One November morning, I woke up and said to myself “I’m done. I’ve had enough.” I didn’t know what I was going to do going forward, only that where I had just been wasn’t somewhere I wanted to be EVER AGAIN.

Let me give this rant a little context.

The day was Thanksgiving Day. Our company was scheduled to do the initial service on a new contract. Our day was scheduled out and on paper we would be out the door in 7 hours. We had extra staff. Started extra early. Everything was set to maximum efficiency so the job would be completed quickly and everyone could go enjoy their families. We started at 6:30am. At 2:30am the following morning, the job was still not complete. The team was moaning and groaning, whining about back pain, missing their families, working on a holiday. 4:00am, THE NEXT DAY, we finished the job. A team of 5 people took 21.5 hours to complete a 7 hour job. Needless to say everyone went home and passed out.

The next morning…

When I finally woke from the work induced coma, it hit me. It finally hit me. My team isn’t a at all! It’s a group of self interested, self loving JERKS who cared only about one thing, THEMSELVES. This wasn’t a new revelation. The symptoms had been there all along. Only today was the perfect storm. Today we ALL saw it. Today we ALL felt it.

It’s so easy to see the signs, the red flags as you go about your day. You see it in your profits. You see it in your energy. You see it in your customers. You know when you’re team isn’t thinking as a team, working as a team, being a unified body. Everyone shows signs of fatigue and when this poisonous mindset of self preservation hits full stride, the aftermath is absolutely disgusting.

We had a mess to clean up. I had a mess to clean up.

It’s messy, but someone has to do it

It happens that this was a Friday. We had commitments to keep. My team was all dead to the world. What choice did I have? I called and cancelled all of our commitments. Not just for Friday, but Monday as well. This had an immediate fiscal cost. Surely, though, not as high as dragging yet another client into our mess. The problem wasn’t the work, the workload or the timing. It was the attitude. The mindset. Clearing the schedule gave me the mental space to ponder the situation, understand the true cause, devise a solution and plan a course.

By Monday, nothing had come to me. I found myself doing internet searches, looking for advice, ideas, people with similar problems. I could see clearly that I was trying to be the solution about me, but that me reading, doing personal growth and opening my mind to change was in fact not helping my team whatsoever. This was a team problem, not just my problem. Monday afternoon came and still, what to do next didn’t seem obvious. So I scheduled a meeting with the team to discuss the situation. Even still I read into the late hours of the night seeking some clear path of how to move forward, but didn’t hit on anything that seemed to be “the answer”.

The lights came on

Tuesday morning as I awoke, tired from a short nights rest, a second wave of demotivation hit me. I realized I had spent the entire weekend mentally pacing, stretching and searching. This had left me exhausted. Yet here I was needing to go be a leader and bring about change for my team. As I had for the last two years, I headed to the office. On my way, THE LIGHTS CAME ON. I didn’t have to do any such thing. I don’t have to go to work, nor did I want to. My team had the entire weekend to rest, they would be fresh, but something inside me said they won’t care. They didn’t care on Thursday. No one called to see if I was okay, if I was recovering. This realization made me stop the car and think. If I don’t go in to work today, what will happen? What would my team do without me? Will they take initiative and take care of the business? Will it all fall apart?

There was only one way to find out…

It was so simple. Seemed so right. Felt so good. I decided not to come to work. So I pulled into a parking lot, turned off the engine and closed my eyes. My tired soul felt relieved and my aching body was so thankful to have a moment to rest. What about my team meeting? Honestly, I really could have cared less. At last, it was my turn to take care of number one.

A taste of their own medicine

With our meeting scheduled at 8:00am, which had now passed, I sat in silence, comfortable and curious. What would happen?

As I sat there, I recalled an exercise I had once read about a New York based financial securities giant whose sales team leader had called a staff meeting on a Saturday evening at 7:00pm, a time when his staff was NOT accustomed to having a meeting. As the story goes, his staff had all assembled as instructed. 7:00pm came and went, but the leader hadn’t arrived, nor called ahead. He was a no show. Some among the group started grumbling and complaining about wasting their weekends, showing disrespect for their time and how leaders think that everyone should just wait on them. This leaders vision began to become clear to me in that moment. What was his point? What was my point? What was I truly hoping to gain from doing this? Though I had no idea what my staff might be saying, I had a feeling based on Thursday’s performance, it was likely not positive. This isn’t pessimism, this is realism. Surely the grumbling and complaining was in full swing. Soon I would have my answer.

It begins

“We’re here. Ready for the meeting.” came to my phone via text message at about 8:30am. Hmmmm. Good I thought. My team showed up. This was encouraging, but that overwhelming feeling of tiredness persisted (read 1.5 years of 16-20 hour day, 6-7 days a week) along with body aches and and exhausted mind. I had no desire to reply. Oddly, knowing my team, this message wasn’t sent to let me know they were there, it had a secret message hidden within. It should have read, “Are you coming? Or wasting our time? We have much more important things we’d rather be doing than waiting on you!” As such I went back to my nap, having no guilt as I had been thoroughly disowned just the same not 4 days earlier without a peep from a one of them since.

