[Podcast] Successful Teams Make Value-Based Decisions

Afterburner Team Written by:
Afterburner Team

Duration 43:16

 

For a successful team to outperform others, decisions should be based on the team’s values and principles. Following the events of 9/11, Andrew “Skeet” Sandoe changed his entire life and made the decision to leave the financial industry and join the Marines based on his own personal ethos. And, that same ethos led him to leave military service and back to the world of finance. He and Thor discuss why value-based decision making is important to the success of an individual and a team.

 

[Below is a transcript of the episode.]

Thor: Today, we’re going to be talking with Andrew Sandoe. Andrew, his call sign is “Skeet” after the events of 9/11, was deeply impacted by that. He’s going to tell us what happened and how it had personally affected him in a moment. He decided that he’s going to leave his job in the financial sector, join the Marine Corps, become a helicopter pilot where he flew 58 combat missions in Iraq. He served as the officer in charge of the strategic operation center in Baghdad. And then he decided to leave the military, went back to the business world. He went to MIT Business School as a Pat Tillman scholar. He’s taught at Harvard Business School, and today he runs a hedge fund up in the Boston area. Andrew or as I know you, Skeet, welcome to the show.

Andrew Sandoe: Thanks so much for having me, Thor, I’m thrilled to be here.

Thor: Absolutely. Okay so, one of the first questions that we ask folks with a call sign is you’ve got to give us your callsign story. Why do people call you Skeet, Skeet?

[chuckle]

AS: So, during my first deployment, it was my first time overseas. We went to Iraq and halfway through the deployment, or thereabouts, our executive officer had pulled us all into, all the young pilots into one room together and he’d said something to us and given the lieutenants and junior captains a bunch of nonsense work that was going tie us up for a ridiculous period of time when I didn’t feel like we had it. And as he walked out the door, we all gradually agreed and proceeded to head off and do it. But as the XO was walking out of the room, I said, to my roommate who was standing next to me, skeet, skeet, skeet and my XO turned around as he walked out of the ready room, looked over his shoulder, clearly showing me that he’d heard what I’d said, gave me a smirk and then headed out. And I didn’t hear it mentioned again until we were home from the deployment and it was about eight months later, it came up during the call sign awards night. And I’d hoped and believed that he forgot it, but clearly, it was stuck, buried in his memory.

Thor: You’re known as Skeet forever more. But you were never supposed to even be in the Marines or fly in a helicopter in Iraq. How the heck did that happen? Here you are in your cozy financial job working up in New York City. Tell me about your world before 9/11.

The Effects of 9/11

AS: When I finished college, I started doing investment work, I got a job at Morgan Stanley and all of the training from Morgan Stanley at the time was done at 2 World Trade Center on the 63rd floor and Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant in 2 World Trade, so I spent eight weeks there in early 2000. And went through all my training at Morgan Stanley and then was moved to the DC office where I began working on a daily basis. We began to build our business and grow. We tried to take care of our clients and our business grew. Our whole team wound up getting recruited over to a competitor called UBS. I liked what I was doing and I was very much trying on a daily basis to climb a steep learning curve. I continue to try to do that, but I embraced it. So, every single day was a sprint. 9/11 threw a massive, you know, a massive wrench into my life and the life of so many other people. It changed the entire direction of the rest of my life.

Thor: Before you get into that, so you’ve got this amazing future in front of you in the finance industry. Because I just want everybody to really fully grasp this change you’re about to undertake. What’s your future look like? You’ve taken this fund from $100 Million to $140 Million with this team. I’m sure you have a lot of opportunities sitting in front of you. Tell me about your feelings on the September 10th where Andrew was going to be in the next few years.

AS: I felt like if we took care of enough clients and we did well for enough clients, ultimately, we would do well financially. And for me, that was very satisfying, that we were taking very good care of the people that had trusted us. But as I looked around my colleagues at Morgan Stanley and also at UBS, it was pretty astonishing. And this is what you don’t see written about in books about Wall Street or investment management or what have you. As I looked around the landscape of these different companies, I saw massive unhappiness among my colleagues. There was rampant alcoholism, rampant affairs, there was even drug use and signs of really depressed lives. And all these people on paper looked like they were extraordinarily successful. They had what I imagined 99% of people we’re shooting for.

