Which takes us back to the “tough” part. Sometimes, the right thing has nothing to do with us. Had I been working for a client it wouldn’t have been so easy. The client’s interests would have been at play. And the agency under whose license I toiled always had a say. Multiple interests, sometimes in conflict, make it harder to discern “right.”

So here you are, facing a tough question. Maybe you’re involved in the problem, maybe you’re not. Regardless, you’re the decision maker. How can you know what to do?

Again from Schwarzkopf: “Character means you have to do the right thing all of the time. Character guarantees competence because to do the right thing you must acquire and develop your competence.” In other words, the better you get at what you do, the easier it becomes to know what’s right.

Finally in this regard, The Bear referenced the cadet prayer from West Point. Part of it implores, “…strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half-truth when the whole can be won.” He then taught that “you need fine judgment to know the harder right. You get that judgment by practicing and by learning from errors.”

I imagine that General Schwarzkopf might suggest you face today’s difficult decision by sifting through the issues in search of the harder right. And then move forward with admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking. Not without fear of making the wrong decision, but with the courage of knowing that if you make a mistake you will learn.

Doing that will lead to your best decision today and will make hard decisions easier tomorrow. Learning begets competence; competence begets judgment. The more you practice the better you will become. And in time you will become the one to whom the new folks turn, because you will know where to find the harder right.

And you’ll hear yourself saying, “It’s simple. Just do the right thing.” And then you’ll lead the way.

Thanks for reading!

The Symphony of Your Life



Mark graduated from the USAF Academy in 1982. After nine years as a pilot on active duty, he left the military to join a commercial airline. In addition to flying B-737s around the country, Hardcastle spends time in the Rocky Mountains and serves on the artistic staff of the Colorado Children’s Chorale. He lives in Centennial, Colorado, with his wife and four children. Need some help figuring out why you’re on this planet? Want to talk about discovering your mission and purpose? Contact MVP today to schedule a free personal consultation. He can also deliver an inspirational keynote or workshop for your organization!
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Much as been written and said about teamwork and team building to the point now that it could be a bad cliché as unsuspecting employees run for cover when the boss springs on them another team building activity.  Besides now you could not get your staff off their phones long enough to even conduct an old skool Trust Fall exercise. 

Knowing that staff working together in a productive way is the key to meaningful productiveness, what is a leader to do?  Some take the approach of labeling, like calling employees teammates and forming them into workgroups.  That’s like calling your Hyundai a Ferrari.  It might make you temporarily feel better, you can even shut your eyes and rev the engine, but its still not the same thing.

Oh ya, you still might be wondering what I was doing at 2 AM to learn so much about teamwork?  I used to lead a search and rescue team for a sheriff’s department in Oregon.  From this I learned three critical things:  1. No time for endless meetings and planning.  Get your resources together and help your team get the job done.  2. Don’t get too hung up about the process, just get the persons found before they could die.  Anything less is a failed mission.  3. If you want your team to respect you and each other, there must be complete trust and communication.

I know is sounds so easy when I list them out that way, but it’s that darn ‘Trust and Communication’ part that so many have trouble with.  I promise you this, if you can achieve it, magic will happen.  Not only can you form high performance teams faster, but critical bond will be nearly unbreakable.  Teammates will go above and beyond for each other, even risk each other’s lives for one another.  Meanwhile your workgroup is till calling in sick.

Next time you have a big job to do, think of it as a search and rescue mission, in a storm, 2 AM, knowing you are not sleeping until the mission is complete.  It helps put everything into prospective real fast as far as who you want to help you and how are you all going to work together to get the job done efficiently and successfully.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Jack W. Peters

