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EP: 151 6x Steps to Building a High Performing Team

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What’s your favorite business book? For me, that’s an easy question. Creativity Inc. is a fascinating deep dive into the history and success of Pixar written by Ed Catmull, the former President.

“Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback, and the iterative process - reworking, reworking, and reworking again until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul.”

Catmull shares the lessons he learned and reflects on his 32 years at the animation studio. Throughout the book, it becomes apparent that Pixar’s most valuable asset wasn’t the films it created or innovative technology, but rather what was most unique about Pixar was its culture. Its culture thrived on candid feedback, an appetite for risk, and didn’t fear failure. It’s these building blocks that led to the production of some of the most widely acclaimed films ever created. These ideals didn’t happen by accident - they were shaped, managed, and cultivated from the bottom to the top of the organization and guarded closely by the leadership teams. Pixar’s obsession with culture was one of the final roadblocks to be overcome in the 2006 union with Disney. They feared the acquisition would erode the culture they had created and they’d lose the magic that had been so carefully curated. It wasn’t until a list of guarantees was made by Disney that Pixar finally conceded and the two studios joined.

As I finished the book, I was inspired and wanted to implement some of these ideas into my own business. But while the book was chock full of great examples and wise philosophy, it lacked specific steps I could follow myself and I ended up feeling a bit lost and didn’t know how to do it.

Leadership books can be great. They can be an eye-opening experience and give the reader a 30,000-foot view and peel back the blinders that might have been in place. However, they seldom dive to the next level and sometimes readers need that next level of handholding to continue to grow. This idea inspired my recent conversation with Sarah Harper Burke. When I first connected with Sarah she mentioned that “leadership theory is great, but it seldom dives deeper and rarely touches on the how.”

Sarah has led teams at Osprey, Vail Resorts, Shimano Fishing and now runs her own consulting firm. In this episode, Sarah shares 6-steps she’s cultivated that helps a leader build a thriving culture. She discusses pitfalls, challenges, and shares insight that’ll make you re-evaluate how you lead your team.

Through reading Creativity Inc. and my conversation with Sarah, one thing is abundantly clear - culture is everywhere but it’s either cultivated or runs wild. Culture needs to be embraced and reinforced by leadership to permeate the depths of an organization. It has to be protected by each team member and practiced daily to remain relevant. It’s all too easy for culture to slip as deadlines approach and fires need to be put out but it’s in these moments where leadership fulfills its duty to protect its culture by renewing its commitment during these times of strife.

Sarah's Firm:

Creativity, Inc:

-Cole, Host of the Backcountry Marketing Podcast

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