You know your team is capable of greatness. You know they're able to achieve a lot more than they believe they can. How can you help them get there?

For Dan Schoenbaum, CEO of collaboration software company Redbooth and a former sniper in the Israeli paratrooper force, the answer lies in the training he received when he first joined up. "In the U.S. military, the toughest training lasts six to eight weeks," he says. "The training I did lasts six months and it culminates in a march you have to do that's 80 miles long with a 50-pound pack."

When Schoenbaum and his fellow trainees arrived, they were told that they would be doing this march, he recalls. "Each of us said, 'That's not possible!' But they built us up over time." In the end, Schoenbaum did indeed complete the march. And he gained some valuable insight into how to complete an impossible task.

He's gone on to use that knowledge as a business leader. Here's how he helps people to go beyond their limits:

1. Break it down into manageable steps.

"It's helpful to know where you're ultimately going," he says. "But if you break it down into smaller, more digestible steps, something that seems overwhelming becomes attainable."

And so he'll tell his team that while they may be headed to the top of the mountain they may not know from the start how they're going to get there. But the first step will be to cross this stream. And then the next step will be to cross that field."

When he can possible, Schoenbaum simply sets the ultimate goal and lets the team figure out how to get there. "The more I let people figure out the tasks themselves, the better off they are and the more empowered they are," he says. "My job is just to be a rudder. Sometimes it means they have to make a mistake and I may have to step away and let them figure it out for themselves. I've been able to build some really strong teams this way."

2. Rally the troops.

Sometimes team members need encouragement when faced with what seems like overwhelmingly bad odds. Schoenbaum put this knowledge to use at a previous company, Mercury Interactive, which was one of the first to help companies test and monitor their applications. All was going well until a new competitor entered the market and started going after Mercury's customers.

"They were appearing in every deal. They were ultra-competitive and put a lot of focus on beating us," Schoenbaum recalls. With customers defecting, Mercury's sales and marketing people became despondent. "We had to teach the team not only how to fight to win but how to be confident," he says.

Schoenbaum's solution was to quickly bring the whole company together--400 employees at that time. He and some other executives faced the audience in military gear and camouflage. "We brought everyone together and laid out the goal of beating them," he says. "We got the whole company fired up about it, not just the sales and marketing teams," he says. From that moment on, the sales and marketing teams knew they could call on the whole rest of the company for support when they needed it.

The presentation took only half an hour, but it had a powerful effect. "We turned despair and fear into excitement and determination," Schoenbaum says. "If I had done a PowerPoint presentation with some tactics to beat them, it wouldn't have been half as effective." From that day on, Mercury lost very few deals to the competitor.

3. Use rewards--the right way.

Schoenbaum is not a big believer in offering financial incentives for teams that meet a challenging goal. "Rewards can be effective but I try to be very careful how I use them," he says. "I try not to create a pay-for-play mentality." People should be appropriately compensated for doing their jobs, he says, without the constant promise of extra money to motivate them.

On the other hand, he likes offering rewards that help bring teams together. In one case, he motivated a developer team to get a software product finished ahead of schedule by offering to reward them with a huge party for the entire company. They met the deadline and had the party. "It helped the team realize the power of collective effort and bond over the achievement," he says.

4. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

Schoenbaum acknowledges that not every leader would agree with him about this. "There are a lot of different management styles and some people are a little more hands off," he says. "But I learned this from my experience in the military to be much more specific about who owns what responsibility and when the next checkpoint is."

It's important not to micro-manage a team, he says, but this step is important. "I find that's a common failure point," he explains. "Teams are not good at setting goals, roles, and responsibilities. If those aren't clear, if there's any ambiguity, then your risk of poor execution goes way up." That's why, he says, it's a leader's role to map out both goals and responsibilities very explicitly. "And then get out of the way."

Published on: Dec 26, 2014
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