Over the course of a long leadership journey you occasionally get to experience one of those extraordinary days that you remember, and draw on as a valuable lesson, for the rest of your business life.
This is the story of one of those days.
Back in 2009 when I was SVP of Operations with Bresnan Communications, I was in Butte, Montana for a morning staff meeting with the front office staff and field technicians. It was their regular weekly meeting, and since I didn’t want to disrupt their normal “flow”, instead of using the time to speak, I simply asked to sit in and observe the meeting.
I watched as the local technical operations manager presented the weekly operating statistics on the overhead projector. This was a common (and encouraged) practice in our company, but these folks put a different twist on it – they put the INDIVIDUAL statistics up there. Good or bad, there they were, for the whole team to see.
Then the extraordinary thing happened – the meeting started to run itself. What I mean by that was that the discussion didn’t seem to be lead or directed by the manager – no, it was being driven by the team members themselves. They would look at the numbers, ask questions of the teammate responsible, discuss the reasons behind any errors or missteps, and mutually try to “lift” the entire group to better overall performance.
Along the way they also injected a little good-natured banter and joking which kept the mood light, and more importantly, non-confrontational and non-threatening.
These folks were clearly what I call “under the cone”, speaking honestly and openly about what was going on, and how to make themselves better.
And the local manager and I just sat back and watched it. It was quite a sight to behold. Because what was really clear was a genuine sense of pride in their work, and joy in the journey of getting to greatness.
After the meeting, the local managers and I were chatting about what I just witnessed, and they told me this was a “normal” occurrence. I was so impressed that I joked, “well, guess we all just led our way out of a job here!”
Indeed we did. This group was managing themselves, from the standpoint of committing to a set of standards, and holding themselves accountable to it.
Consequently, we could focus on our “other jobs”, that of strategists, planners, and visionaries – things that look to the future, and make sure that the “day-to-day” work of this extraordinary team was not for naught.
I’m sure it’s not surprising to hear that the good folks from Butte ended up being among the top performers in the entire company for many years running, and that they served, for me and many other members of my staff, an example of team building that we certainly tried to emulate in all of our other locations.
We worked on “leading our way out of a job”. And it worked. We built one of the best performing cable television companies in the industry. Because we instilled a culture built on “team”, “pride”, “service”, “support”, “accountability”, and oh yes – oh yes indeed – “fun”.
My everlasting thanks to that fine group of people in Butte, Montana. You all taught me that “losing a job” can sometimes be a very good thing.