My Kind of Leaders & Teams!
I am a team building facilitator, leadership consultant and retreat speaker. Playing out before me on TV was the essence of what I had been teaching for over 20 years. Ground Zero, like a Mecca, drew Americans from every corner of the country who just showed up to help. They selflessly served one another and the victims. Whether it was searching for survivors, picking up garbage, leading prayer, offering blankets, clothing, or wet towels, or serving meals, volunteer teams of Americans came together with one single focus, to serve a cause much greater than themselves. Leaders and officials had the same singular focus and didn’t allow any artificial barriers to get in the way.
They wanted to help and comfort their fellow citizens and to rescue survivors. Even when the hope of survivors faded, they seemed to shift in unity to a shared reverence and commitment to the crash sites as the sacred ground of innocent victims and heroes who had given their all. They also reached out with compassion to the families of victims. Their mission was a clear and compelling sight! Everyone who wasn’t able to go there talked of how they wished they could. We all felt a pull to do something, anything, to help and give comfort. We all wanted to do something bigger than ourselves.
Local leaders like Rudy Giulliani were also doing the right things. He gave powerful speeches to pull us together around the single vision. He could be seen hugging citizens, going to memorials, leading in prayer, thanking the trash collectors, giving recognition to heroes, and empowering volunteers. He continually clarified the daily goals, kept everyone in the communication loop, and gave recognition for both individual and team contributions to the recovery. He was truly managing by wandering around in the very best sense of the concept.
President Bush pulled us together with a shared vision and lifted our hope and pride when he put his arm around a retired fire fighter and told us all that he heard us, and that the people who knocked down those buildings would soon hear from us all. Those were galvanizing words and days of patriotism and love of our fellow citizens followed. Everyone was a little kinder everywhere. And President Bush was an inspiring live example of a good guy. He was the picture of compassion, humanity, incredible integrity and strength that we all so desperately needed to believe still existed in our shaken world.
It was so powerful, that I began to study it in earnest. The kind of teamwork and leadership I had been teaching for years was happening spontaneously…naturally. Americans were doing it intuitively! Leaders were leading. People were teaming up. Selflessness was evident everywhere. Giving and generosity was the norm of the day. Even here in California, far from Ground Zero, we would be driving down the street and suddenly come upon firemen or police in the middle of the intersection holding out buckets or boots. Passing drivers would be tossing in dollars and filling them up. We never felt the need to question where the money was going or if it would be fairly distributed. No one seemed to be wondering, who would get the credit. Everyone was just pitching in to become a part of the solution. Good grief, even Congressional Democrats and Republicans came out and sang God Bless America together on the Capitol lawn!
Phenomena I have routinely seen in my consulting work, like stupid bureaucratic barriers to problem solving, endless process requirements, burdensome paperwork, turf wars, power struggles and self-interest had all taken a holiday. Priorities seemed clear. Patriotism was in. Communication was consistent. People were operating in unity and we were all so much better for it!
But, I began to wonder how long it would last. I also wondered if I could somehow articulate the lessons as a shared common experience, so that people could duplicate it and improve their performance in the workplace. So many organizational transformation projects over the years had brought me face-to-face with managers and employee groups who seemed to look at me like I was speaking a foreign language, as I tried to teach and inspire them to make this type of teamwork and leadership catch fire in their workplace. I have often wondered in the face of skeptics, what is so hard or complex about the concepts of leadership and teamwork. And now here it was! Everyone was just doing it, and without trainers or facilitators to develop leaders and teams. Americans were proving that they knew intuitively how to work smart and achieve excellence together. It wasn’t rocket science after all.