AS: So, it was a big eye-opener to me that for all of the work that people may put in to reach that level, it may not be profoundly or personally satisfying to most of the people who get there. And that was one of the reasons that once 9/11 hit, I had no hesitation about walking away from that because I felt like you have to follow what you’re passionate about. You have to follow what drives you in your core. Because if you don’t, even if you’re phenomenally successful financially, there’s a profound unhappiness there. And I didn’t want that for my life. I’ve only got one shot at it.

Thor: You could’ve picked a different type of future. You could have altered your vector within the financial industry and still found happiness but you decided to go 90 degrees off and go do this totally outside the box thing and something you hadn’t prepared for at all. You’d been thinking about numbers and money and maximizing that, and been taught how to do that. And now here you are joining the Marines and trying to go fly helicopters in combat. Tell me why? What impacted you about 9/11, I mean, everybody was affected by 9/11, how personally did it affect you?

AS: It didn’t affect me as personally as some? Thankfully, the people that I knew who are very, very close to it that day, friends that I’d met at 2 World Trade, friends and family who were there that day, believe it or not, they all made it out of the building. And, part of that is a function of the fact that Morgan Stanley at the time had fairly low turnover, they had enormous loyalty among the people who worked there. And most of the people who worked in the building remembered the original bombing in 1993 when a truck bomb was driven into the basement of the World Trade Center. When 1 World Trade was hit, which was the first building hit on 9/11, everybody in 2 World Trade at Morgan Stanley, headed for the exits. My girlfriend at the time, her father was actually there presenting that day.

Thor: Wow.

AS: And they made it out, they ran down 39 floors and they made it out onto the street in time to catch a cab, which was amazing. But it showed that everybody who was there recognized that there was trouble and got out quickly before needing to be told to do so.

AS: Personally, I was in DC that day, my business partner, his father, was a two-star admiral, and he was actually missing until 5:00 PM that night. He was working at the Pentagon in the Navy command center, which is the part of the Pentagon that was hit and I stayed with him until we found his father that night. And his father just called in. He stayed at work for 24 hours but he called his wife and let her know that he was safe. It did affect me but thankfully, the people that I knew lived through that day, but in the days and weeks that followed, I began thinking seriously about a major change because I felt that a pretty gross injustice had been done and contemplating a change to go to the military and try to do my small piece was my way of trying to contribute to that. And this was long before I had kids or anything like that. It was something that I could contemplate doing, and I had the freedom and flexibility to do, but I also didn’t feel like I was giving up an enormous amount because I’d seen what lay ahead for people that went down the financial services road if it wasn’t the right decision for them.

Thor: You had loved ones and friends that were in 2 World Trade because you had just gotten done working there, you’re in Washington DC, and you’re obviously just a couple blocks from the Pentagon when they attacked and you’re watching all this unfold in front of you and have personal attachments to both locations. Fortunately, all of your friends made it out of that situation but it impacted you enough to say, “I’m looking at changing the direction of my life pretty dramatically.” Talk to me about the values behind the scenes that drove you to do this, to do this thing and go after this new career opportunity that you thought was more consistent with your values.

Personal Value-Based Decisions

AS: You know it’s funny, I heard a quote, I believe it was in the book, American Sniper, and I’d never heard it before then, but it articulated so succinctly this mindset and this ethos that I’ve held all my life, and that is the manifestation of which was the decision to go to the Marines after 9/11. Chris Kyle talks about how there are three different types of people in the world. There are wolves, who are naturally predatory. There are sheep, who may or may not be able to protect themselves and there are sheepdogs. And the sheepdogs, they’re the ones who will stand between them and will try to ward off the wolves and protect the sheep.

AS: The moment I read that it, it resonated so clearly that that’s who I wanted to be and who I’ve tried to be. Even before I had kids, I’ve tried to live that example so that when I did have kids, now, I can point back at my life and say, “You want to be a sheepdog. You want to be part of the force for good.” In my own meager, humble way that was my way of trying to do that, was to say, “Okay, if my whole family is in the New England area, I would rather go give a chapter of my life or several chapters of my life to the Marines with the hope that physical violence, if there’s anything I can do about it, is done far from Northern New England so that these fights don’t show up on our doorstep.” For me, it felt completely consistent with who I wanted to be, and it felt like the manifestation of these values that I’ve tried throughout my life to embrace and now to teach my kids.

