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Leadership As in football (with the Stampeders), team dynamics apply to entrepreneurship

President and CEO of Wello and INLIV

Watching the Stampeders bring the Grey Cup home to Calgary this year got me thinking about my own eight-year career as a wide receiver for the team, the lessons I learned in the dynamics of a championship team, and how I’ve been able to apply those lessons over a 20-year career as a health-care entrepreneur.

When I played for the Stampeders, I was part of a team with a singular goal: winning the Grey Cup championship, and that took every member of the team performing at their best. It’s not so different at the companies I run, Wello and INLIV, except our goal is to fundamentally improve how health care is delivered so that it meets the needs of a changing workforce in a way that is sustainable for generations to come.

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The one thing in common between my companies and the Stampeders? A high-performing team. Whether in a health-care company or a championship football team, these are the top three necessary qualities to achieve peak performance:

Alignment to an audacious goal

Top-performing teams work with a shared goal in mind, and your team should aim high and long. Finding a “big hairy audacious goal” or an overarching vision for your company is difficult to achieve, but it’s a crucial step to motivating your team.

That vision comes not just from an understanding of your marketplace, but also your true impact on society and the communities where you do business. Teams will fight for a vision to which they can personally connect – that connection and that excitement will give them the fuel to overcome the large challenges on the road to success.

Leaders must define the story behind the vision for their teams, and that’s much harder in business than in sports, where there are built-in championship trophies and traditions.

And when you set your goal, make sure you’ve identified a metric that will tell you if you are truly making progress, no different than a team’s won/lost record or the number of championships it has won. Get the vision metrics on the wall, set up a dashboard that everyone on your team can see, consistently celebrate your milestones and successes.

Veterans set the tone

The veterans on your team – whether they’re long-time players or experienced employees – set the tone for younger team members, both in living the team’s values and in their work ethic.

New team members mimic the behaviours of veteran team members, and when your veterans model positive work culture, your team builds momentum with each new hire. But the opposite is also true: If your veterans model negative behaviours, new hires won’t be able to perform to their potential and will stall your momentum.

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In championship teams, success is not just dependent on your general manager or head coach; it’s the veterans on the team – or in business, your middle managers or long-serving employees – who truly lead the performance culture. I saw time and time again in our locker room how the veteran players, through words and actions, manage the team’s attitudes and work ethic. When this happens from within a team and not from top-down management, you truly know you have something special and the chemistry to win.

When opportunity comes, you have to be ready

In football, the best teams are able to make the right plays even in the most high-pressure situations. It isn’t clairvoyance or luck, it’s because they spend countless hours practising the smallest details of the game, planning and studying their opponents intensely.

It’s the same in business: Your ability to seize opportunity is rooted in being prepared. The most agile businesses know their market, their competition and their ecosystem so well that they are better able to tame the pace of business change, connecting the dots more proactively on emerging trends, reacting more effectively to competition and seizing opportunities.

Taken together, these principles will help teams and their leaders improve their performance – whether it’s on the field or at the office – boosting the satisfaction of your team members for a job well done and positioning your business to better seize the opportunities ahead.

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