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In last week's show, we spoke about why some people choose not to forgive and why it's essential to do so. There are many reasons and two of the biggest are: they feel the person is not deserving of being forgiven; 2. they feel that should they grant pardon, the other party will think the incident was not serious, will not have to be held accountable, or may very well repeat  the offense. Although none of these is true, they are considered by many to be valid reasons. However, as I stated previously, to withhold absolution can have dire consequences for the one who was harmed. "Not  forgiving is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." (unknown) The act of exoneration has multiple benefits including freeing one from anger, animosity, bitterness, hatred or thoughts of revenge. It restores inner peace and joy. It reduces the risk of physical and emotional maladies or from interfering with having other healthy relationships. It also keeps the door open for a possible reconciliation of both parties at some point in the future. Forgiveness is not for the other person; it is a gift you give yourself, the gift of serenity. Assuming you have made the decision to let go of the incident, how do  you proceed? Forgiveness, for many, is not immediate. It is a process of healing emotionally and spiritually and can take some time. Keep in mind: one need not forgive and forget. To forget what has transpired, such as an assault, puts one at risk for the incident to reoccur. Forgive but remember without negative emotions. Keep in mind, too, that while some believe the old adage that time heals all wounds, in truth time heals nothing. It is the act of pardoning that heals. Here are some steps you can take to let go of the anger and move beyond the incident.

  1. Keep in mind that all of us are human and mistakes, selfish acts, fear, betrayals, disappointments and such are all a normal part of the human experience. One cannot journey through life without ever offending or disappointing others. To forgive means to refrain from judgment and to make allowances for man's imperfections.
  2. Change your perception of the person or incident. Life isn't about truth and reality; it is about perception - how we choose to see others or the world. Perception is simply a thought. We choose a thought, either one that is kind or judgmental. So ask yourself, "Am I being fair in my assessment of this person or incident? Was there a misunderstanding? Am I over reacting to what happened?" Your thoughts create your feelings (refer to T~E~~C~O Magic*). Therefore, all one really needs to do to change how they feel is to change what they are thinking. See the offender through the eyes of kindness, understanding, and fairness.

"Do not judge me until  you have walked a mile in my shoes." - Native American philosophy

  1. Realize that every experience that enters your life is a critical part of your life's journey. Each person and situation provides the opportunity for you to fulfill your Divine Destiny and to bring you into closer communion with God. Rather than find fault with or complain about what happened, find its value. Be grateful for the opportunity to further your spiritual development. Gratitude thwarts anger and bitterness.
  2. Pray. Prayer is a powerful form of communication with the Divine. It's like holding on to the hand of a fire fighter as he guides you out of a burning building to safety. Conversation with God provides us with guidance, comfort, and the strength to do God's Will rather than succumbing to our anger or desires, for our need for justice. Our first responsibility is always to abide by the Father's directives, not to surrender to our ego. "Align with the Divine" is a simple but powerful mantra to remind us that we must always respond to life from a spiritual perspective, in a way reflective of God's Love.

Also, it's important to pray for the one who committed the offense. Rather than seeking revenge, pray for their healing, for whoever commits a hateful act upon another is in need of healing not punishment. God's Way is to heal and our way must be His Way. James 5: tells us to "Pray for others so that you may be healed." This is a prayer I recite for those who have betrayed me: "Heavenly Father, please help _____ to keep their heart and mind open to you today and everyday, allowing you to work through them, with them, and in them, helping them to become the person you created them to be. And help me also to remember every day that what is happening between them and me is not between the two of us. It is always between you and I. Amen." If necessary, one can also take the following steps towards forgiving:

  1. Discuss with the other person what happened and why for the sole purpose of understanding their position. Clear up any misunderstandings. Discuss facts only. Refrain from blame or excuses. Accept responsibility for your part.
  2. Discuss how each person felt. This may be uncomfortable but is necessary to more fully understand the impact this incident has had on both parties.
  3. Decide what you both want to happen now. Do you want a reconciliation, a chance to rebuild your relationship, or would it be best to part ways, amicably? What can each party do to accomplish this?
  4. Focus on and remember everything good about the person. Remember, thoughts dictate feelings. One act of bad judgment does not erase all the good in someone.
  5. Separate the behavior from the individual. Behaviors are not who we are; they are outward expressions of our internal environment and issues. Remind yourself that this person is still a sacred child of God, deserving of love and forgiveness.
  6. Detach and let go of all negative feelings. Revisit the incident as an objective observer, not an active participant.
  7. Extract the value of the experience. Learn the lessons, be grateful, let go, and move forward.

