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Lesson #5: Teamwork is an Essential Tool for Success
Case knew that he had an innovative idea and he knew that he had the drive to make it happen, but he also knew that it was not something he could do alone. “If you really got the right people, and you've got them working together as a team, whether it's in business, whether it's in science, whether it's in politics, you can make a big difference,” he says. “If you don't have the right people, no matter how smart you are, no matter how good your idea is, you're not going to get very far.”
Cultivating a sense of teamwork was one of Case’s top priorities. From recruiting to motivating his employees and instilling within them a sense of passion, Case took the time he needed to make sure his people were behind him. “You can perhaps be a lead and you can perhaps be a catalyst, but it really is about the team,” he says. “And I'd say one of the great lessons I've learned over the past couple of decades, from a management perspective, is that really when you come down to it, it really is all about people and all about leadership. That just one or two people can make a huge difference.”
For Case, leadership was not just about giving direction. It was about utilizing the unique characteristics of each of his staff members and making them feel like a valuable part of the team. “You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different people with different perspectives and different personalities,” he says. “You have to force yourself out of a comfort zone and really try to figure out what are the key ingredients, the key skill sets, the key perspectives that are necessary, and then figure out a way to attract the very best people to fill those particular roles.”
Too many entrepreneurs today fall into the trap of attracting people that think like them, says Case, but that is a recipe for disaster. “In some ways it's easier to communicate, but you're not going to have a diverse perspective that is critical in looking at things in a different context, and being able to focus on the future and not simply look in the rear view mirror and be looking backwards at the past,” he says. For Case, what was important was not whether someone agreed 100% with his vision. Rather, he wanted someone who was a visionary in his own right. “It's stunning to me what kind of an impact even one person can have if they have the right passion, perspective and are able to align the interest of a great team,” he says.
Just how important was teamwork to the success of AOL? Extremely, says Case. “It really was setting a direction and setting an expectation and getting the right people working together, and really focused on, ‘How do we get to the promise land?’”
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