What Meaning Do Your Words Carry?

BA-2Within minutes of meeting Scott Beare, I liked him. The Blue Angels stories he shared with me over lunch, in his honest and straightforward demeanor, were exhilarating to say the least. Not only is Scott a straight shooter—he’s modest, too. It wasn’t until weeks later he happened to mention that he was the first enlisted Navy man to become a Blue Angels pilot. And it wasn’t until we were nearly finished writing The Power of Teamwork together, that I learned Hasbro had based its GI Joe Blue Angels Action Figure on Scott’s likeness. In light of Scott’s accomplishments, some people may find this point insignificant… but having had GI Joe’s as a kid, I think it’s awesome.

As we worked together, one thing became clear to me—what the Blue Angels consider “normal” teamwork is probably outside most people’s scope. To say it’s above average seems understated; better put, it’s abnormal… well outside the teamwork bell curve. The challenge: How do you convey this “abnormal” level of teamwork in a book?

050527-N-0295M-002My idea… Sigmund Freud believed by studying the abnormal, we could gain a better understanding of the normal. That’s how I approached The Power of Teamwork… perhaps by studying the Blue Angels’ model of teamwork, we could gain a better understanding of “normal” teamwork as it relates to our own lives.

One evening, about a week before the manuscript was to be sent to the publisher, I cleared my head and planned to re-read it from start to finish. In less than 25 pages, my brain started racing and I felt my heart sinking into my stomach… then I stopped reading.

Somehow, quite unintentionally, Scott and I had managed to transform our groundbreaking Blue Angels content into what sounded like the same old teamwork rhetoric. You know… the stuff we’ve all heard before… (think high school sports). How could this have happened? It didn’t make sense. We had been so focused on creating fresh, new, original content.

One thing was for certain… neither of us was interested in creating another recycled book on teamwork. Before I could finish dialing Scott’s number to inform him of my observation, another thought struck me. I hung up the phone and reflected on the day we met. What had impressed me about Scott during our first meeting was his demeanor. His words were direct, straightforward and honest… too often a rarity in today’s world. Suddenly it all started making sense.

Working with Scott affirmed what I’ve always known—the dictionary doesn’t define words—people do. Words are symbols. We each create the meaning they carry. Words mean different things to different people at different times and places. Words vary in degree, too. Some people have great credibility—others have very little. This point is critically important. People can use the exact same words—yet they can mean something totally different… that’s what was happening in our book. Words like trust, respect, integrity and accountability are value words… and we each give them their value. The weight these words carry for the Blue Angels is difficult for most of us to grasp.

BA-1Take the word trust, for instance. Trusting someone on your team to deliver a package on time, score a goal, or deliver a sales pitch, all represent a certain level of trust. Trusting someone to fly directly at you, and pass within inches of your aircraft at a combined speed of 1,000 miles per hour, represents yet another degree of trust. Imagine the trust a Blue Angels pilot must have for his fellow teammates… the mechanic who works on his plane… the techs who inspect his gauges… literally, everyone on the team. This degree of “trust” takes the word to a different level… to an abnormal degree.

It’s easy to spell and pronounce a word the same as someone else… but creating its meaning is another thing all together. I learned many things working on this book. I learned the same word can vary greatly in its meanings… and it’s our actions that define them.

I also learned… performance teams and healthy relationships share a common bond… their definitions align. Think about the team(s) you’re on… with your peers at work, in your relationships, and with your spouse and family. Do your definitions align? How do you define trust? In the end, we each define our words… what meaning do your words carry?

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