Team Health

Overcoming obstacles and facing down the storms is mission critical for successful teams. However, not all teams are successful and many are downright sickly. It is one of the musher’s top priorities to create and maintain a healthy team.

In Chapter 6 of IDITAROD LEADERSHIP, there is a female, professional musher(Lizzie) that is giving instruction to the novice mushers and going through a time of Q&A. The exchange picks up with Lizzie answering a question around team performance. She responds:

“Adjustments with me and/or my plan are going to relate to conditions on the trail such as bad weather, is the trail icy or snow covered, or even is there a lack of snow. In recent years, we’ve had a lack of snow in some parts of the trail. The condition of the team, also, impacts the strategy. Some dogs might be fighting illness, do I need to drop them? Are there dogs not pulling their weight or who are causing problems with the other dog? Is another competitor pushing me? If you have any of these conditions and you don’t evolve your plan of action, you won’t win. Pure and simple. In some cases, you may not even finish the race.

Now my interest was piqued(Michael thought) and so he asked, “So, wait a minute. Is it hard for you to drop a dog?”

Lizzie replied, “Make no mistake about it, I love my dogs. I’m committed to my team. But if a dog’s not performing or it’s in their best interest health-wise to drop them, I have to drop them. I’m not willing to sacrifice the rest of the team, or the race, for one dog. I have to make the hard decisions and it’s just a part of mushing.”

This exchange leads the discussion to Team health and it’s many different areas. Is it the team? Is it players within the team? Is it team dynamics? Does it relate to the Mental, Physical, or operational components of the team?

If your team pulled into a checkpoint and were, immediately, evaluated for their health – where would the negative reports come from? What would be positive?

Underperforming teams come in many shapes and sizes. If your team falls into this category – are you aware of the why? It may be easy to see the symptoms, easy to look at the numbers and tell the team they are not measuring up, but do we know why?

The position of the Musher (being behind the team) is an incredible place to monitor the health of the team. From their vantage point they should be able to discern, not only the effect, but the cause. Discernment becomes a key leadership competency.

Is the team lazy? Are the mentally fatigued? Are they undertrained or improperly trained to handle the conditions of the race you’re in today? Is the team in complete disarray? Are they resistant to your leadership? Or are they simply bored and lack purposeful motivation.

I would like you take some time to just consider you team – have you thought about their health? I know (or at least hope) you’ve looked at the performance numbers, but if the performance numbers are not where they are supposed to be – how do we trail back to the causes of the less than desired results?

This week we unpack the health of the team and work to increase your skills of discernment, care taker, veterinarian, and finally, performance coach. It’s going to be a great week.

The Psychological Power of overcoming

Whatever you yield to – is what you give power to… Yield to the obstacle or difficult situation and you give power to it – stare it down and overcome it and the power becomes yours – not just for the day – but for your entire future – it is a stake in the ground that you will continuously point back to and say – on such and such date – in this situation – I faced down the giant and I won.

Every situation builds on the previous. Failure and defeat can lead to more of the same – every time you give in – you shrink – every time you endure or conquer – you grow!

In the historical Chronicles of the leaders of Israel, as well as children folklore – they tell the story of David. You have probably heard the tale of David killing Goliath. This Teen had the courage to take on someone purported to be towering over all other men in the Israeli Army – and was not even being confronted by the King. What gave David the courage to confront this enemy?

David was a mere shepherd boy – a kid who watched his family’s sheep. What did he know about being a warrior?

What he knew – was how he grew!

While watching the sheep – a lion approached the herd to kill and eat a sheep. David confronted the situation, grabbed his sling, put in a rock and flung it directly at the Lion. The rock hit the target and the Lion was defeated. At another point – a bear attacks in a similar manner and David – growing from the situation of overcoming the Lion – leaned on that victory and defeated this Bear. So when faced with this Giant (Goliath) – David had grown to the point of being able to point back to previous (lesser) successes and say with all confidence – I defeated the Lion, I defeated the Bear – this is just another similar adversary – that will fall to the ground. And just like what we talked about earlier this week – he faced the storm. In fact, the records say that he ran TOWARD Goliath.

