Sculptor Jane DeDecker captured the essence of the message University of Michigan’s Cardiovascular Center has for all visitors. This larger-than-life-size statue captures a caregiver and patient caring for and trusting each other on the journey they are about to pursue together.

A Shared Core Identity

What is it that enables highly competent individuals to integrate into great teams and thrive naturally? It is only with the support of others that our competency can be utilized as a part of something bigger than ourselves. A set of individuals create a team that shares a Core Identity. We will share a few of the fundamental requirements for great teams to thrive.

In the simplest of terms, a great team has a Core Identity built upon two essential Guiding Principles: Deep Caring and Mutual Trust in service of others. Organizations may select the words that best represent how they like to be treated and like to treat others, but they must relate to and include these two principles. We have experienced working with organizations that failed to have one or both, and despite our efforts, they are no longer in existence.


“In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.” – Margaret Wheatley

Guiding Principle Requirements: Caring and Trust

Deep Caring

Diversity People Huddle Teamwork Union ConceptLove may be the basis of this Guiding Principle, but may not be politically correct in your business world. Deep Caring surfaces our need to be cared about, to be respected, to give and receive compassion and empathy. The “deep caring” concept lives around a feeling of loving and being loved in context of what provides a secure and safe environment.

Stories of Deep Caring from our Clients

These are examples from clients of what their organization has looked like at its best when deep caring was exemplified. They touch our hearts, and we do not forget when we have witnessed the Guiding Principle of Deep Caring in action under pressure.

  • One of our team members was diagnosed with cancer last year. She chose to follow a non-traditional method. We have held fundraisers to help her pay for everything insurance didn’t cover.
  • (From a third-generation employee) My grandmother had a baby, and when Grandpa went to pay the bill, he found that the president of our company had already paid the bill.
  • Our owner took time for a customer who could barely come up with the deposit for a $10K purchase, while a much larger customer waited for him. All customers are important and that is how we treat everyone.
  • We sponsor Christmas for an underprivileged school. T-shirts, breakfast and lunch, gifts, and for some, family gifts; 40 team members participated. We end up feeling like the beneficiaries.
  • I was young and stupid and got into trouble, and the company helped me get through the tough times. I would be in real trouble if it were not for the company.

Mutual Trust 

TRUST process business concept diagram presentation backgroundOrganizations can select other words that defines their journey that promote flow in organizations and relationships. Once again, we are seeking the sense of safety and security that words like Integrity, Honesty, and Responsibility also describe.

In our work, we like the word ‘trust” because it is both the name for the concept and the action that results from building it. Trust must be continually earned, and can be lost anytime. This Guiding Principle, once compromised, questioned, or violated can become irreparable (e.g., scandals and disasters at Enron, AIG, BP, Exxon), or take generations to forget or forgive. As leaders, we need to understand the responsibility of continually earning trust through our actions.

Stories of Deep Trust from our Clients

These stories of Trust instill a feeling you are in a safe place where your back is covered, even when you do make a mistake.

  • Our customers trust us, they want us to succeed, they give us competitor pricing. They do not do this with our competitors.
  • The president’s open communication on what happened, and how we were going to overcome the challenges. It meant a great deal to many of us.
  • A service company delivered a truck with wallet left in the cab. We immediately returned the wallet to the rental company, who then returned it to the owner.
  • Our team started a trust-building meeting to communicate openly on the good, the bad, and the ugly among us. It is making us a stronger team.
  • We sold a customer a flawed design that failed. We stepped up and fixed it, and continue to support each other today. They could have left us with a massive bill for the failure, but did not, because we made it right.


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

A Deeply Meaningful Purpose in Service of Others

These two Guiding Principles, when in service of a deeply meaningful Purpose that contributes to the benefit of others, attract the right team members, and produce sustainable success. As shared in Blog 4.1, the Purpose is not to be self-serving, rather focused on gaining the joy of being a part of a team that has made a difference. As Margaret Meade points out, it is a community’s shared commitment to a deeply meaningful purpose that makes significant accomplishments possible.

When you build your Foundation of Winning on that simple platform of a Deeply Meaningful Purpose for benefit others—with Guiding Principles of Deep Caring and Mutual Trust—you will be on your way to building a sustainably profitable organization.

Like all Guiding Principles, these two—Deep Caring and Mutual Trust—are how we like to be treated and how we like to treat others. They are not constituency-dependent: they must apply to all we connect with, all the time, especially when under pressure. It will be the stories of exemplification and violation that will more accurately define what is meant by the words. When under stress, team members will remember the stories of what we look like when at our best, not the words on the wall. In time, the words remind us of stories, and the stories become feelings that will guide actions for future decision making.

The Biological Impact of these Two Guiding Principles

Feelings we experience from being in an environment that is caring and where trust is felt have a biological base. The chemical serotonin is activated when we feel valued and proud, and when we look out for others. This trusting and caring environment inspires us to feel a responsibility to look out for each other, with no expectation of something in return. When we do this, others in turn look out for us, and it becomes a circular and reinforcing system that promotes a safe place to live and work.

Another hormone, oxytocin, is activated when we experience friendship, trust, and physical touch, and it reinforces positive relationships and trust. It can be activated through acts of kindness, including simple gestures that demonstrate deeper caring, with deep meaning.

An abundant mentality touches both Caring and Trust. A key component of the Foundation of Winning is a positive and abundant mentality. Oxytocin fosters the generosity found in those with abundant mindsets, and it can even be activated by witnessing acts of kindness. Think about your responsibility as a leader understanding the impact you have as others witness your actions. What acts are being witnessed by your team? Are they serotonin and/or oxytocin creating?

Studies have shown that serotonin can contribute to extending life. We live longer when we live and work in environments that feel safe, secure, and protected. As leaders, we need to own the responsibility for enhancing the lives of our team members, while creating an environment that attracts team members who desire to attain greatness for sustainably-profitable organizations.

 Leadership Questions

  1. What does it mean to you as a leader to have an impact on the life of your team members?
  2. How clearly is trust found and exemplified in your organization?
  3. How clearly is caring lived and exemplified in your organization?
  4. Do you share stories that exemplify trust and/or caring in your organization?

For those new to this series . . .

This blog is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational greatness. We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the template we have developed to help our clients achieve their personal and organizational potential.  

I have been privileged to spend 42 years in the Team Building business, including 21 years at University of Michigan Athletics. For the first 11 years of my tenure at U-M Athletics, I worked with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders and team builders. My work has revealed there is much more to sustainable greatness than talent. Being a systems engineer, I was fascinated by the science behind what made sustainable greatness possible. There are many great leaders who possess the talents Bo embodied; because of my life experiences with Bo, he may be referenced more than others.

4.4 Core Identity: Pulling It All Together

For those new to this series . . .

This blog journey is for leaders who desire to capitalize upon natural strengths to realize individual and organizational potential.  We share insights from an upcoming book on The Foundation of Winning (FOW), the program clients have found aids them in achieving peak performance.  The FOW is composed of three Principles of Humankind and four Disciplines of Leadership.  Together, they are the pillars that support enduring meaningful and purposeful success. 

I was privileged to spend 25 years at University of Michigan Athletics, including 4 years on the Michigan Football Team, and 11 years working with Football Coach Bo Schembechler, one of our nation’s most exemplary leaders. Working with Bo every day revealed there is much more to long-term success than competency. Many of the concepts that comprise the Foundation of Winning were developed from experiences with Bo, who was one of our nation’s natural leaders.

“I want to thank you for reintroducing me to the man I thought I married.”
                                                                                                                     – The spouse of one of our clients

Blog4-4-First&BestThis recognition is a powerful testimony to the effectiveness of the work we do in helping each client clarify their personal Core Identity. The process enables leaders to be more effective not only at work, but at home as well. This is possible due to the stabilizing effect of knowing oneself, acknowledging both strengths and imperfections.

Our security in who we are and the confidence with which we move through life comes from a deep understanding of our Core Identity — Who we are when we are at our best.

Blog4-4-TimeToBeBestEach of us can be undermined by our own individual sense of insecurity, and it can be further exacerbated by the feeling that others are far more confident and secure.  It is ironic that in any given group of individuals, all of them may feel this same way! Every leader we have worked with has shared or demonstrated self-doubt; a lofty title and position does not grant a sense of security. It is through a deeper understanding of the personal Core Identity that one becomes a better leader. Natural greatness is in each of us if we stop trying to be someone else, and instead be the best self we can be, with purpose.

The Components of Core Identity

In the previous blog posts in Section Four, we examined the components of your Core Identity, starting in post 4.0 with an Overview, and then moving on to the components:

Now, we can consider Core Identity holistically, and put these parts to work together. As we get better at honoring who we are meant to be, we like and respect ourselves more and more. The journey to a deeper understanding of who we are uniquely meant to be frees us from the insecurity of comparing our own achievements and acquisitions with those of others.  As we mature and move on from the quest for Comparative Accomplishment that is the hallmark of Stage II Fulfillment, we appreciate Contributing for the Benefit of Others found in Stage III Fulfillment.

Journaling: A Powerful, Essential Practice

Blog4-4-JournalingThis is also a great time to re-visit the power of journaling, a practice recommended in blog post 1.4, The Picture that Precedes Luck. Many of the people I admire and respect journal regularly, and most are remarkably successful.  Their lives seem to possess a deeper integrity, and a sense that they are wholly who they are meant to be. They have stable minds that can make smart decisions with less stress than others.  I know I feel that way on the days I journal: life just seems to be more focused and strategically purposeful. The day feels so meaningful.

Consider this question in your own journal:

Of the people I most admire and respect, what part of their Core Identity means most to me—their Purpose, their Vision, or one of their Guiding Principles? 

Your answers will touch on who you are meant to be: that which you respect in them is also most naturally in you. This kind of reflection is an important step in taking responsibility for your own life, and to see the path that will bring energy into your life to be your best self.

Leadership Challenge Questions

As a leader, ask yourself:

  • Do I take the time to seek a deeper understanding of those who I admire and respect? What components of their Core Identity may also be mine?
  • Do I take responsibility for my life and my destination, and for who I am when at my best?
  • Do I challenge my team members to take responsibility for their lives, and provide them support on their journey of discovery?
  • Have I given journaling a chance to aid me in my “at my best” development?