Most successful entrepreneurs or leaders can agree that their success wasn’t achieved overnight or alone. For most companies and businesses to flourish, it takes building a team of like-minded individuals who don’t shy away from failure. In fact, they use failure and persistence to grow. They become a team that values and creates opportunities from the lessons that present themselves when something doesn’t go their way.
Sid Tobias, who served in the Canadian Armed Forces with Naval, Joint, and Combined Forces for 25 years is a man who has made a living understanding and incorporating evidence-based decision-making skills. He uses his knowledge to create the ideal conditions for small teams to work through significant issues in a timely manner. After his military career, Sid joined the Government of British Colombia Public in 2015 and is now Director of Digital Standards at the Ministry of Education, Skills, and Training.
“Those of us who had the privilege to work with Sid always knew that he would never be satisfied with the status quo. Got to see why it did not work and fix it. He did it for the Royal Canadian Navy and « we » shared him with the rest of the coalition… His team approach to problem-solving is at the center of his success,” according to retired Rear-Admiral Joseph Pierre Gilles Couturier, who served with Sid.
Sid Tobias' quotes are based on the Passion Struck™ podcast interview I conducted with him in March 2021.
Look at Failure as an Opportunity to Grow
Sid wasn’t always passionate about agile decision-making and digital transformation. It took a major military incident to ignite his desire to make this his life’s work. When we spoke, he told me it took a significant life-changing event to shake him into the career he’s thriving in now. This mishap occurred between an American F-16 fighter pilot and Canadian troops when he was stationed on a destroyer in the Persian Gulf.
The troops on the ground were conducting a night live-fire exercise. The American pilot interpreted the live fire as a threat and decided to drop a 500-pound iron bomb in that area, ultimately directly impacting the coalition troops and taking lives. Sid saw warranted action from both sides but understood that the catastrophic failure could have been avoided with better communication and decision-making.
What affected him most was coming back from that deployment and seeing the families of the troops that were lost. Seeing how that day affected so many people motivated Sid to ask himself
“…who’s doing anything about this, this problem will repeat itself unless somebody does something about it.”
He stepped up and decided there needed to be a new system in place, one that provided the right conditions for building a team to do their best work. His strategies and exercises started with the Royal Canadian Navy and branched out to the Canadian Air Force. They even mixed crews from Air National Guard and the US Navy that could work together to problem-solve and learn from their failures. For his efforts, he received many commendations and accolades from Canadian, NATO, ASIC, Hungary, Poland, and Greece.
Sid left the military and joined Public Service to inform and educate on what it means to be a digital leader and apply what he had learned in creating elite leadership teams. Sid has continued to make it his life mission to help create team settings that are tolerant of every stage of a difficult project.
“It’s the experimentation. It’s the tolerance for failure, it’s the opportunity for reflection. It’s the importance of teamwork.”
There’s No “I” in Building a Team
His dedication to creating the perfect environment for successful problem solving within a team is the reason why his military sectors have been as successful as they have. His love for problem-solving goes beyond the endgame of success. He identifies each hurdle and steps towards attaining the goal as a crucial element that teams need to work through.
He’s also an expert in creating the perfect conditions so that each individual within the unit is skilled enough to work together to meet the goals they’ve set out to accomplish. He explains one of his lessons about building a team in this way:
“I don’t think there’s a single military leader out there that could say, I deserve this medal for what I did. You know, there are teams of people behind supporting those decisions, supporting those actions supporting the award of that medal.”
Building a Team Able to Use Failure and Persistence to Grow
1. Building a team requires bringing together a small number of like-minded individuals; people who have the same goals and a unifying understanding that things can go wrong and that there’s a significant lesson to be learned from that failure. “So, yea, small teams focused on a problem seemed to be a recipe for success”.
2. Sid also advocates for working backward and finds success in mapping out milestones and timeframes starting from where they want to end up, not from where they begin.
3. “Leadership is an evolution…” There are reasons why many principles have survived the test of time. They still work and businesses still find success using them. But as the world evolves and new minds take leadership roles, it’s realistic to take the issues at hand and allow new perceptions and ideas to form on how best to accomplish the collective goals. Once a strong team is in place, it’s only right to allow them the opportunity to take a step back and find new methods of progressing and problem-solving.
Talking to Sid Tobias gave me new insight into his extraordinary efforts to combat unnecessary error both within the military and the business world. His passion for identifying specific milestones and creating a plan that uses mistakes to his advantage is the reason why his work has been shared across many industries.
His lesson is simple,
“…reinvent yourself after each iteration…”
and find a way to use error to bring you closer to the top. Only then, after reassessing and building momentum from failure, can you execute building a team and meeting your goals.