Keeping in mind that this experience is a process and may take time and effort, how does one know if they have in fact truly forgiven the other party? When the following elements are present:

  1. Have you let go of the need to discuss it? It has served its purpose and needs no more of your time or energy.
  2. Can you think about the offender without anger or animosity?
  3. If you came face-to-face with them, would you feel at ease?
  4. Are you at peace with what happened although not necessarily happy about it?
  5. Does the thought of the other party suffering for their offense cause you sadness?
  6. Can you be grateful for the experience and see how it has actually been a blessing in your life?

Remember, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It is the ultimate act of self-love for it enables you to live in the peace and joy that God intended for you. Mark 11: 25 "And when you stand praying if you hold anything against anyone forgive them so that your Father in Heaven may forgive you your sins." I invite you to watch a very powerful video on the importance of forgiveness at *T~E~~C~O Magic* in The Secret Side of Anger   Order  The Secret Side of Anger, Second Edition or The Great Truth @   Listen to past shows on iHeart Radio @ Listen to my newest iHeart Radio show, BETWEEN YOU AND GOD, @ Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Pinterest, Google+

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This question is perhaps one of the most important questions that can be asked in any organization and yet is one that may never be asked by management, even in companies with long histories. The answer to this question is ultimately determined by the perspective of management, which is transferred into the workforce. This perspective determines the culture - how people communicate and what is communicated, how people work together, project success, the value added by expansions, relationships with suppliers, even employee loyalty and retention.

If companies decide to adopt a "manage the value stream" approach, the management team will be faced with new decisions that they have never had to make before, such as sharing information, managing projects and solving problems. Sharing information, managing projects and solving problems makes are viewed by all as management's responsibility, so what is special about the change? Doing these tasks differently require people in management to "be different" than they were yesterday or the day before, which takes courage, commitment and a willingness to give up personal power in the interest of building team power. If management is not prepared for this level of change, they are likely to make the wrong decision. As a result, they will not achieve their goal and may not understand why.

