The CEO Playbook

We’re A Team, Not A Family

There are many words I’d use to describe my husband, Garry. He’s passionate, intelligent, insightful, witty, honest, and sacrificially kind. But he’s not nice. In fact, I don’t think anyone has ever used that word to describe him. I don’t mean to say he’s mean, but his actions and words are just not nice.

Drs. Garry and Jodi Vermaas with Directors in Nagpur

Here’s an example: In leading our firm, BASE4, he has to make tough decisions with clients and team members alike. The “4” in Base4 stands for our four values: humility, honesty, respect, and fun. Together we work on talent management via the servant leadership model whereby the role of the leadership is to serve team members with the tools they need for success– namely, empowering them with the right training, freedom, and opportunities to grow professionally. We have a world-class training department and team members can try out their talents and skills without timecards, micromanagement, or hierarchical red tape.

With this freedom comes the responsibility to show initiative and be a self-starter.

All of these decisions come out of the servant leadership model, but servant leadership isn’t nice leadership. At the end of the day, a true servant leader speaks truth when someone is not giving 100% of their best efforts or when tough calls need to be made. And speaking truth and making hard choices isn’t nice- even when it’s honest and right. Servant leaders simply prioritize empowering others to be their best–instead of being nice.

We’re a team, not a family.

Garry often says to his firm, “We’re a team, not a family.” A family takes care of one another when they are not able or willing to keep up – the definition of unconditional love. We all have the weird uncle or cousin that we care for and tolerate. Not so with a team—on a team, players who do not engage with total effort and commitment– get cut. That is, if the team plans to win. Our vision of a great place to work isn’t one that uses office cafeterias, fancy Christmas parties, or beer Fridays to keep our team superficially motivated for the short term, but one that inspires an A-team through the pursuit of one common goal and vision, rousing us all for years to come.

CEO Garry Vermaas and CMO Blair Hildahl in Morrocco

When it comes to business, many leaders shy away from tough calls. They don’t say what they think, challenge mediocrity, or expect people to grow. They often just hint at necessary changes or don’t bother to notice stagnation in individual team members.

When you break down such “nice” leadership, it comes from a place of arrogance: not expecting of others what you expect from yourself.

What is it about being leaders that makes us believe only we can give 100% through the challenges; that only we have the special ability to learn wildly new skills or increase our productivity, efficiency, and quality of our craft? I call it arrogance, and instead of seeing our teams as our equals, we lower expectations and accept less-than.

Celebrating a birthday in the Nagpur Office

Not only does such arrogance damage your bottom line, it also hurts your teams.

People want to rise to awesome challenges and increase their own professional abilities. They desire triumph and expect to develop themselves, in work, life, and leadership. Helping your teammates reach these milestones takes radical humility– believing others are just as capable as you of dynamic growth trajectories. It takes honesty- respectfully calling out when team members and clients do not live up to their end of the deal and calling them higher. Success for us and our teams means choosing leadership that serves, coaches, and inspires– and usually it’s not nice.

Do Good,


Drs. Garry and Jodi Vermaas

Previous Post
An Autistic Perspective on Current Events
Next Post
Sometimes, Nice Sucks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed