Let Loose your Lions

Enterprises complain about their inability to innovate at a pace that even approaches that of startups, and yet puts into place every system imaginable to prevent a team of Lions from forming and executing.

Enterprise executives rarely think about how exceptional things are achieved by seemingly ordinary people. Everyone lauds a team after they have accomplished something great, but it never dawns on them that before that accomplishment, they are regular, everyday people. It is in achieving great things that a team of ordinary people becoming unified and unstoppable; who will not give up until they have accomplished their assigned mission; who have become a team of Lions.

If you’re a corporate executive with actual power to change things, you can create an organization full of teams of Lions. It’s not rocket science. You don’t need new ideas. You need old ideas. Ancient ideas. Humans were working together to accomplish exceptional things long before the dawn of civilization. If you stop fighting basic human instincts and instead work with them, you can achieve what you need the most to have any hope of preventing startups from eating your lunch: rampant unbridled innovation.

Dump the useless people

Apply the following test: if productivity increases when someone is on vacation, put them on a permanent unpaid vacation upon their return. It’s not personal. If a team of  accomplishes more without you, your services are no longer required. It’s the fairest assessment of your value to a team imaginable. If you are truly valuable, when you are not there, the team will miss you, need you, and will look forward to your return. If you are not, they will be relieved that you are not there. If that happened, why would you even want to stay? When the useless people are gone, you then have useful people, who now have the potential of becoming a team of Lions.

Let the leader emerge

Anyone who cannot articulate the mission instantly and in their own words is not dedicated to the mission and will never fit in on a team of Lions. These people also have to be removed, even if they do have their uses. The person who has the most passionate articulation of the mission, it’s constraints, the benefits of winning, the cost of losing, and has the plan for how to win is the team lead. People will follow this person no matter their gender, age, ethnicity, religion or disabilities: we are hard wired to do this as humans. Titles don’t matter. Tenure doesn’t matter. It’s the person with the winning plan that people follow.

Embrace failure as a real possibility

Any mission worth accomplishing can fail. A team of Lions internalizes this fact and carry it with them every day. If you can’t fail at a mission, it isn’t worth doing. If you fail, you can and should get fired. If you are good at what you do, getting fired should be a non-event as can get a new job. If you’re afraid of getting fired, you’re probably not that good. Welcome to the free market economy: it is merciless but fair – if you are valuable people will pay you to leverage your skills; if you are not, you will be jobless. No Lion fears getting fired, but Lions fear failing to accomplish the mission. Fail quickly and cheaply, but don’t enjoy failure – do everything in your power to avoid it. Only by avoiding failure can you succeed.

Stop being friends

Lions are a group of a people who share a common dedication to the successful accomplishment of a mission, not a group of friends. Stop the team lunches. Stop the childish office games. Come into work, execute with your team, rest, and do it again. It will be the most fun you will ever have in your life because winning is fun, and Lions tend to win. You will also find that when everyone stops caring about how everyone feels, and instead just focus on the work that needs to be done, politics, cliques, favoritism, elitism, condescension, arrogance, and discrimination all fall away. Nothing is personal, it is only about the mission. You want to feel comfortable around your coworkers? When you know that that they will support you in accomplishing the mission, and they know you will support them in accomplishing the mission, you won’t be friends – you will be something more powerful: teammates.

Focus on the presence of strengths, not the absence of weakness

Every Lion will have weaknesses, and the greater their strengths the more apparent their weaknesses. That’s why there is a team of Lions: one Lion’s weaknesses are balanced by other Lion’s strengths. Don’t worry about what they can’t do – focus on what they can do. If they can’t do anything that supports the mission, they’re useless and should be discarded. Again, nothing personal. Let the search for strengths be the driving force behind how you recruit for your team. Only worry about their weaknesses if their weaknesses prevent the team accessing their strengths.

Pay them what they’re worth

If accomplishing the mission doesn’t line your pockets with money, what’s the point? Capitalism is about money – which corporations know – but attempt to convince employees that Socialism is the best way to accomplish a capitalistic goals. It’s not. Capitalism is the best way to accomplish a Capitalistic goal. Corporations obsess over all the ways that show appreciation that don’t require money, but no one with a modicum of intelligence would rather take a cheap trophy and a framed piece of paper over cold, hard cash. How much cash should depend on the mission, but if there isn’t cash it’s just a Socialistic experiment in ineffectual mediocrity.

Get out of the way

Stop the status meetings. Stop the emails. Stop the conference calls. Stop trying to measure things that can’t be measured. You can’t measure focus. You can’t measure dedication. You can’t measure character. You can’t measure resilience. You can’t measure discipline. In fact, no characteristic that makes someone a Lion can be measured. When you’ve got your team of lions, you’ll know it by the look in their eyes – which you also can’t measure. Put away your spreadsheets, your checklists, your tracking tools, your desperate attempts at micromanagement, and have faith that this is your team, and if they can’t do it, it can’t be done. That’s all you need to know. Anything else is you just playing a useless academic playbook in a futile attempt to not look stupid in front of other people who care about useless academic playbooks.

Support when needed

A team of Lions will be high performing and self-sufficient but will still need things. Don’t fight them when they tell you they need things. Give it to them. Stop being short sighted. Stop pinching pennies. Stop playing political games. Stop trying to get promoted. Stop trying to stop someone else from being promoted. When a team of Lions comes to you with a demand, move hell-and-earth to get it for them. If you can’t afford it, find a way to afford it. If you’re afraid it will rock the boat, sink the boat. If you’re afraid of the consequences, be more afraid of the mission failing.

If you continue to suppress your Lions from forming into a mission focused team, a startup will end your enterprise. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually. You may milk a market too risk-averse to dump your products or services for a while, but they will leave you when they realize they can switch to something better, faster, and cheaper. When that happens, and the stock market punishes you know this: you could have done something, but you chose to do nothing.

Add your thoughts