AS: And I reached out to a lot of people for guidance on this. As 9/11 passed and I started thinking about this, I reached out to all sorts of people for whom I have respect, people that had guided me in my career up to that point, my boss, his boss, and everybody said, “You’re nuts, you’d be crazy to go and do that because you know you would deploy.” And that’s exactly why I was considering doing it. The one person who supported it was my CEO at UBS. He was a Green Beret in Vietnam and had an unbelievable story. Never went to college. He worked his way up to be CEO and then chairman of a Wall Street bank, never having gone to college. But he was a Green Beret, he was medically separated from the military and then worked his way up as a broker to rise to that high level. And I sent him a cold email and said, “Sir, I work for you in your Washington DC office. I’m thinking of leaving UBS to go to the Marines in light of everything that’s just happened. If you have any thoughts or guidance, I’d love to hear it.” And I didn’t really expect to hear back from him but he got back to me the same day, that afternoon, and he said, “Andrew, your head and your heart are in the right place. Go do it. You can always come back to this. Please let me know if I can ever help.”

Thor: Wow.

AS: And that was it. It was incredible. I would’ve made the decision without that, but with that in hand, I didn’t think twice about walking away because I knew my thinking was sound, I could always come back to this down the road, and it felt terribly important to me to go and make this change and make this commitment. He and I have stayed in touch ever since then, which has been wonderful. He’s been a mentor to me all these intervening years.

Thor: What I think is really interesting about that is, here you are reaching out to another highly successful person and saying, “What path should I take?” And it would’ve been very easy for him to say, “Stay the tactical route, stay the short-term route, and take that $140 million opportunity to $180 million. Wait until you see the size of your next paycheck. This stuff’s going to die down internationally. Let me tell you about the next car you’re going to be able to buy.” But he didn’t. He said from a value perspective that this is the right direction. Your head and your heart are in the right place which speaks directly back to the fact that he’s a person that makes decisions based on his values. And it’s interesting to see that the other leaders that weren’t quite at the success level that he was at saw it differently. I don’t have a ton of data for this but just from my experience anecdotally, the best leaders that I’ve ever been in contact with are ones that make decisions from a value-based perspective, off of principles along the way. Have you seen the same thing, Andrew?

Leading with Principles

AS: I couldn’t agree more. I think people that lead with principles and have that alignment with the rest of their leadership and their organizations, outperform based on an enormous number of different factors. If you know that you have as an underlying assumption that your organization is going to conduct itself in a certain way, it saves all those conversations about how are you going to build a strategy, how are you going to execute that strategy. Because you already have principles for it.

AS: And particularly when those are values based in moral principles, I think it brings a team into an enormous level of alignment. It’s been wonderful to see and Joe Grano, the man I’m referring to actually made the same decision that I did after 9/11. And he left being chairman of UBS.

Thor: Wow.

AS: And took over President Bush’s Homeland Security Council. Which was essentially a board of advisors tasked with one job, do whatever you need to do to protect the homeland. And that was it. It was almost like the early days of the OSS where you have this loose network of successful people pulled together with an enormous mission to make happen. And ultimately, that gave rise to the Homeland Security Agency. He returned to service for years after that as well.

Thor: Now you’re in the service, you’ve gone from using calculators to flying helicopters in the middle of the desert. How many combat missions did you fly?

AS: I did 58 combat missions once I got to Iraq.

Thor: Wow. And then you played a pretty important strategic role on the other side of those combat missions as well. Tell me about your background and what you had to do on the ground there in Baghdad.

AS: My experience in Iraq across two deployments was very bar belled. My first deployment was completely at the tactical level. Flying daily missions throughout Anbar Province out to the Syrian border, the Jordanian border, etcetera and East Ramadi, Fallujah and Baghdad. My second deployment was the absolute opposite, where everything had been at the tactical level in the first deployment, everything was at the strategic level in the second. I felt very lucky on that deployment to have been given some of the opportunities that I had.

AS: But I started off there as the night time officer in charge for what was called the Strategic Operations Center. There was a room in Baghdad at a place called Camp Victory that would triage all of the information that came in from the larger region, meaning Iraq and the surrounding countries. And when any information of strategic importance came in, we would process it and triage it out to the appropriate people and make sure that we were working sequentially through how to respond to each of these events. And I was incredibly lucky to end up in that position. And I really enjoyed it. And from that, I was pulled in to be the aid and advisor to the Director of Military Operations for all of Iraq. Where in the first deployment I’d been focused on tactical flights into and around Anbar Province, in the second deployment we were worrying about building a schism into different sects of the Shia.

