In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive. - Lee Iacocca
A few months back I was visiting my friend Danny.
Danny was an old friend from high school in the Bay Area, who created and built a software development company and then sold it for several million dollars to IBM.
At the ripe old age of 46, Danny no longer needed to work to earn a living.
So what does a relatively young Silicon Valley millionaire do with his new-found time?
He of course, decides to become a high school teacher and part-time wrestling coach at a disadvantaged inner-city high school...
The kids in my friend’s wrestling program are typically from working-class homes, many times with single parent families with not a lot of emphasis placed on educational pursuits.
He’s been coaching the team now for five years and has taken a perennial loser to being a real contender in his league.
I happened to be in the Bay Area on business so I decided to stop by one of Danny’s practices to see if I could lend a hand as they prepared for the upcoming league tournament.
As it so happened, on the day I came to visit to help out, the kids were in a particularly tense and foul mood. Several fist fights broke out that day as tempers rose among the wrestlers.
After two such incidences, Danny blew his whistle and gathered his team.
I wholly expected him to read his kids the "riot act", scolding them for their petty acts, and their childish behavior... especially before such an important tournament.
Rather what I heard was something completely unexpected.
Instead of reprimanding the kids, he applauded them for their passion. He told the kids that he wished that he had 10 more wrestlers who cared so much that they would fight to keep their space on the team.
He went on... continually building them up and telling all the reasons that they had to be proud of their accomplishments... but their common goal of a league championship was still in front of them.
He then abruptly changed the subject and began talking about some of the other schools that they would be facing in the upcoming tournament.
He told them that those schools had kids who were privileged, wealthy and had lots of resources... including equipment... coaching... and new mats...
The focus was no longer on his kids and the program... US... the focus was now on working harder than ever to defeat a common enemy... THEM.
Coach told his team that although they wrestled as individuals, they were still a part of a team. There was only one way to defeat their common enemy... they had to work together to get faster, stronger and better... their fate was in their own hands... they could come together and win as a team or continue to stand alone and lose as an individual.
After practice, Danny and I had a moment to talk over dinner.
"I was really impressed with your little speech to the kids this afternoon", I told him.
"Well it’s not like I haven’t given that same speech a hundred times before", he calmly said.
"I’m confused", I said wondering, "it appeared as though those kids were listening to the speech for the very first time".
"No... not to my kids... to my employees", he said with a grin.
"Software engineers are prima donnas... and they were constantly bickering back and forth amongst themselves... one day I realized that I needed to focus the company’s energies on an outside enemy".
"That’s when I came up with the idea and the speech", he said nonchalantly.
"At first, I told our design team that it was us against world... but that was too vague... I knew that if I really wanted our company to get focused... I needed to create a villain... a foe... a windmill in the mist."
"For us... that was the "evil" Microsoft... "
"We were David against the great Goliath... we were Rocky against Apollo Creed... we were George Washington braving the winter in Valley Forge only to defeat the much stronger British securing an American victory in its war of independence..."
"Our people worked every day with a common goal... to defeat Microsoft... and in the end we won."
I was thoroughly impressed.
Danny looked at me bewildered, "I didn’t actually come up with the idea... it’s been around for centuries... it’s the epic tale of good versus evil... "
I thought about it for a few minutes... he was right... the premise has been around since the beginning of time.
Great leaders became great because they were there to righteously lead us against some evil or peril... it’s us against them...
For God and country... we fight to the end...
As I thought more about the idea... I now began to consider what it was like to be the favorite rather than the underdog...
For years, Apple used Microsoft (a popular villain)... it was Mac against PC...
Then as Apple grew... their focus turned to the greedy record companies (iPod, iTunes)... and then the big phone companies (Motorola and Samsung)...
With the loss of their visionary, Steve Jobs, there no longer appears to be any common enemy for Apple to galvanize itself against.
It’s no longer Apple "sticking it to the man"...
Apple, in essence, has become "the man"...
We like to see ourselves in the role of the underdog for two reasons:
- People want to root for the underdog... and we want people in our corners cheering us on.
- Expectations are lower. If you’re the small guy, no one really expects you to succeed ... so if you lose it’s no big deal... on the other hand if you are the favorite and end up losing... then you’re an underachiever.
All great leaders know how to motivate people to do their best. They understand that a united team is much stronger than the individuals comprising the organization (the sum is greater than the parts).
They know that any great team needs a common goal... a common enemy... and/or a common cause in which to fight for...
Who is your organization’s common enemy?
What are your team’s shared goals?
What is it that you’re all willing to fight for?
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