The Leader came back to the office after a long weary day. The place was dark. Quiet. It was late. But not that late. 7:15 PM.
He was able to park right in front of the front door of the nondescript building that was home to “The Baby”. The fledgling company he started with a faithful and passionate few.
A year ago, there would have still been people here. The parking lot full. No nearby place to park when he got back from the offsite meeting. He didn’t care about that. No assigned parking. No privileges. None of that important.
The real privilege was to be found in working with this passionate and dedicated bunch of maniacs
His tribe. The place would have been a beehive of activity. Conversations. Ideas bouncing off the walls. Fingers on keyboards. Markers on whiteboards.
Flip chart pages being ripped off and taped to the walls. Someone projecting from their laptop on the white wall. The rest of that little group huddled around, energetically debating and tearing proposed concepts apart.
Crafting and constructing new ideas just as quickly. Nothing was sacred.
His favorite saying swung from a banner in the middle of the huge, wide open space they called “The Room”…
Sacred Cows Make Great Hamburger
Music always blaring from Bose speakers. Coffee freshly brewed. A frequent “Woo Hoo” enthusiastically shouted from the back conference area.
The room would have been full of vibe and energy so powerful, you would be energized the moment you stepped in. Pure energy.
Madness. His kind of madness. Delicious madness…
Tonight? Things were different. He stepped into the building and went up the stairs. Footsteps echoing in the empty stairwell. He hated these “meeting-with-investor” shoes. Couldn’t wait to put on his sneakers.
One person sat in the dark, hunched over the keyboard. Steve would one day perish in front of a laptop. It was who he was. What he did.
He glanced up, and acknowledged the Leader with a short nod and the briefest of smiles that disappeared the minute his attention returned to the keys. Replaced with his usual intensity and maniacal focus. That was Steve.
The Leader stepped into the corner he called his ”office”. He gently shooed Snuffy, the company’s adopted tabby, out of his chair, and sat down heavily. Didn’t even have the energy to take off his overcoat. He sighed…
The Leader eventually looked up from his reverie. He had been daydreaming about the “good old days”. It seemed like hours had gone by. It had only been minutes. He glanced at the sign, swaying softly in the breeze from the A/C.
Steve was still banging away. Stopping periodically to stroke the short cropped stubble he called a beard. Then he would pound away some more. Liberal use of the backspace key. Too focused to highlight and delete.
Coding. Tearing down. Recoding. Tearing down some more. More recoding and refactoring. On the fly. The mind of a pure creative at work.
Steve must have sensed it. He looked up and turned toward the Leader at the end of the long room. They stared at each other for 30 seconds. Neither of them moving or saying anything. Steve blinked first. He smiled.
He pushed himself away from the folding table he used as a desk. Stood up. Walked over to the coffee bar, and poured two cups of coffee. Cups in hand, he shuffled his 6 foot 5 lanky frame slowly toward the Leader’s “office”.
His sneakers barely made a sound on the bare concrete floor. As he approached the Leader, he spoke. “I think you want to talk”.
Steve put the cup of steaming hot coffee down in front of the Leader, folded himself into a metal chair in front of the desk, put his sneaker clad feet up, leaned back, and took a sip from his mug.
The Leader just smiled.
“You’re stewing about why people aren’t still here working like they used to, huh boss?”
Steve took another sip of the coffee and sat quietly.
“You’ve always been able to read me, even from across a dark room. Well, I’m not exactly stewing about it, but I am a little perplexed. And worried. After all, isn’t this still a ‘start-up?’”
Steve put the cup down and stroked his stubble. That was his go-to move when he was ruminating and readying some sort of action. Whether it was coding or talking.
“Yes, it is a start-up. But perhaps you’ve lost track of a few things lately. Care to listen up?”
The leader picked up the cup, took a sip, and smiled. He loved this kind of interaction with the tribe. Frankness. Push back. Straight talk. No ass-kissing or beating around the bush.
“Now what kind of a team member would I be if I said no to that Steve?”
“So that’s my point” Steve responded, a bit forcefully. “You are not just a team member, bucko. You’re the freaking Leader! Get it?”
The Leader thought about this a bit. And then said, “well, it’s fairly obvious I am the Leader, but, you know how I like to things to work. You’ve been here with me since Day One.”
Steve almost spit out his coffee as he laughed. “Wow. Now you are really making my point. Exactly dude! I have been here since Day One. And I do know. However, you’ve hired a lot of young ‘uns in the last 6 months. And they don’t know. They start off like a house afire and then…”
Slowly, the Leader’s tired mind wrapped itself around what Steve was saying. The light suddenly came on in the Leader’s eyes. And he knew. He suddenly knew what was missing. What was wrong.