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THE COMPOSITON OF AUTHENTIC CONVERSATIONS Most leaders think we know how to communicate. We’ve been sharing our words for years, but it is not the words that create the ability to communicate. It is the willingness to listen and to allow others to say things we might not want to hear. How many times have you prohibited your team members to say what was on their minds, because you reacted in a negative fashion? Maybe you didn’t scream or curse at them, but you showed your disappointment, rolled your eyes, or dismissed them. Since most people don’t like to deal with these responses, you are in effect telling them that you don’t want them to communicate honestly with you. Do you allow your staff members to have authentic conversations with you? Do you try to hear what they are saying without judgment—judgment of yourself or of them? HEARING REQUIRES NONJUDGMENT The idea is to allow others to converse in an open and candid fashion, realizing that when we close down, we are cheating ourselves of knowledge. In order to listen to others, we need the ability to not take things personally. What we want is to hear what they are saying without choosing to be hurt. The thing we have to remember is their words are not hurting us; it is our perception of what they are saying. In fact, they can’t hurt us without our permission. If we are taking what somebody else says personally and judging ourselves, then we believe what they are saying is true. We become angry or hurt, not at their words, but at how we perceive ouselves as failures. The truth is that we can always gain something from their willingness to be honest. We can either hear what they say and decide is not true for us, or we can distinguish the changes we need to make. Either way we are gaining information, which makes us better leaders. On the other hand, if we choose to prevent conversations to occur because they don’t make us feel good, we are keeping ourselves contained in a shallow box. We are not learning anything about the other person, about us, or about the situation. We also guaranteeing a distance between the two of us. LIMITING CONVERSATIONS RESTRICTS GROWTH When I taught a health class in the sping of 2013, I asked the students what they believed was the most important thing in a relationship. Without hesitation, they unanimously said it was communication. Yet, when I asked how many of them believed they had great communication skills, not a single hand was raised. When we had a class discussion about our lack of communication skills, the students were primed to believe relationships inherently had communication limitations. They were willing to accept the limitations, believing relationships could survive the restrictions. If all we are attempting is to survive our relationships, then we do have the choice to limit them. Remember, though, the limitation prevents growth between two people and growth in ourselves. The limitation turns into stagnation and stagnation is a sign of death. It is true that we can be half alive and still function for years. Is this what you desire—the slow death of who you could be? Or do you want to see all the possibilities of who you are and who you are willing to become?  
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Here are a few thoughts on team building through a breakthrough experience. Brian Biro's breakthrough leadership and team building experienceThe ancient Chinese sage, Confucius once said, “When we hear we forget.  When we see we remember.  But when we DO we understand.”  In my seminars I don’t want participants to simply hear about the concept of leadership, or see an example of breaking through.  I want them to actually experience it!  So the seminar finishes with the remarkable BREAKTHROUGH EXPERIENCE as every participant is given the opportunity to break through a one-inch thick wooden board karate-style! That's right, a literally unforgettable breakthrough experience. As we prepare for the breakthrough, everyone writes down on their one-inch thick wooden board something they truly want to move beyond in their life – a limit, fear, obstacle, habit, or doubt. It is the meaning they give to their breakthrough metaphor that creates the power in the experience. For some it’s fear of failure.  For others it’s procrastination, anger, stress, rejection, or loss.  On the other side of the board participants get to be kids again. Filled with the no-limit possibility-thinking they had when they were children, the participants write down what's waiting for them when they've broken through and left that limit in the dust where it belongs. The process of board-breaking empowers people to be their best when their best is called for and teaches them about balance – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Board-breaking also creates an unforgettable experience of real teamwork. Picture all team members cheering for each other at the tops of their lungs.  The unconditional support and energy is ASTONISHING!   The place is shaking, energy is soaring, and music is pounding. And when each person breaks his or her board, it is a moment of unrivaled clarity, focus, and celebration. For many people, it's the first time they've ever had a room full of people cheer for them and focus completely on their success. Now THAT's breakthrough leadership!
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THE BUY-IN: CRITICISM IS NOT PERSONAL Constructing a team begins with guiding individuals to discover their greatest potential. In order to this, individuals need to be coached so they can address their weaknesses. A team is dependent upon the strengths of each individual, and it is weakened when members are too weak to carry their loads. One of the most critical factors in coaching team members is to teach them that constructive criticism is not personal. It is a necessary piece toward building their talents. It is really an offering of assistance from the leaders who care enough to show them a better way, a shortcut to success. When I coached collegiate basketball, our players never touched a basketball, lifted weights or ran a wind sprint before we talked about the importance of being coached, which was defined as the ability to accept criticism from both coaches and teammates. Throughout the season we continued to stress that our constructive criticism was essential toward improving each individual and creating a championship team. While there are many ways to be constructive with criticism, it should be noted that the individual receiving it is still being told that what she is currently doing is not good enough. This means that no matter how carefully you phrase your criticism, it might not be heard it as you intended. What I learned as a collegiate basketball coach was that my players often did not hear the positive feedback we were giving them. THE FEEDBACK RULES It was imperative with our coaching staff that we use positive language, and we gave as many warm, fuzzy statements as we could when we were coaching. We wanted to build our players up and not tear them down. We followed many of the rules for feedback:
  1. Always start with a positive statement.
  2. Avoid attacking or judging personal characteristics. Instead make suggestions on how to improve behavior.
  3. Avoid “You did” or “You are” statements.
  4. Provide options for improvement.
  5. Ask questions to make certain the team member understands the conversation.
  6. End the session a choice scenario: Here is what happens if you do change and here is what happens if you fail to change.
  7. Own your feedback.
  8. Be specific when giving feedback.
  9. Never use the “but” after a compliment. It negates everything said before it.
  10. Only give positive feedback when it is true.
HELPING TEAM MEMBERS HEAR THE MESSAGE We tried to use as many of these methods as possible, but yet we still discovered that a majority of our players would leave practice thinking they had done nothing right. This, of course, is a typical reaction to criticism, the feeling of being incompetent or unworthy. In order to help our players hear our compliments, we instituted a rule that they had to say, “Two points” every time they heard positive feedback. Every time they heard constructive criticism, they were to respond with “Rebound.” The idea was that they would hear themselves saying “Two points” much more frequently than “Rebound.” This ensured that the player heard the positive feedback. It also gave us a reference as to how many times we were using positive statements versus constructive criticism. Maybe this idea sounds too juvenile for your company, but it works. You might want to choose different language or a different reward system, but the most important thing is to find a way to convince your team members that constructive criticism is, in fact, for their benefit.  
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The success of executive teams rests with each member knowing two things:

