Amy Edmondson and Seneca on high-performing teams

Here is a recent piece from Ryan Holiday about parenting from Seneca – a well-known Stoic philosopher. Following that is a table that outlines Amy Edmondson and her approach on how to be a leader, not a boss. I believe they are quite similar in how to build great teammates and teams- the first is about parenting and the second is about leading teams.

In my book, Further, Faster, more than one-third is focused on teams and team leaders. To read a previous piece on the two key questions team leaders must ask each week of their team members to create a high-performing team, click here.


Although we know nearly nothing about Seneca’s family life or how his children turned out, we know at least that he gave good advice. We know that as a wealthy, powerful, and famous man, the deck was stacked against him. These are corrosive, corrupting influences, particularly on children. Yet it was clearly quite important to Seneca to raise a normal kid—and to encourage everyone else to do the same thing.

Below is some advice from Seneca on parenting:

  • Spur them to conceive of great things for themselves, but curb them from arrogance.
  • Let them enjoy some comforts of wealth without indulging every whim.
  • Show them how to get up when they fall—don’t pick them right up.
  • Instruct them, don’t just punish them.
  • Praise them, but not excessively.
  • Allow some relaxation without fostering laziness.
  • Reward them when quiet what was denied them when they cried for it.
  • Expose them to good role models.

Seneca understood that parenting is a balancing act. You want your kids to be confident but not obnoxious. To feel special but not entitled. Comfortable but not spoiled. You want them to be happy, but also know how to handle disappointment and rejection. To not have to struggle but know how to overcome. To be self-sufficient, but also know how to be a team player. To be carefree, but also value hard work. 

For us, that means we must always keep in mind the end goal, not just what will make this moment easier for them or for you. Assess each situation and strike a balance so your kid will too.

“It turns out that no one wakes up in the morning, jumps out of bed and says, ‘I can’t wait to get to work today to look ignorant incompetent intrusive or negative.  On average we prefer to look smart, helpful and positive. The good news about all this is that it’s very easy to manage.  Don’t want to look ignorant, don’t ask questions.  Don’t want to look incompetent, don’t admit weakness or mistake.  Don’t want to look intrusive, don’t offer ideas and if you don’t want to look negative by all means don’t criticize the status quo.” – Amy Edmonson

Table above from The Fearless Organization – Amy Edmondson

I believe it is the main job of the team leader to do the following

  • Leverage strengths and joyful effort. Effort, when wisely applied, warps time.  
  • Create atmosphere – a psychologically safe environment that increases the chances of proactive, persistent and productive team work. 
  • Focus on the vital few things that turn good into great and propel you further, faster.

It is the highly effective team leader who know that few things truly make the difference- those that propel you further and faster to a level of excellence that too few have attained but so many more can achieve.

Be exceptional!

Bill  – Multi-certified Growth Coach, Foundations in NeuroLeadership certified, Predictive Index Certified Partner

P.S. If you want to survey your team re: engagement level, please see my previous post for a survey created by ADP and Buckingham. If you get low scores, please feel free to reach out. I will see what I can do to help.

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Published by Bill Flynn

Gazelles Member Advisor and early stage startup specialist with a proven track record with 16 Boston-based startups (9 to date with 5 successful outcomes, advisor to 7 others); SMB to Fortune 500 companies. 20+ years of Senior Sales, Marketing and GM experience in industries including mobile advertising, security, digital advertising, e-commerce and IT. Core Competencies: Player/Coach, Metrics-driven, Execution-based philosophy, Life-long learner

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