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The Bullet-Proof Blog

Daniella Young is a leadership and teambuilding coach, keynote speaker, Army wife, mom, and childhood cult survivor.  Tune in here for stories, leadership musings and some teambuilding tips that really work.

BulletProofing Your Team: Blog Series by Army Veteran Daniella Young

In my life, I’ve had an opportunity to observe the effects of deliberate culture building, with both negative and positive effects. I witnessed it up close in two large organizations in a way many people have not.

I was born into one of the more notorious religious cults in modern history, the Children of God, a pseudo-Christian organization boasting up to 100,000 members over its lifetime.  I spent my childhood and adolescence living in communes in Latin America, learning firsthand about the power of indoctrination. My membership was decided by an accident of birth, not by my own choice.

As an adult, I proudly served in the U.S. Army. I made it to the rank of Captain. I deployed to the war in Afghanistan twice and learned a lot about leadership and culture building. For more on my background, see my personal blog series here.

I later went into the corporate world, where there is a lot of discussion using buzzwords like culture and team-building. Billions are paid to high priced consultants to ‘fix’ broken teams. Often though, after the training exercises are done and everyone goes back at work, all the breakthroughs seem to disappear, and life goes back to normal.

And yet, in the military, I’ve seen everyday soldiers take bullets for one another without a second thought. How’s that for a strong team? That life requires full-time commitment and unquestioning obedience, on the little things and the big ones. Many people think the Army is all about yelling, shouting orders, and making people do push-ups—all the things that the media shows you. What they don’t show you is a global organization that understands that leadership is not just about power. It’s about taking responsibility and living accountability. It shows us that teams who bond through conflict are always stronger for their trouble.

I’ve encountered these questions in various forms: “What is it about certain organizations that inspire their members to do whatever it takes to achieve the success of their vision and mission? How is that bond created? How is that culture maintained? Is it art or science?” My answer is: it’s both.  The art is choosing core values that support a mission and purpose that folks can get behind.  The science is following a deliberate set of building blocks until you achieve a culture with a bond that can be as strong as life or death.

Let me share 3 stories that demonstrate the force of a strong culture, which can be both wonderfully positive when used for good, or horrifying if used for evil:

On October 20th, 1993, a man named Rick Dupuy went on Larry King Live to admit to a terrible crime he had committed as a member of a pseudo-Christian cult, The Children of God. Rick told Larry and the nation that he had raped a 10-year-old girl, at the behest of the organization’s leadership. At the time, he truly believed that what he was doing was right, that it was love, and that it was ‘God’s Will’. Once separated from the cult by time and space, he realized the truly horrific nature of his actions, and he took his own life. That 10-year-old girl was my mother.

A terrifying example of deeply-embedded organizational values driving insane behavior and life-shattering results.  This is an example of leadership being effective at generating evil.

Let’s see the other side of the organizational coin. The one that drives the best in us.        

On October 25th 2007, Specialist Sal Giunta ran directly into heavy enemy fire, during an ambush, to physically pry one of his fellow soldiers out of the hands of the Taliban, who had wounded him and was dragging him away. "If I’m a hero, every man that stands around me, every woman in the military, everyone who goes into the unknown is a hero,” he says. “So if you think that’s a hero—as long as you include everyone with me.” Even after becoming the first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War, Giunta insisted that his actions were those of anyone in his unit.

Finally here is an example of a corporation that not only built a culture strong enough to disrupt the entire airline industry, but built it so that even their customers felt that they were true team members team members:                                         

In October 2001, every airline in the world was struggling, due to the actions of terrorists on 9/11. Flights were cancelled, security was heightened, customers were reticent to fly. Many airlines were at risk for going under, and some never recovered. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines not only managed to maintain their 26(now 43) year profitability streak, but they actually had some customers send them personal checks to ensure that ‘their airline’ was going to make it through the rough patch (the checks were never cashed, of course).

In the first case, we have a situation where a cult leader convinced hundreds of thousands of people that his worldview and core values should become theirs. Many people followed unquestioningly to commit actions that had lasting and horrific results for others. In the second, a self-proclaimed ‘average’ Soldier risks his life to save his buddy from capture or worse, with no thought of the risk to his own life. In the third, external customers of a large corporation felt such a personal attachment and love for a company, they were willing to part with their own money so that the airline would not go under.

So how does it work? How do organizations get people to this point? What is behind groups of people that do great evil or great good? Is there a way we can harness that power for our own organizations? In J. Richard Hackman’s book, Leading Teams, he states that, “The approval and disapproval of one’s teammates are consequential for almost everyone, (so) a member’s behavior can be shaped readily by almost any group of which he or she is a voluntary member”. Essentially, people will do anything that is considered ‘normal’ in a group that they are part of. Often times, they will not think twice about it. When under the influence of a strong group culture, people have almost unlimited power to convince themselves that what they are doing is the right thing, even if it is clearly evil to an outsider. On the other hand, when someone threatens any Soldier, her buddies, who are fully bought-in members of the team, don’t hesitate to take action for the good of the Soldier and the team—even sacrificing themselves at times.

So, why am I talking about cults, the Army, and corporations? Could they be any more different from each other? What do heinous organizations, like the Children of God, and something great like the US Army have in common? And why does it matter? Is it possible that there is something that corporations, small businesses, and teams all over the world can learn from them? I think there is, and here it is: there are only 2 ways to build a culture--accidentally, or on purpose. If you are not actively building a culture that you love, and that supports your values, then you are actively building one that does not.

Strong leaders, strong teams, and strong organizations are built deliberately and over a lifetime. This is done with a strong focus on how they build up their people, their teams, their leadership, and sometimes even their customers. Building strong cultures for social good happens with intense focus and purpose— it is truly both science and art.

I have been studying leadership for 30+ years, the good the bad and the ugly. My experience and analysis conclude that there is a strategic way to build a strong organizational culture--with 7 building blocks that I can teach--and it's such a strong model that it can be used for great good or great evil. The outcome? To develop a culture in your organizations that will rival the strength and dedication of those Army teams. Wouldn’t it be great to work in a place where your team members would literally be willing to take a bullet for any other member of the team, and not think twice?

In this blog series, I will walk through how to Bullet Proof Your Team. Here are the steps:

B-Be, Know, Do

L-Live Your Values

T-Target 3C Intent

P-Produce a T.E.A.M.

R-Really Buy-In

F-Find Your Enemy

D-Do it RIghT

These building blocks are  powerful, clear, and they work! What are you waiting for? Let's make your team bullet-proof today!



Stay tuned for the first post on Building Block #1—Be, Know, Do: Leaders of Character

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