The featured guest at our recent Storyline Webinar was none other than Robert "Cujo" Teschner, renowned speaker, former fighter pilot, and author of Debrief to Win! Check out the webinar highlights below.
So, what does a self-proclaimed "non-business guy" have to teach others about business principles? How did Robert "Cujo" Teschner, a combat veteran and former instructor at the Air Force Weapons School, wind up writing multiple books and building a career leading workshops and seminars on corporate teamwork, accountability, and purpose-driven work?
In his own words: "I realized that fighter pilots know the secret recipe for team-building and motivation because they know what it takes to create a high-performance team. Where else will you find people driven by so much purpose that they're willing, even excited, to fly into harm's way?" Cujo has built a whole life around sharing the lessons he learned from his time in the Air Force with the business world, and we could all stand to benefit from his purpose-infused strategies and nuggets of wisdom as we seek to build united, motivated, and healthy teams in our own organizations.
Here are a few key takeaways from the webinar below.
The upside of failure
Much of Cujo's work centers around building better teams and healthy accountability by combatting some common workplace problems: a victim mentality, a lack of motivation, and cynicism towards organization leaders. The root cause? A misunderstanding and misuse of accountability. When he steps into spaces that have never truly experienced the true potential goodness of healthy teamwork and leadership—his absolute passion—he sees finger-pointing and a weaponized version of team accountability that looks an awful lot like an attack.
The solution? It all starts with the leaders involved. "You need to point your finger at yourself before anyone else," he affirms. "When there's a failure, ask yourself: 'How am I complicit?'" Accountability is not an opportunity to call out others' failures; it's a constant process that happens throughout both successes and losses, and it's where the team goes both to celebrate and to learn.
Like those in the Air Force, high-performance teams see failure as the best recipe for future success. For one thing, there has to be the mentality: "If one of us fails, we all do. If one of us succeeds, so do we all." For another, the team leader should model the attitude of treating failure as an opportunity to grow, cultivating a trusting team environment where team members can embrace learning together.
Purpose in the seemingly mundane
Cujo is often asked how leaders can encourage their team members to find purpose in their mundane daily work, but he's uncovered a fascinating fact: where leaders often lament the grunt work as meaningless, those actively engaged in the work are much more likely to be able to articulate and live into the essential meaningfulness of their day-to-day tasks. Even if it's "just" updating a spreadsheet or hauling manure!
Cujo experienced this himself when a cancer diagnosis flung him out of the military world, with its clear-cut and inspiring sense of purpose, and back into the civilian workforce. He said, "It felt like my purpose was cut right out of me at first." As he showed up each day to his new job as a mortgage loan officer, he initially found it utterly purposeless and could not get behind his daily task of (essentially) asking people for their money. But after digging deep, he realized he was engaged in what could be an honorable enterprise. He helped an elderly couple with no disposable income refinance their mortgage to free up some money for something other than basic necessities, for example. He realized: "This is meaningful as heck." In his case, he had to work hard to set that sense of purpose for himself. Leaders should preemptively set the stage for their employees in that way, though, if they expect any commitment, motivation, or accountability in the organization.
Accountability starts at home
All these principles—teamwork, accountability, and more—begin at home. Cujo's own family has certainly grown stronger and better by applying the Air Force's methods of alignment and growth!
When we're winning, life is easy. Failure is the glue that truly holds us together by demonstrating to us who we truly are. Think about the movement out of the honeymoon phase with your spouse. If you can't fail well together, you won't survive it!
The power of failure as a learning experience also applies in the context of parenting. Children tend to make bad decisions, and if we can practice empathy with them, we can learn to apply it to anyone! Cujo gave the example of a teenager totaling the family car by swerving to avoid a squirrel. It was a great learning moment, and it wasn't used to blame and make the poor kid feel worse than he already, naturally, did! Acknowledging the context—the level of experience, practice, and wisdom involved in the mistake being made—is crucial in any setting to assuring others that they made the best decision they were equipped to make in the moment, and the only place to go (with some thoughtful reflection and learning involved) is up.
Which tidbits from this post resonate with you? Interested in diving in deeper? You can watch the full webinar recording here.
October 5, 2023