“Are we having a meeting? If you’re busy, just let us know and we can take off” was the next communication by text message around 8:45am. Can I be honest here? This just confirmed what I already suspected. It would appear they weren’t finding things to keep busy, but were sitting there, on their hands, waiting for me. Waiting for me to make something happen, just as I had done Thursday, just as I had done every day for the last 1.5 years. Always making things happen, always making sure things get done, always being the first to arrive, the last to leave, always there for them, always helping them, always reliable, never making excuses, always keeping promises, always paving the way, always fixing problems, always helping others, always taking initiative, always setting a good example, always carrying the team, always making the sacrifices, never complaining, never slacking. Today that all changed. Should I reply? Had I gone crazy?

My heart beat had increased. I looked out the window of the car in self reflection. My gut feeling had not changed. I still didn’t care, but my instinct was strong. I had to fight my nature. My nature to be there. My nature to do what I had always done. My nature to be me. What I couldn’t ignore though, was being me is what got me here. My mind said, “I didn’t want to be me. I want to be someone else, somewhere else.” This was uncomfortable. I had questions about why I even started this business. Why did I sell all my things and invest all my savings? How did I get there. I was so deep in thought that I didn’t even have time to reply before the next message arrived?

This looks so familiar.

At 8:50am, “It looks like we’re not having a meeting today, so we are going to take off”. This made my teeth grind and my gut turn inside. I was feeling my blood pressure rising. Everything I had suspected. Everything I had feared It was true and starring me right in the face. Could I just give up. Could I walk away just like that? Was it worth the effort?

My mind when straight to, “What if I couldn’t come to work? What if something were wrong? Something had happened? What if I really was hurt?” Of course I knew I wasn’t, but they didn’t know that. Why would they even think that? Jesse is as reliable as the sunrise, he’s always here, he always texts back, he always calls ahead. Why would they think anything could be wrong? In all honesty, I took this personal. This was an insult. That not a single person on my team, who obviously had not worked a single minute that morning, nor since Thursday, had even entertained such an idea. They just assumed I was wasting their time. Their agenda is what took priority. They just happened to make time for me in their schedule. How lovely. This was just another replay of Thursday. This was deja vu.

Time to face the demons

Without delay I replied, “I am in the hospital. Was in a car crash. Please take care of the business”. There was silence…

A couple minutes later a reply came, “Oh my! Are you okay? What hospital? Should we come see you?”. To which I replied, “Don’t worry about me. Please just take care of the business.”

No sooner had I sent this message and I observed a team member had left the office and was driving away. I sent him a message immediately, “Please come back to the office.”

It had become so glaringly obvious, just as it had last Friday morning, we were at a serious cross roads. Nothing had changed. The only thing different today was MY absence. Today we all felt it. We felt it AGAIN! The same feeling I had felt days prior. Except this time no one escaped it. We were NOT a team and now no one could ignore it. Today it was every man for himself.

Feeling I had the attention of my team, I drove across and entered the office to find a very confused and startled look on the face of my office assistant. She wasn’t sure what to say. Moments later the absent team member showed up. He shared the confused expression.

It was quite a moment. So many questions. So much confusion. Perhaps the greatest success was the burning desire for answers. A desire for conversation. A desire to know what kind of madness had just taken place. It was just the introduction we needed…

It finally happens

That day we had the best conversation since I had brought this team together. We discussed our current state, how we got there, admitted our faults, shared observations, ideas, feedback, criticism and frustrations. From this conversation came insights, opportunities, plans and most of all, a sense of collaboration. The sense that for the first time our minds were working, not as individuals, but as a team. As each of us came into the office that day, we were individuals with our own plans, ideas, intentions. After this conversation, we were on a path to growth, not as individuals, but as a team. Focused on working TOGETHER and helping one another.

My intention, though not master planned, had come to life and given birth to the conversation that had eluded us for so long. By removing the only constant in the equation, me, we altered the result and the product was new insights, new ideas, solutions to problems.

The lesson

This exercise and the outcome was better than anything I could have planned. However, something more profound started to formulate in my mind in the days following.

That sales team leader I mentioned earlier was still on my mind. Was his lesson memorable? Did his team respond and growth result? Was this over the top or was it the most powerful way to teach this valuable lesson?

After keeping his team waiting for over two hours, he arrived, the team came to attention and he said, “Today’s lesson: Sometimes you have to learn to wait on people who are more important than you. Now, let’s all go home.”

Though our messages differed, the delivery method could not be ignored. My team could not ignore the harsh reality of a day when Jesse didn’t show up, when Jesse was done, when Jesse quit on them, instead of them quitting on Jesse. They had grown complacent, comfortable and lazy. They had it right in front of them. If Jesse quits, they ALL are out of a job.. They had to feel the feeling of their job being on the line because SOMEONE ELSE didn’t fulfill their duties. They realized how dependent they were on me and how risky this all really was. Was it over the top? Or was it the most profound way to teach this lesson?

I’ll let you be the judge. I am happy to say, this experience though it had it roots in frustration, failure and misery, had an ending I couldn’t have prepared for. The team was together once again.