The rest (as Paul Harvey would say) is history…

Step by step – one obstacle at a time – feed your inner power – feed your inner energy and face down the obstacles and enemies.

What gave Lance Mackey (3 time Iditarod winner) the courage to overcome his obstacles? What gave Dee Dee Jonrowe courage? What gave Lance Armstrong power? They overcame disease and the rest could seem like child’s play.

What do you need to face? What can we help you face? You need to overcome this obstacle – face down this enemy – because it’s not just an enemy of your path – your race – your day –it’s an enemy of your future – an enemy of your soul!

Fight the good fight – stay in the battle – kick this obstacle in the teeth – and stand with those that have slain Giants in the process!

Turning on the light

When you’re running the race and darkness has closed in around your sled – you can stay on the sled and worry about the darkness, think about the darkness, talk about the darkness – or you can turn on the light!

When running the race at night, mushers will turn on their headlamp. It allows them to see things they would not otherwise see AND allows others on the trail to know they are there. In business, part of moving from fear to persevere is to move things from the unknown to the known. This process is “turning on the light” where there are only shadows and where fear or discouragement is running high.

When fear and uncertainty grip us, we need to move as quickly as possible to unraveling the mystery and revealing the trail conditions. As leaders, this process is rarely pleasant, but it’s our sled, our team and our responsibility.

When moving to turn the light on a “dark situation” pull over to a checkpoint or create a camp site and walk through the following:

Look for the ‘You are here’ circle on the map.

Assemble the team and list out all knowns on a white board. This is probably not the time for the timid to hold their peace. From a personality stand point, those with the greatest knowledge through analysis are, also, usually introverted and may dislike confrontation. This means that you are going to need to give them permission to be rigorously honest and work to draw the information from them. Use communication that lets them know that their honesty and communication are vital to save the team from harm and they are not hurting the team – but may be providing life-saving information.

Don’t “Beat the dogs”

Reacting negatively or exploding on the team as they are giving you vital but unpleasant information will only serve to hurt you long term. The rest of the team will certainly withhold their opinions and the next time there is negative information they will let you take the hit, instead of being beaten for trying to help you.

List out the trail choices.

With the help of your team, run through all the possible scenarios (trails), follow each to their natural conclusions, consider best and worst case.


Pick the best trail, given the existing knowledge and start running. If you stay put, you’ll freeze to death. If you choose a wrong path, but you start soon enough, you will discover the error and make the needed correction! And if you get it right – you’ve saved valuable time and options. Problems rarely work themselves out and delaying decisions only limits the options. Great leaders make decisions timely and change them quickly if need be. Mediocre leaders change their decisions so slowly, they reduce their probability for success.

OWN the choice.

You are responsible for your life and your team. What that means is that you are Response-able. You are Able to Respond to whatever the situation is and work to yield the best results possible. When I say you’re responsible – I’m not discussing whose FAULT the situation is – only that you have the power, the ability to respond in that situation to work and move to the best possible outcome!

Be open, honest, collaborative, and empowered. When the storms hit (when, not if) we have more safety in numbers…As the Proverb goes, “.. in the counsel of many, a ruler’s throne is made secure”

Turn on the light! You are Response-Able!

Owning the right perspectives on problems and obstacles

No one can affect your thoughts on a situation or event, unless you let them…

So now we are to the “How?” question. If the problems and obstacles are there to help separate the tenacious competitors from the casual competitors, how do we own the right mindset?

1. Check the mindset

When you are in the middle of a battle, pause and ask yourself “what am I thinking about this situation?”. It seems silly to ask you to do this – but the purpose of the exercise is to give you momentary pause to “check your thoughts”. It will interrupt your thinking about the situation and allow you to think about your thinking. What am I thinking? Are they the right thoughts?

2. Keep the sled light

Keeping the sled “light” means I don’t pile other events on my sled. The times that I have the most trouble with my “mental game” is when I find myself connecting unrelated events. I have an obstacle or fail to meet an intended result and I, immediately, start to fight thoughts that tie every other failure in my life to this situation. This situation is THIS situation. If the thoughts attempt to spiral you into rehearsing of all previous failures and short comings, try to arrest the process – STOP THE RUN AWAY SLED!!!!

IF (and it’s a big if) you discover through looking at the situation that there are some bad patterns or choices that do connect some dots – then work to identify the pattern. That’s it – Identify the pattern and work to correct that pattern. Your “lot in life” is not to ALWAYS be the losing sled. Start owning the mindset that you can win – even if you’ve never won before – there is always a first!

3. Evolve

If you remember, the Evolve stage is where we look at the lessons learned, understand the needed course corrections and immediately work to implement the changes into our daily running. John C Maxwell has an incredible book called Failing Forward and it is, absolutely, recommended reading. One of the take-aways from this book is that when people fail – they usually forget the lesson that they should have learned and hold onto the emotional pain of the failure. He goes on to counsel that we should forget the emotional hit from the failure and work to remember what the failure will teach us. This has led to an internal mantra for me that echoes – “Learn the lesson – forget the pain”

This doesn’t mean that we don’t remember the hit – we just don’t allow it to become emotional baggage that weighs us down – remember point # 2 – keep the sled light! I am a firm believer in pain being one of the chief teachers in life – we want to avoid the pain – so we don’t do whatever action caused us the pain last time. It doesn’t mean we choose not to race again – it means we improve – we get better and we try not to make the same mistake twice.

4. The Champion’s mindset

What would the top competitors be thinking in this same situation? In order to change the outcome – we have to change our action. In order to change our actions – we have to change our thoughts and beliefs.

Consistently asking yourself, “What would the best leaders think and do in this situation?” can lead you to an elevated thinking, action and outcome.

But the first step is to take ownership of this area (your thoughts are your thoughts) and a thought cannot be removed – it can only be replaced with another thought. Whether that thought is good or whether that thought is self-defeating is up to you.

Choose with me to “Own” the winning mindset today!

What is your belief about obstacles and problems?

What makes one team quit, only seems to inspire another…

Another excerpt from that same interchange that we started in yesterday’s blog (Joe is continuing the conversation with Michael):

“One year on the trail, we had a blizzard come in. I couldn’t even see to the front of my team dogs. I stopped them and created places where they could at least have some break from the blowing snow, and then I did what my father had taught me. I knelt down in the snow and I faced the storm.”

“You didn’t turn your back to the storm?” Michael inquired.

“No! Joe responded emphatically, “You must turn your face to the storm. In this position, it causes the snow to blow around you and pile up behind you. It forms a mound that you can then dig into and create a shelter. You can hollow it out, like a miniature igloo, and last for a couple of days.

“If you turn your back to the storms, you will be covered and most likely die. But facing the storms creates a place of refuge.

What do you teach business people? Don’t you teach people some of these things?”

My mind immediately went to a large framed picture that I had heard hangs in the boardroom of a Fortune 500 company. The sign reads,


I rode the rest of the night with my weight on the left runner. I was drenched and half frozen but thankful for Joe’s support in bolstering the mindset that I could overcome what seemed to be relentless and overwhelming problems.

I thought often over the next 30 miles about Lance Mackey. He had gone through throat cancer, had a good chunk of his throat cut out, had lost part of his saliva glands and had to carry a water bottle just to keep his throat moist. Only three years later, in the 2007 race, he went 200 miles on a broken runner and WON!

This year in the Iditarod storms were predicted to hit the trail hard. One of the mushers remarked that he hoped it to be true. He said the strength of his team was to run in impossible conditions that would make other teams quit. Conditions of a severe blowing wind pushing the temperature to -50 F below would give him a competitive edge.

Can we learn to own that mentality? That problems and adversity only serve to differentiate the weak from the strong – that we need to “face the storm” if we are to survive…

There are many storms in business that we are facing right now. Embrace that they will only serve to separate you from the competition and that it is only on difficult ground that are reputations are made and our respect earned.

Problems are not problems – problems are opportunities disguised as discouragement.

Run the race – Face it down – Overcome!