AS: Whether there was too much Shia influence manifesting itself into the Iraqi political process. Let alone the military process. It was an entirely different portfolio of challenges? But one that I felt very lucky to be faced with as a captain.

Thor: Fascinating. And you know that you and I have talked about this in the past and I was on the edge of my seat listening to your stories about negotiating for hostages and the tragic turn that had taken place. Anything you took away from that entire experience in terms of the theme that we’re discussing today. In terms of the value-based decisions. What’s your takeaway?

AS: What you’re describing was a very challenging circumstance that we went through where five British contractors working in Iraq were kidnapped and brought into a neighboring country. And when I arrived in Baghdad they’d already been held captive for more than a year and a half. And we were working to secure their release. One by one or two by two or whatever way we could get them out. And it was ultimately over the course of two and a half years of negotiating one of them was released alive. It was an incredibly challenging, emotional process to work on and be involved in. But we couldn’t give up. because as far as we knew, we had people relying on us to get them out. We gave it everything that we had in order to do that. But the takeaway for me, and this was very genuinely inspiring, was that even though all the work that we did at the time on the subject was completely classified, and it’s been written about since then, so I can talk about it. But as we did all this work and the pre-work leading into this negotiation, we’re working in… We had a working group that would work in the same room every single day. And even though we knew that room would never ever see the light of day. There would never be media allowed into it. We always wanted, in everything that we did and in every decision that we undertook, we always wanted it to be consistent that our counterparties would look at what we’d done and the decisions that we’d made and always determine that we had acted honorably. Even though we knew this was never going to show up in the New York Times or the Washington Post, but we always wanted our counterparties in this neighboring country to realize there’s a place in the world where people make decisions based on honor and the right thing to do. Where human life is prized and not used as a bargaining chip. To try to be that, that glimmer of light or that glimmer of hope in a corner of the world where that idea is a foreign concept was very genuinely inspiring to me. And it may well have fallen on deaf ears. It may never have been perceived that way. Or it may have been perceived as something that could be taken advantage of. But it was an intentional decision that we were going to conduct ourselves, at every decision point, we we’re going work to make our decisions based on honor and treating the other side fairly. So that they would always know there’s a place in the world where these values are embraced.

Thor: Wow. And now you’re surrounded by other people that are adhering to these values, of course as well. And that’s one of the things that was so incredible about the military experience that I had too. That you’re always surrounded by other people of like values, there’s a constant conversation piece that you’re having. How do we retain honor? There’s always going to be challenges and things that are tempting. And paths that are less than honorable to take in those examples. And the stories I’ve heard from the team members that I’ve been a part of have been incredible in how they adhere to those values. Now, you make the decision to leave the military. Now you’ve done all this to set yourself up for success as a Marine helicopter pilot. You’re playing a strategic role in Iraq. It’s going fantastic. How can you leave all that now? That was your values that brought you into that place. What’s going to take you out of there?

AS: I’d always felt like I wanted the military to be a chapter of my life but not the entire thing. And when I went into the military I was dating my now wife, but I had no kids and none on the horizon. When I left, nine years later, I had two kids with one on the way and they were hoping for more stability. And I wanted to provide them more stability. Simply because I was gone an enormous amount, particularly during the later years of my time in the military. We wanted something more consistent. And when I was contemplating getting out, I put out applications to a couple of different graduate schools, and I felt lucky to have gotten into school in Boston. Which was great. When I got that opportunity, I went with the hopes of building my own intellectual toolkit, but also being able to use that to help veterans. And that was what I wrote my essay about that got me in there, was being able to work to empower veterans going forward. That’s what would make this all worthwhile is if I was able to bring the culture and the service orientation of the Marines. And bring that to the business world. And that’s what gets me up in the morning and makes me excited.

AS: I went to graduate school when I got out of the Marines, and it was wonderful because it was at a time when there were an enormous number of veterans coming out at the same time. And there was a Marine in my class as well who came from the Marine Special Operations community, and we formed a tight knot right from the outset just based on having walked some of the same places in the same dirty boots and so on over our last 10 years.

