The Ultimate Survivor Challenge

09 May The Ultimate Survivor Challenge

By: Caitlin Clinard

In March, I created my own reality show and presented my team with the Ultimate Survivor Challenge.

No, they didn’t find themselves in Africa or Thailand or the Great Australian Outback. They weren’t competing against 15 other players. They weren’t asked to outwit, outlast and outplay each other. And, no, a car with a $1MM check inside wasn’t waiting for them if they won.

The Angel Oak Creative Ultimate Survivor Challenge required teamwork rather than competition. It happened right here in Raleigh with seven players. Their prize was pure satisfaction. And their finish line was clear.

Five weeks. No boss. Did they have what it takes? Could they survive?

Actually, surviving wasn’t good enough. To win this ultimate challenge, I dared my team to take it one step farther. Surviving was for amateurs.

True pros would thrive. And they did.

A quick online search on startups will pull up a Forbes article which defines startups as “a state of mind…when people join your company and are still making the explicit decision to forgo stability in exchange for the promise of tremendous growth and the excitement of making an immediate impact.”

By that definition, I’d still consider Angel Oak Creative a startup even though we’ve been around for five years.

So, in that context, my team’s Ultimate Survivor Challenge was even more daunting, and thriving during it was that much more impressive (our clients are all happy and our new business pipeline is as full as it’s ever been).

That’s why, instead of spending this blog focused on the details of my own sabbatical—what I did, where I went, what I learned—I’d rather focus on my team. Because, in comparison to their accomplishment, my task was easy. All I had to do was get away, stay away and disconnect. Which is exactly what I did.

So, let’s give credit where credit is due. The angels rocked their Ultimate Survivor Challenge. And they did it in three ways.

  1. Focus: My team knew that thriving in my absence would require determined focus. Not on themselves. But on what was in the best interest of the company. That meant sucking up pride during a restructure right before I left. It meant staying in their lanes…being excellent at their individual areas of expertise and counting on their teammates to carry their own weight. It meant focusing on the trees but not losing sight of the forest. It meant running the race with perseverance with the finish line always in sight while staying on top of day-to-day tasks . 
  2. Love: My team knew I needed a break. They knew it was time. And their love for me surpassed even their own reservations. I’m sure there were points when they were scared. But they never once expressed fear. Because they knew I wouldn’t go. And they loved me more than that. They knew a real sabbatical meant no contact with me. They’d have to solve their own problems. They’d have to lean on each other when the going got tough. They’d have to put in long hours and sleepless nights. And they knew that failure was not an option. 
  3. Trust: My team knew I wouldn’t leave them high and dry. We’d been talking about a sabbatical for a couple years. So, when the time came for me to step away, they were ready. They were empowered. And they knew it. We had the right structure and processes in place to ensure their success. And, most importantly, they trusted each other. Day in and day out, they stuck together. Holding each other up. Because you do find strength in numbers.

Five weeks. No boss. Did they have what it takes? Could they survive? Yes! They not only survived. They thrived.

So, if you’re considering a sabbatical, stop thinking about it and just do it. I’m sure it’s way overdue and if you don’t do it now, you never will. But before you go, consider presenting your team with an Ultimate Survivor Challenge. And don’t be surprised if they make it look easy.

These days, I find myself asking: What am I supposed to do now? Do they even need me?

But these aren’t pity party questions. They make me stop and smile. Because the Lord has helped me build an epic team of people who make me a stronger leader. Of people who take ownership of our mission and vision. Of people who believe in what we’re doing.

And an owner couldn’t ask for more than that.

Now, wait a minute. Don’t get any ideas. When the time comes, I’ll be their biggest advocate. Their first and strongest reference. I want nothing more than for them to spread their wings and fly. But, I’m not ready for that.

It is my greatest privilege to lead Seth Crawford, Daphne Thompson, Cate McLeane, Anna DeBoy, David Chatham, Robyn Kelly and Will Saunders.

So, for now, they’re not for hire. At least, not yet.

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