  1. what they need to achieve, and
  2. how they will achieve it.

The first part is about purpose and identity  — what results the team needs to accomplish.

The second describes the rules of engagement for the team — the expected behaviors while working together.

Over the past few months, I’ve worked with two senior executive teams to increase their synergy and effectiveness.

One team consisted of 26 people, and needed to replace bad habits, learned through the company’s old fear-based culture, with forward-thinking habits.

The other had 12 executives, many of them new to one another and to their roles.

And both teams needed two things:  

1) A clear team purpose that everyone understood

2) Agreed upon Operating Principles that outlined how team members would collaborate to achieve their objective.

The first part, establishing a team's purpose, is critical and is where a team often spends time crafting and reworking until the purpose is just right.

The second part, defining the Operating Principles, is too often left to chance and not given sufficient time to ensure buy-in and accountability among all team members.

This is why we find it best to establish an executive team’s Operating Systems at a single team-building event with a three-step process:

STEP 1: Divide and Conquer

A fun way of starting this process is to do a series of team performance activities, such as the ones we have developed to test team efficiency.  These activities are highly participatory, engaging participants while building trust between team members.

  1. Divide the team into groups of 5-7 people and ask each group to develop a list of Operating Principles that they will use during their activities (for example, make sure each voice is heard, clearly define roles, and celebrate successes).
  2. After each team activity, let the groups edit and add to their list of values whatever that they think will help them perform better in the next activity.
  3. After 2-3 rounds of activities, the teams should have a very strong list of behaviors that work, which will form the basis of the Operating Principles.

STEP 2: Blend and Combine  

The next step is to blend the lists of values from each group into a master list of Operating Principles.

For this, we use the power of the pen.

  1. We give each person a marker and invite them to write on a whiteboard the 1-2 Operating Principles that mean the most to them.
  2. The event facilitator reads each comment out loud, crosses out duplicates, and merges them into a concise list. The key here is to ask the person who wrote it, and then the rest of the group, what this potential Operating Principle brings to the team.
  3. In this safe environment, people can challenge and clarify these Principles in an open and helpful conversation with the aim to create a solid list of Operating Principles for the team.

Click here to download an example of set of executive team Operating Principles.

STEP 3: Make it Stick

The final step is asking how the group will hold each other accountable.

  1. Usually by this point, the team is so excited about the Operating Principles that they want to immediately share them with their teams and put copies up in every conference room at all the sites in the organization.
  2. This engagement is admirable, and while it is smart to share it with their teams, it is better to use the list as a way of holding oneself accountable, rather than imposing it on others outside of the team.  The main point is for each Executive Team Member to verbally commit to living the agreed upon Operating Principles (even putting everyone’s signatures on a single document).  Executive teams also encourage each team member to call out good behavior and candidly discuss the bad in each other.
  3. In the end, most executive teams decide to post a copy in their primary conference room and in their offices.  They also communicate the principles to their teams as a sign of leadership unity and to ask their teams to hold them accountable.
  4. Finally a 90 and 180-day follow-up is also scheduled to review and discuss the Operating Principles.

We have found immense positive benefits to teams who go through this process, and create and adopt Operating Principles.  This is one of the areas in which we as Stewart Leadership specialize.

Now we’d love to hear from you: Does your team have a set of Operating Principles? “Yes” or “No?”

  1. If “Yes”, what Operating Principles have you seen successful implemented?
  2. If “No”, how will you create agreed upon Operating Principles for your team?

Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Note: This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

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