Thor: I think it’s an incredible story because this is not about how one size fits all, and that the military was the only place to satisfy your values. And it in fact, became the place that didn’t satisfy your values any longer as you elected to go into the next phase of your life, like you said you wanted it to be a chapter in your life, not the book. And when we’ve talked about this before, you said you had a specific conversation with somebody regarding deployments. Do you remember what you told me that kind of turned your mind in the new direction for leaving the military?

Principles and Priorities

AS: That was my first deployment, and I was talking with the ops chief, the senior enlisted in our operations office. And at the time, I think that was his sixth deployment. And we were still in the fairly early days of that deployment and he said it was great to be back there and I looked over at him because I felt like my heart was ripping out of my chest, missing my wife. She was pregnant with our first and I was going be deployed for the birth of my first and I felt like a huge chunk of me was still at home in San Diego. And he said, “Yeah, Andrew, it’s gotten to the point where I’m more comfortable over here than I am at home.” And it was such an eye-opener for me and it was an important message for me to hear because it showed me I always have to keep track of where my true north is.

Thor: Yeah.

AS: What are the principles and what are the priorities that I want to guide me, and they say you’re an average of the five people with whom you spend the most time, and we are that way. We are permeable and the sources of influence around us will seep in and begin to manifest themselves in our own behavior. And for me, I always wanted to remember this; my life at home with my family and the job and the priorities that led to the decision to go to the Marines, that is my true north. And I didn’t want to become so familiar or changed that life deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan became my true north. I didn’t want that for me or for my family.

Thor: You know, people listening to this are saying, “Change is hard, I’m not in the place necessarily that is totally consistent with my values, but I’m not sure what’s going to happen if I go somewhere else.” And I think what’s powerful is that you showed how you can excel in every one of these phases. You excelled before you went into the military, you were taking these opportunities from a $100 million to $140 million and probably could’ve taken it further, then you excelled in the military because you’re being pulled by a value-based decision, then you left the military because once again you’re pulled in a value-based direction that now is out of the military, and now you’ve been at MIT Sloan School of Business, taught at Harvard Business School. And what I think takes place, and you tell me what you think, but it’s a pull mechanism, meaning when you feel that tug or when you feel your conscience telling you to go in a different direction, when you’re being pulled, the opportunity and the passion you can put towards it for a pull scenario is much stronger than a push scenario. When you’re just pushing yourself to make 5% more on the next sale or work a little bit harder next year to get a little bit more money to get the next better version of the car that you currently have, that’s a lot less exciting. That’s not the life I want to live. Was that similar to what you went through during this entire experience?

AS: Well, I think people can be compelled by a lot of different catalysts and service can come in any shape and form, you know? Service is not limited to the military at all. Doctors serve, teachers serve, policemen serve, elected officials serve. People that put their own needs to the side while trying to advance or take care of others, that is who I perceive to be the sheepdogs. Those are the ones who are out trying to protect and trying to help and that can manifest itself anywhere. This is one of the things that I love in my life now is being exposed to lots of different people and seeing all of the different ways that people work to contribute to enrich other’s lives.

AS: And it’s so funny because these are the happiest people that I encounter. They might work at Pfizer or Biogen and people would look at them and say, “Well, you work in biotech, how service oriented is that?” And it turns out that he’s a physicist or a chemist working on chemical and molecular breakthroughs that will advance Parkinson’s research. They’re absolutely advancing mankind using their unique talents and capabilities, and in the same way that there were multiple times in the military, and you may have perceived this as well. When I went through flight school, it showed me what the difference is between someone who’s uniquely qualified for something and someone who has to work to get there. And what I mean by that is when I was prepping for a flight in flight school, it would take me seven or eight hours to prep adequately for a flight.

AS: My roommate, he was an engineer by training, he was bored out of his mind and had to take extracurricular classes because he was so bored going through flight school. And now he’s an F-35 joint strike fighter pilot. I was so inspired that the human mind is capable of some of the things that I saw him do. And all of that talent and capability is applied to advancing the Marine Corps needs in the F-35 now. The same is true for people on the outside. Congressman Moulton, who’s our congressman here north of Boston, he was a Marine infantry guy in Najaf, who was part of the march up. And when he left the military, he went to graduate school and then applied his capabilities to public service running for office. Service can be anywhere. And this has been one of the exciting takeaways, is seeing people take whatever their differentiated skill sets are and apply them in a way throughout the rest of their life, some in the military, some outside of the military. But continuing that service mindset.

