JBS photo - 10-14

About John Stevens 

Nearly 50 years practicing, studying, and WRITING ABOUT leadership and teamwork.

During my 45-year career, I’ve focused on building teams to bring competent people together to address a common objective. For several years I was a coach myself, helping mostly small business owners improve the efficiency of their operations. I worked with them to clearly communicate their mission to their employees and clients. Then we encouraged the employees to think about how their work relates to the company’s mission.

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I was Chief Pilot for Wiggins Airways (a small-aircraft “feeder” support contractor for major air freight companies) for 2-1/2 years. As I began this assignment, I was faced with a low-morale group of 55 pilots with a dismal performance record.

How was I to build a team from this motley crew? I mulled this over, finally arriving at the realization that, individually, most of these pilots were very capable (I’d flown with most of them as Check Airman).

What was the common factor that caused their dejected attitude and poor performance? It seemed it had to be something in their work environment. The pilots flew from many different bases to many different destinations, so they didn’t interact a lot. It seemed the common factor had to be related to management.

(I’d worked under that same management as line pilot and Assistant Chief Pilot for several years. So I knew something of what they faced even if, as Assistant Chief Pilot, I’d probably had a little better communication with management than many of them).

So now I’m management. What must I do differently to effect a change in the pilots’ attitudes and performance? I decided communication was likely the answer, since I’d noted in other situations that communication is key to teamwork.

Well, it worked! I made a point of answering calls and emails promptly. I’d find reasons to send a complimentary message to somebody every day or two. Individually and in small groups, I talked with them about thinking of the successful completion of each mission, instead of “trying not to make mistakes”. Over time the pilots began to see that, through me, they had a voice. They mattered – something they hadn’t felt before.

Gradually they became a top-performing enthusiastic team. A union movement disappeared as a result of the morale improvement. The on-time performance and safety record of the pilot team improved greatly as communication and teamwork reigned.

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In 1990, I served as V. P., Technical Services at VICO Indonesia, a major independent gas and oil exploration and production company in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. We assembled multi-disciplinary teams to design the exploitation of the company’s gas fields. This enhanced the communication among these disciplines and resulted in improved efficiency in developing these complex fields.

Later, as Operations Manager, I worked to coordinate the efforts fo the Drilling, Production, Pipeline, and Engineering Departments in the front-line operation of these same fields. These departments included over 600 employees and hundreds of contract personnel.

It was a challenging assignment, to say the least. The experience is perhaps best related in a side story to this phase of my career.

Early in my stint as Operations manager, I became acutely aware that my two largest departments were not communicating and cooperating well with each other. The Drilling manager was a late-in-career, gruff, tough-talking Texan. The Production manager was a bright young Indonesian. So it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the breakdown here. These two guys, naturally, were “on different sheets of music”. I looked at how work flowed, and realized that their mutual cooperation was vital for efficient operation. It wasn’t happening.

So what to do about it?

I invited those two department managers to my office one afternoon. I explained to them that, in the Company’s sole purpose of putting gas in the pipeline:

    • Each department is vitally important to the operation.
    • Neither is more important than the other, and
    • They must cooperate with each other and work as a team.

I said, “We’re going to make that cooperation happen – understand?”

I began working with the two managers and other key people in their departments. I helped each see the other’s issues. I coached them on communication and cooperation. Gradually I began to see improvement.

I woke up one morning a few months later and had an epiphany. I said to myself, “Wow! This is where I belong in the business world – helping teams act like teams.

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Early in my career, I noticed that, in most organizations, lots of energy and resources are wasted by people working at cross purposes. I began, somewhat subconsciously in the beginning, to do what I could to promote teamwork.

Since the Indonesian experience I described, all of my work has been dedicated to practicing and studying leadership and teamwork. Now I’m inseparably linked with the business coaching industry.

Along the way, I’ve written about my observations of human behavior, and how people can improve the results of their efforts in life and business. Check out some of my articles here. I publish a weekly newsletter on similar topics. To receive it, you can sign up here.

I’ve held various management positions spanning the aviation, oil and gas, and real estate industries. My approach in each has similarly been marked by a focus on bringing people together in coordinated efforts. When this works, the team performance becomes greater than the sum of the individuals’ contributions.

With this background, I’m ready to do your promotional copywriting. I understand the problems you face, and the work you do to help your clients improve their businesses. I’m passionate about improving relationships, teamwork and leadership in business.

So call me to discuss your writing project. Maybe it’s an e-newsletter (I specialize in writing those), white paper, case study, blog, or even a book, which I’ll ghost-write for you. There will be no charge or obligation while you and I discuss your plans and see if it’s a good fit for us to work together. You won’t pay me a dime until you hire me to write something for you.

In my personal pursuits, I enjoy people, golf, sports car racing, physical exercise, and pool. Of these, people are the most important part of each area of interest. Whom I play golf with is much more important to me than how well I play, or who wins – winning is important, but it’s not what makes the experience. The social aspect of the game is much more important to me.

I remember thinking early in my career, “People are so difficult! Machines are much more predictable – turn ’em on, turn ’em off, they mostly do what you tell them to do. I’d really rather not deal with people”. Now, 50 years later, people are the most important and enjoyable aspect of my life, and my work.