An old friend of mine asked me the other day what kind of job truly makes me happy.
I thought about how much I loved being a copywriter. I was good at it, and thanks to an ever-flowing stream of products, services, and clients it was never boring.
But as much fun as it was, it never truly satisfied me.
I thought about what did.
My time at Marvel.
My time running QED Games.
My time at StarTalk.
And then I realized what all three of those experiences had in common: I had the opportunity to lead great teams, often ones I’d assembled.
At Marvel, it was my luck to lead a team that included acclaimed illustrator, artist, and educator Viktor Koen, noted promotions and package design superstar Keith Manzella, designers Cathy Colbert and Scott Williams, and writer LeeAnn Stiff. Together, we helped build Marvel’s nascent corporate marketing efforts into Brand Week’s Kid’s Marketer of the Year. (Marvel, of course, had plenty of great teams, including Dana Moreshead’s, which revolutionized comic book licensing, and Jim Brennan’s, which took a chance on me.)
The QED Games team included critically acclaimed game designer Evan Jones, legendary award-winning game designer Dan Gelber (Paranoia), noted comic book artist Kathryn Un, slyly seditious artist Lori Walls, graphic designer and production wizard Stacey Simons, and one of the most capable people across virtually any spectrum of skills I’ve ever encountered, Jay Watt. (He’s gone on to rescue people in Mississippi during Katrina and served as a combat medic on a Blackhawk in Afghanistan.) Our little independent game company created, among other things, a critically acclaimed Civil War card game that a West Point professor used in class and a revolutionary diceless roleplaying game for Marvel that still has a strong cult following to this day.
Most recently, at StarTalk, I was able to train and put together a stellar team of social media mavens, including Ben Ratner, Jen Walsh, Sarah Cotten, Ian Mullen, and Stacey Severn. We’ve moved mountains as part-time consultants and volunteers and created a best-of-breed social media presence that constantly surprises experts with how much we’ve done with so little. That’s hardly surprising: our team’s “day jobs” often reflect their industry leading expertise, while what they do for us they do mainly out of love and passionate commitment to our mission. (Special shout out to my boss, CMO Laura Berland, our own Nick Fury, who brought me in to do exactly what we’ve done!)
One of the accomplishments of which I am most proud is how often members of my various teams have told me that I empowered them to do some of the best work of their careers.
Which brings me to Joss Whedon. (Tell me the truth: you were beginning to wonder if I’d ever get there, weren’t you?)
Joss Whedon has been responsible for putting together some of the coolest, most important teams in popular science fiction: Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Scooby gang, the employees of Angel Investigations, the crew of the Serenity, and the Avengers.
And while he might not have created all of them (Earth’s Mightiest Heroes predate Whedon’s birth by a year or more), what’s more important is what he did with them.
His teambuilding skills are fierce.
So are mine, albeit in the real world.
One of my current clients is at the forefront of the new wave of compassionate leadership that is rethinking old leadership modalities in favor of a less-alpha type dominant, more inclusive, more empowering model. This model is supported by scads of new scientific scholarship, human resources wisdom, and bottom-line economic results.
And one of the core attributes of this new emphasis for business is the importance of building engaged, committed, empowered teams.
I say it’s about time.
And here’s the thing I love most about teams, the good ones, anyway, and every single one of mine, and all of Joss Whedon’s. They are made up of talented individuals who each bring that which makes them unique to the benefit of the group. Everyone contributes on a team if you create an environment where they can feel safe, take chances, be brave, and be themselves.
In other words, every team can be a Scooby Gang.
And can someone please explain to me who the hell wouldn’t want to be part of their own Scooby Gang and save the world?