Thor: So, the same skills that made you successful before 9/11 in the finance industry made you successful as a helicopter pilot, made you successful as a strategic leader in Iraq, and today made you successful as a guest lecturer at Harvard Business School, running your own hedge fund. I was reading Viktor Frankl’s book again this past weekend, Man’s Search for Meaning. And there’s a great quote from Nietzsche in the book where he says, “He who has a why can bear any how.”, “He who has a why can bear any how.” In other words, you had a strong why you had a strong value-based approach pulling you in this direction. And in every one of those scenarios you’ve reinvented yourself. You can argue that the technical skill set of the previous role that you were playing, whether it’s in the financial sector or the military, did not help in the next role. And you had to completely reinvent yourself, but you had a strong why and you were able to bear that how probably with a smile on your face and excited about what you were embarking upon.

AS: Absolutely. For me, the constant theme amongst these different roles has always been that I’m trying to help people in one way or another. At Morgan Stanley and UBS, I was trying to help people pay for college, pay for retirements, grow the nest eggs that they had accumulated. During the military, we’re trying to help people on a much more basic level. We were trying to provide for their survival in some cases and their protection. Since then, since getting out and launching my company, and I teach, which I love doing, working with young people to develop character, develop a service orientation where they’re using their unique talents and capabilities to make the world better in some way, and also continuing to help people fund retirements and college educations and all of these things which are so important and so hard. These are difficult things, difficult mountains to climb. I love helping people do that.

Thor: The next question that is on most people’s minds is, how do I start making value-based decisions. How do I build that mindset? We’re not the first ones to talk about this. Stephen Covey uses it in one of my favorite books, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And he talks about how it’s the principle-based decisions that are the most important. And what I’ve always said and what we strive to do with the companies we support at Afterburner, when they come to us and they say, “Alright, we don’t have a compelling why.”, “We don’t have a compelling set of principles as a team that exists right now. How do we create that?” One of the things that we challenge them to do is to deliberately define what are those cultural aspects of the team of the future? What are those aspirational cultural attributes that you’re going after? And be aspirational, make it something that you’re building towards. In other words, when we’re working with one sales leader in particular, he wants to completely lead the transformation to the digital workspace. This is about a $40 Billion company in market cap that is going after a pretty large opportunity, and in order to do that, he wants his team to be lifetime learners and master instructors. Knowing that they probably are going to be able to lead the way, but at the same time, there’s going to be things they’re going to need to pivot and iterate upon while they’re executing.

Thor: And so, he’ll hire for that and he’ll train for that and he’ll assess against it. But it required him to first sit down and develop those principles with his team beforehand. And at Afterburner, that’s what we’re typically asked to help develop, those principles for the group moving forward. Can you talk a little bit about the most successful teams you’ve been a part of and the principles that you’ve seen lead the way in that discussion?

Team Alignment of Values

AS: It’s a hard question because the biggest and most successful teams that I’ve seen or been a part of were in the military where you had that alignment of values, the alignment of optimal end state. And you weren’t faced with some of the ambiguity that you see in the civilian world, but where I’ve seen it employed very, very well because, at the end of the day, everybody has to make a decision that’s correct for them. It’s a retail decision. Is every individual person going to get up early and work harder than they need to and try to deliver 101%, rather than 91%? That’s an individual decision and different people are compelled by different things. If I were going to try to get optimal performance and inspiration out of you, there’s probably something different for you than there would be for me. And I knew that in starting my company, that for me, financial rewards outside of being able to fund my kid’s education and our retirement, money doesn’t do an enormous amount for me. I had to come up with something that was a principle that would get me up and excite me to deliver a 101% every day.

AS: And for me, that was sending vets to college and so we committed to giving 10% of our profits to the Pat Tillman Foundation which funds veteran education for vets that want to make the world a better place. And that works for me but that doesn’t necessarily work for every member of the team. What I had to do is go to the different people on the team and figure out what is most important to you and that’s only done through good quality individual conversations. And I remember a quote from Colin Powell where he said, “On the day your team members stop bringing you their problems, that’s the day you stop being a leader.” And I’ve tried to incubate those kinds of relationships where I’m always at the end of my phone for the team, my door is always open with the team, and I want them to bring their problem personal, professional and otherwise to me so that we can work through it together, because it’s only by having that level of understanding of each other then we’re going to be able to come up with something that moves the needle for them in the same way veteran education moves it for me. The vehicle to get there is a hedge fund for us, but what is inspiring for me and what gets me up early every day and inspires me to go the extra mile is helping to fund veteran education.

