ATLANTA—The real secret to success is to play less like an individual and more like a team. Robyn Benincasa knows a thing or two about being part of a team. The professional adventure racer, firefighter, CNN Hero, author and motivational speaker described how to build world-class teams as the keynote speaker at Wednesday’s General Session.
“A fast-moving company is like an adventure race every day of your life,” Benincasa said. “If you want to go fast, you can go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.”
Real team builders and leaders have some common ground. They leave their egos at the start line. They ask for and accept help. They value team success over individual glory. They give away the credit.
Another distinction? The ability to keep the team inspired when things aren’t going well.
Benincasa recalled a specific time when she was participating in the Eco Challenge. It was 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Borneo, she was covered in leaches and her feet were bleeding.
“When I get to the end of my rope, I start crying—or buying shoes—and buying shoes was not an option.” She was so close to the end of the race, but physically and mentally felt she couldn’t go on. She couldn’t see because she was crying. That’s when a teammate stepped up and said something that has stuck with her to this day.
“It’s not that people who are going to win the Eco Race aren’t crying. It’s that they are crying and walking,” he told her. This was the motivation she needed to complete the race. Pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional.
Great leaders accept challenges. For Benincasa, it was how she reacted to having multiple hip surgeries that ultimately took her out of the world-class adventure racer game. She could have wallowed in her fate. Instead, she shifted her focus on what she could still do.
Kayaking was always her favorite part of adventure racing, so she decided to see if she could excel at that as an individual. She not only excelled, she set the Guinness record for greatest distance paddled by canoe/kayak in 24 hours on moving water by a female, June 26, 2011, on Canada's Yukon River.
Then, she set her sights on something even bigger. She created the Project Athena Foundation, which helps survivors of medical or other traumatic setbacks achieve their adventurous dreams.
“it’s not about the setback, it’s about the comeback,” Benincasa said. “I wanted them to live an adventurous dream as a part of their recovery … Very often, people are saying, ‘OK, I survived, but now what?’ We want to be that ‘now what?’”
Benincasa was introduced at Wednesday’s General Session by Frank Gleeson, NACS chairman 2018-19, who welcomed attendees from more than 70 countries in traditional Irish Gailic, Céad Mile Fáilte, which means 100,000 welcomes.
Gleeson spoke briefly on what it means to be a leader in this industry and how being informed is critical to business. Today, three issues should be top of mind to all leaders in the convenience-store industry: Sustainability, leadership and innovation, he said.
“Sustainability. It’s one of those words that can mean a lot of different things. But I can tell you what it means to me,” Gleeson said. “It’s all about aligning your business practices with customer preference.”
And today, that means single-use plastics, he said.
“Plastic-free is a top criteria for shoppers. A year ago, it wasn’t even on the list,” he said. “That’s one example of how fast the issues are moving and how fast we need to move.”
Gleeson said that innovation is about finding new ways to delight customers. More importantly, it’s about leadership.
“That’s something within all of us,” he said. “You can get there if you really want to. The key is to always be brave, have conviction and courage and never, ever give up the fight!”