Engaged Team Players and Connected Brains

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At the beginning of the third and final day of EntreLeadership Summit 2016, this was me and my brain:


Only 13 pages of notes, and it certainly wasn’t due to the lack of material. Patrick Lencioni and Dr. Henry Cloud were straight dealing yesterday … but my brain’s capacity was just full and its stamina was stretched. Since brains are front and center today, some facts about these supercomputing miracles inside our skulls:

Although the average adult human brain weighs about 1.4 kilograms, only 2 percent of total body weight, it demands 20 percent of our resting metabolic rate (RMR)—the total amount of energy our bodies expend in one very lazy day of no activity.

So a typical adult human brain runs on around 12 watts—a fifth of the power required by a standard 60 watt lightbulb. Compared with most other organs, the brain is greedy; pitted against man-made electronics, it is astoundingly efficient. IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that defeated Jeopardy! champions, depends on ninety IBM Power 750 servers, each of which requires around one thousand watts.

Now, about the people and the brains that connect them…

Patrick Lencioni

When it comes to organizational success, nearly everyone at any leadership level answers that “teamwork” is one of the key requirements. Surprisingly, little thought actually goes into identifying the qualities that make great teamwork not just possible, but easy. In his latest book, The Ideal Team Player, Lencioni identifies the Three Virtues that combine to produce people that fit this bill:

  1. Humble — more than just the absence of arrogance, true humility exists when a person “understands the truth about who they are. People who are inappropriately modest are neither humble nor a good team player, as they tend to deprive the team of the benefits of the strengths they actually possess.”
  2. Hungry — an innate desire to excel and do well without crossing over into the unhealthy over-identification with workplace achievement.
  3. Smart —  not merely a synonym for “intelligent,” and certainly not for “educated,” though both are obviously good qualities to have. Rather, this refers to the person’s aptitude to display interpersonal common sense in working with and among other people.

The key insight regarding these qualities is in understanding the necessity of having all three. Having only one or two of these teamwork virtues creates a predictable set of problems, illustrated by the names and avatars Lencioni used to describe them, recreated here:




For the second hour, Lencioni turned his attention on people from the other side of the mirror: not what makes people good for the organization, but what makes the organization good for the people.

Titled “3 Root Causes of a Miserable Job,” Lencioni’s talk could also have been titled “How to Crush Your People’s Souls.”

  1. Anonymity —  when nobody cares about you as a person. Many say they want anonymity at work, but what they usually really want is freedom from interference. When you are truly anonymous within an organization, and nobody notices whether you are there or not, happy or not, engaged or not … pure emotional misery.
  2. Irrelevance — when there is no observable connection between the work you do and mattering in the life of someone else. Having no discernable impact in the lives of others is the professional corollary to personal anonymity, and they both really suck.
  3. Immeasurement — Lencioni confessed to making this word up, but it aptly captures the concept of when people have no way to assess for themselves if they are doing a good job or not.

If you’re dependent on the whims and moods of your boss to know if you’re doing a good job, you’re a slave.

When it comes to the happiness of people — or, to use the HR lexicon, the “engagement of employees” — money too easily sucks all of the oxygen out of the conversational and theoretical room. Lencioni nailed it when he said “Money is largely a satisifier, not a driver.” Consider the difference between Water and Love:

  • Water is a Satisfier — you need a minimum level to survive, and an optimum level to thrive. But, beyond that thriving level, more water begins to bring with it diminishing returns on the improvement of a person’s condition, until it reaches the point where it actually begins to be a damaging force.
  • Love is a Driver — people need love to survive and thrive, and you can never get enough of it. There is no curve of diminishing returns when it comes to pouring love into someone.

When it comes to your people, Money is much more like Water than Love. Excellent organizations understand this, and how to act accordingly:

The greatest companies don’t necessarily pay the most, and they don’t use money to keep people who are unhappy. They simply address the things that are making their people unhappy.

Dr. Henry Cloud

Dr. Cloud opened his talk coming from the material in his new book, The Power of the Other, by asking this thought provoking question: How does something invisible and ethereal as human connection affect material performance of our tangible bodies? Using the metaphor of a smartphone, Cloud took the deep weeds of brain development research and made it easy to grasp:

Magic happens when your phone connects to the network. It gains capabilities and power to do things it can’t do without that connection. People are the same way.

Every interpersonal interaction “downloads” into us the Energy and Information we need to grow, learn, and do new things. As Cloud kept using the ides of “downloading” to describe how our connections feed our brains new ideas, systems, and structures, I couldn’t help but think of this:

This is what Cloud calls “The Power of the Other”: the ability to transfer via the connection of relationship different ways of thinking, new knowledge and insights, and the possibilities that come with them. These all fall into one of four categories of connection:

  1. No Connection — no energy or information is transferred when we are disconnected from others, leading to feelings of meaninglessness.
  2. Bad Connection — when the interactions result in you feeling bad about yourself because you’re never good enough in some capacity. People stuck with this kind of connection will often choose to revert to #1 and seek disconnection to simply put an end to feeling bad.
  3. Feel Good Connection — involving unhealthy ways of self-medicating over things, whether metaphorically through relationships defined by shallowness and empty flattery, or literally through a dependency relationship with substances or anything else capable of fueling addiction.
  4. Real Connection — the power of the network is made available, and new software can be downloaded to bring greater capacity and capabilities. This involves both positive additions with new things (think “apps”) as well as negative fixes for problem areas (think “patches” and software “updates”).

Whether with superiors above, peers to your sides, or those reporting to you from below, a strong Corner 4 Connection will display these qualities:

  • provide Fuel & Energy
  • promote Freedom & Self-Control
  • promote Ownership & Responsibility — through accountability, clear expectations, ongoing feedback, and real consequences
  • push us through Balancing Challenge & Ability — through setting big goals and planning small steps that keep people in the zone of arousal our brains need to perform and learn … somewhere north of “Asleep” and short of “Over-whelmed.”

It is by the power of these networking, thought-transferring, idea-downloading Corner 4 Connections that Cloud’s opening question gets answered: it is through Relationships that the invisible elevates the tangible performance of the material.

Heady stuff, that.

The takeaway from the last day of this unbelievable experience then? Connect yourself to and be a source of Corner 4 Relationships, so that when you identify the Humble/Hungry/Smart people to stock your organizations with Ideal Team Players, you won’t end up crushing their spirits with Anonymity, Irrelevance, and Immeasurability.

See? It’s simple when you say it out loud. 🙂

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