Common Goals Bring Together Uncommon People

That was what my old teacher John Durand told me once while we were hiking through Yosemite National Park.

It crystallizes why management / leadership is so interesting: how do you bring together a bunch of different people and unite them around common objectives?

But life’s most beautiful moments don’t always happen in formal business. Yesterday, for example, I decended on In-n-Out Burger in Daly City, a town just south of San Francisco. I can safely say I haven’t been in a place as diverse since London’s Heathrow Airport (which is probably the most diverse location in the world).

In-n-Out was filled with old grandmas and babies, black skin and white skin (and everything in-between), tall and short, grotesquely obese and anorexic. English was just one of several languages being spoken. Rich businessmen waited in the ketchup line behind gangstas.

The common goal for all these people was the perfect burger (preferably “animal style,” with fries and a vanilla milkshake on the side). So long as you kept this in mind, you couldn’t care less what the person next to you looked like.

I think back to this idea anytime I’m trying to lead people who seem close to sparring. Articulate the common goals, and people tend to rally together. Sometimes it can be as simple as, “Look, we’re all trying to get out of here as quickly as possible, so let’s work together.” Or: “Let’s not forget our interests are fundamentally aligned. You win, I win, you lose, I lose.”

Good leaders, it seems to me, assemble a stunningly diverse team, and then work hard to promote commonalities.

4 comments on “Common Goals Bring Together Uncommon People
  • Ben,
    I definitely agree. Great teams work when everyone believes in the same vision. You got to hire people who “get it.”

    Funny that you mention the notion of being “uncommon people together.” The statement immediately reminded me of what I discovered this semester through street photography. Check out my final art portfolio.

  • A CEO who hikes? What next!

    Diversity isn’t synonymous with being comfortable. Those rich business men may have well been turning up their noses at the gangstas ahead of them. The black, obese grandmother with her Latino daughter in law and grandchild may have been critisizing under her breathe the skinny white girl making her way to the bathroom to regurgitate that delicious burger. This diversity isn’t so much unification as it is apathy, and at most, simple tolerance.

    That initial idea that common goals bring together uncommon people definitely holds true (working as a camp councelor amongst other things has certainly proved this– “Everyone likes jello, right?”), but there’s a difference between a bunch of people in burger joint and a motley crew assigned to some entrepreneuring project.

  • Bekka – You are right that the burger joint is not the same as summer camp…and it is, really, a silly example. But I don’t think you can assume that everyone was turning their nose at the person in front. After all, everyone had to be cordial in order for the line to move quickly. Everyone was focused on getting their burger. Genuine or not, the common goal here promotes cooperation.

  • It indeed is a great insight to draw from something as commonplace as a Burger joint experience and to conclude how commonality of goals drives hetrogenous groups to unite.

    Of course, there are several other parallels too in corporate sector. Lee Iacocca comes to my mind – as CEO of Chrysler which was on the verge of bankruptcy ( as a humiliated CEO out to prove his mettle and hundreds of employees wanting to resurrect their careers ) and then to have turned it around, eeking out a Federal Loan guarantee, that was hard in coming from the Congress. The accent on Public Interest and concerted effort by all led to the stellar result.

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