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Mutual Respect Is the Foundation for Your Team’s Extreme Performance


Thu Jan 31 2019

Mutual Respect Is the Foundation for Your Team’s Extreme Performance

Be honest—how hard do you work for people who don’t respect you? A few of you may work harder trying to earn their respect. Most of us, however, decide to conserve our energy for those who appreciate the work we’re doing. It’s human nature to do more for those who like us and believe in us. This is why mutual respect is the fourth essential ingredient for extreme performance.

Loyalty and trust come from mutual respect and are the foundations on which all winning team relationships are built. Teams that have loyalty and trust will go above and beyond for each other and achieve extreme performance. My adventure racing team wouldn’t have become world champions if we didn’t trust each other. If you want to build loyalty and trust you need to build mutual respect, which can be done in five ways.


Remember the Aluminum Can Theory

The Aluminum Can Theory is an entertaining concept created by Alan Brunacini, one of the most inspiring and engaging fire chiefs in history (and one of my personal heroes). He said, “When you have a disagreement with someone on your crew and you’re compelled to go right to the one terrible comment that you know will take them to their knees, remember that comment is an aluminum can—it’s going to stay in the environment forever.”

World-class teams never let those aluminum cans come between teammates. They consistently avoid gossip, criticism, and backstabbing, as those behaviors will destroy a hard-won trust. Conversely, there are positive aluminum cans (such as telling a teammate how impactful, amazing, or talented they are and why), and great teammates will share them in abundance.

Mentor Unselfishly

When I worked in pharmaceutical sales, the top sales person was always sharing his sales tips. Month after month, he would email us his secrets and insights and still remained on top. I wondered how he could stay on top by helping everyone else, so one day I asked him. He said every time he sent out his tips, he would get a dozen or more tips in reply from other sales people that would help him improve.

Extreme performance teammates understand the power of sharing knowledge. They are consistently bringing one another up to speed on best practices, the latest techniques, and new discoveries. Everyone gets better together. Always be wary of “teammates” who derive their power by knowing things that others don’t know.

Act Like a Team Always and the Feelings Will Follow

Let’s face it—it’s easy being teammates when things are going well and we’re all rested. But things don’t always go well. And we’re not always going to feel like a purple dinosaur about each other (I love you, you love me).


Extreme performance for teams is about always acting like a great leader or great teammate, regardless of how things are going. If you keep treating your teammates with respect even when things aren’t going well between you, then you can keep performing like a team. Bottom line: Acting like a team is more important than feeling like a team. The positive feelings will always come back when our actions inspire them.

Believe in Teammates Beyond Reason

When I was adventure racing in Ecuador, I had to climb the ice-covered, 19,700-foot Cotopaxi volcano. Even though I was a seasoned athlete, I hadn’t adjusted to the high altitudes and I was the newest and most inexperienced member of the team. But because my team believed in me, it gave me the power, physically and mentally, to get to the top of that ice-covered volcano.

What happens when someone believes in us? It makes us want to rise to the occasion and prove them right. And if someone doesn’t believe in us? We tend to fall to whatever level they see us at. Belief in someone is a powerful force and a gift that great teammates give to one another every day.

Give Respect as a Gift—Not as a Grade

You will get more from your team if you give them respect for their intelligence and abilities from the start. I learned this the hard way when I was a rookie firefighter. In my first week out of the fire academy, I was placed with a crusty, veteran firefighter. In the very first drill, I made a rookie mistake: I turned the hose toggle left instead of right and got myself soaked and bruised in front of him and our crew.

However, he didn’t mock or degrade me. Instead, he told me he knew I had learned the lesson in the best possible way and that I’d never forget it now. I ended up working with him for the next seven years until he retired.


When respect is given as a gift and not withheld as a grade, teammates feel valued, worthy, engaged, free to learn, and have increased ownership of outcomes. Respect is also the superglue that bonds teammates together in times of great challenge and change.

If you want to have extreme performance from your teams, you need to have mutual respect.

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