AS: And I won’t even get to meet all of these people but it’s inspiring knowing that each one of them has their own vision of how to make the world a better place. And it’s only by trying to optimize that for myself and at the same time try to figure out the why with the members of my team as different as they could be and it’s completely different for each of them.

 

Thor: That, you know? It’s like leadership by walking around, taking the time to have those individual conversations to figure out their why.

Thor: I love that. And I’m going to close out with the way we apply this with companies and I’ve been doing this now for the past five years with Afterburner. Afterburner’s been doing this for 22 years in total and when we go help out a new company, they’re saying the same thing, they’re saying, “We need to create a compelling why. We need to have this and be a pull model. We need to establish the culture that is going to allow our team to thrive.” So, here’s what we help them to do, first of all, create the principles. Tell me five to six culturally defining principles that make your team unique, make them aspirational. Tell me what you want to build, what culture is going to support the victories of the future. And don’t go to the price of admission principles. I mean everybody wants to say, “We’re going to act with compassion.” Or “We’re going to have integrity.” Well, you’re supposed to do that. Those are the things that every team should do. Instead of anchoring on those, I want you to tell me what makes your team different. I want you to tell me something that’s going to resonate with some people and completely drive other people away. Because folks at the end of the day, we want the principles and your culture to be a self-weeding garden.

Thor: Meaning you want it to attract the right type of people that are going build on to the next level and it also repel the type of people that are not right for that fit, and there’s not a one size fits all set of principles and culture that you’re trying to develop. In the financial industry, it’s dog eat dog, it’s very much cut-throat, we heard Andrew describe that at the beginning of this segment and that’s great for a lot of people. Some people are drawn to that and they say, “I want to be a part of that.” There are other people that say, “I can’t get far enough away from that and I need a different type of calling.” And they’re going to be drawn towards the principles and the culture that you establish. And then once you establish those principles, agree on those with your teams, use them. Use them in meetings, start your meetings off with how somebody showed one of the principles this week, how somebody lived one of our guiding principles. We use them in hiring. Tell the new hires, “Hey, here are the things we value, how many of those line up with your activities? Tell me a circumstance where you were living this type of principle.”

Thor: Use them in assessments of individuals to give them feedback and help the culture to be nudged in the right direction to succeed. And what you’ll see is that over time, the garden will weed itself and people will gravitate towards those behaviors that are in line with your principles. Here’s the other thing that’ll happen, some people will leave, some people will no longer be a part of your team because like I said, the garden’s going to start to weed itself and some people who were never the right fit are going to see loud and clear that this is not the place for them, that’s a good thing. It does not need to be one size fit all, we need to create principles that are aligned to the success story we want to be a part of and get us excited to go out there and give that 101% every day. If they’re not the right people, let them go find that other position. There’s going to be another place where they’re going to be happier. Skeet, I’ll give you the last word before we wrap up.

AS: I think you put that so well. I’ve never heard it put that way. A self-weeding garden but there’s enormous financial power behind what you just described. And actually, when I was working at Harvard, I’d proposed a class on how to hire well, and it turned out we weren’t able to do it because there’s not a big enough literature on it. But what I found as I made that proposal is that hiring is such an expensive mistake if you get it wrong. The example that I came up with after the research that I did in preparing it was, if you’re lucky enough to catch a hiring mistake in the first six months of a hire, the damage to the organization is capped at two and a half times that person’s salary.

Thor: Wow.

AS: It’s stunning and what you describe with a self-weeding garden is incredibly powerful and that’s the way it should be, is that you attract the people that have a high probability of thriving and the people that would not self-select out either before they arrive. You know, they go through the interview process and decide okay it’s not from or very quickly after they’ve started with you, and that’s exactly what you want. The ones who are well suited, have a good long contributing career with you and the ones that would be more successful elsewhere, find their own way there. You described something incredibly powerful.

Thor: Well, Skeet, thanks for being on today. You’re an incredible American. I love the story of going from the financial industry to being a Marine helicopter pilot, leading in combat, leading as a strategic operator in Iraq, and then reinventing yourself yet once again going to MIT Sloan School of Business, teaching at Harvard Business School, starting a successful hedge fund and everything that goes along with it. Thanks for your time today and your insights.

AS: Thanks, so much Thor, I appreciate it.