“They don’t know our WHY, do they?”
“Exactly dude!” said Steve. “You know. I know. And a few others that have been here since the day the earth cooled and the dinosaurs came. You know, like when we were bouncing off the walls and pulling all-night’ers?”
The Leader nodded.
Steve added “and it wouldn’t hurt everyone else around here to get a little refresher either. A reminder of who we are, what’s really important and why we do what we do. Why we get up each morning. Suit up. Take the field.
I hear our newbies talking a great game about WHAT we do, but we all know that WHY we do it, is what’s really the game changer. That’s what gets the pulse going and the blood boiling!”
The Leader glanced back at the collection of books sitting on the makeshift shelves of two-by-six planks on the CBS blocks behind his desk. He reached up and pulled out Simon Sinek’s Start With Why and Find Your Why.
“OK”, the Leader said. “This calls for an All-Nighter. I’m going to put together some thoughts, and first thing tomorrow, an all-hands on WHY we do what we do and WHO we are. Call Kelly. Tell her to bring in muffins and bagels.”
Steve pumped his fist in the air and yelled out, “Yes!”
“We’re putting the band back together dude!”
With that, he sprung up out of the chair to call Kelly, and get back to coding. He had wasted enough precious time away from the AI routine he was building for the new product.
But he knew it had actually been time well spent. What the Leader would do tomorrow was absolutely crucial. They had to recapture the MAGIC. They had to travel back in time to the days of the dinosaurs.
Everybody had to discover, or rediscover their WHY!
The place would once again be buzzing. People would return to bouncing off the walls. Time for them to fly! He was psyched. After he called Kelly, the AI algorithm began to take shape at blinding speed. The power of the WHY…
The Leader began to flesh out the outline for his discussion with the entire tribe tomorrow. He would follow a simple script.
First he would explain to the entire tribe what the day would be about. No other work would be done this day except for focusing on the company’s WHY. No distractions. No emails. No cellphones. Until they were done.
Kelly would deliver muffins and bagels. Plenty of fresh brewed coffee, juice and water. Lunch would be arranged as well. A few volunteers would answer phones to field urgent customer calls.
He would break up the tribe into three groups.
The first three employees to join the company at it’s inception would each take a group. Steve was one of these three.
Each of the three would tell several stories, perhaps three or four, no more than five, to their groups. These stories would relate a particular time when each of them felt the most proud to work for this organization.
Each group would have one of the newest members of the company take on the role of scribe. They would document key elements of each story on a flip chart. The key points of the story. Specifically, the PRIDE that was described.
The Leader would float around among the groups to ensure that they were capturing the emotional connections in the stories. The emotional connection was important.
It was in these emotional connections where the passion for the experience and for the company’s mission lay.
That’s where the WHY would be discovered!
The Leader would ask each group to rank their stories and be prepared to share the top three with the entire tribe. To qualify as a “top story” it would have to really resonate with the entire group. It would have to move them.
Moved— as in excited, animated, emotional, touched, affected.
Because these are the kinds of feelings that are experienced when you discover your WHY
As he brought the groups together as one, the Leader would ask the newbies to share the stories. The switch to the newbies to drive this part of the day would serve a dual purpose.
First, validation that they had “gotten” the emotional connection and had been infected with the passion.
Second, that all the rest of the tribe would get the not-so-subtle hint that everyone was supremely important in rediscovering and becoming one with the WHY. Everyone was accountable and responsible for this heavy lifting.
Heavy lifting is “cake” when all are doing it
The rest of the day would follow the recommended Simon Sinek approach to finding the WHY.
- Back into smaller groups to further explore the stories
- Culling the top stories for verbs — actionable and not just descriptive
- Based on what had been actually done not what was hoped to be done
- Making sure that verbs were directly linked to events that occurred
Eventually, each group would have a list of 10 or so verbs. These would be called out loud to the entire tribe, and written down on a fresh flip chart page. Duplicates would be noted with an asterisk.
At the end, the asterisks would stand out as common themes. These themes would then be further explored to describe the impact on others and to deepen the connection.
In this manner…
Rejuvenation and Rediscovery
The Leader stepped back from the outline on the flip chart. A smile came to his lips, and he felt a warm glow deep in his gut. The WHY.
He looked up towards Steve’s work space. He was gone. Hadn’t heard him leave. Glancing at his watch, he saw it was close to midnight. Not quite an all nighter, but he had the agenda and a clear road map for the next day.
Tomorrow was going to be a glorious day…
The tribe was about to rediscover and be re-energized by the power of the WHY
He couldn’t wait…
These are Simple Leadership Lessons. Visit my publication Simple and Practical Leadership and follow me for more short, useful, and practical Leadership Wisdom delivered to you weekly.
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