This is the 3rd and final part of my journey (in three parts in 3 weeks) to what I consider to be the heart of great More Human leadership – the success trifecta: A successful company, A happy team, And a fulfilled YOU.
Principle #7: Fighting Complacency and The Naysayers
We were all on the same page. Aligned. Focused, correctly, on our purpose, and under the banner of our values.
Serving our Customers, and supporting each other.
You would have thought nirvana was next, but you’d be wrong. Like any steep climb, there are obstacles that have the potential to knock you right back to where you started.
Our two obstacles became complacency, and the naysayers that aimed to go back to the old “bossman” days.
Complacency – or better said – inertia, can be a death blow if you’re not careful, so I took great pains in warning everyone about it.
Inertia is the worst thing that can happen to a business. In pure physics terms, inertia is “the tendency of a body to resist acceleration“. In leadership terms, the “body” is the people you lead.
The leader is the outside force that provides the acceleration – the energy that propels the business forward.
I knew we had to be always be thinking of ways to get better, every day. The bar needed to be raised constantly, and we did that. And we preached it, over, and over and over again.
The real trick here was to not diminish the significance of our (and our business) achievements – of course the efforts needed to be acknowledged and celebrated. We just needed to convince ourselves, and then our teammates, that the journey is ultimately more enjoyable than the ultimate destination.
I used to use this great quote by Sir Winston Churchill to illustrate this point:
“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb”
Inertia is truly our enemy, lurking around every corner. On the other hand energy is our friend, helping us to push our way ahead. I became an energy conduit, inoculating my teammates from falling prey to complacency and injecting excitement and a desire to constantly improve.
I know leaders aren’t usually referred to as “energy conduits“, but seen from the lens of basic physics, I believe it makes perfect sense.
Everyone needs a Darth Vader
Threats to that energy are the naysayers. I had a big one rise up just as we had turned the corner, and directly challenge what we were doing, in front of the entire management group. (that was a day I’ll never forget, believe me).
He was from the old school. He loved being a “bossman”. He ruled by fear, using the threat to fire as his most effective weapon. He was a living Darth Vader, and my nemesis. He would try to upset the apple cart in any way possible. We were too “touchy feely”. We didn’t know what we were doing.
(In fact I’d always have that Vader theme – “da da da, da ta da, da ta da” ringing in my head every time I saw him)
But you know what, in the end, I was glad I had a nemesis. I needed a nemisis.
My Darth Vader was a catalyst for me, and we wouldn’t have been as succesful without him.
Now, I have to admit, I wasn’t thinking about it that way when I was having (almost literally) light saber fights with him. Actually, I was pretty steamed.
The anger he stirred in me was palpable, and stress inducing, but I’ll tell you what -it pushed me really, really hard to persevere, and “win” the battle. To get my team to success based the more human philosophies we were laying down.
My team saw this determination and passion, and my public defense of our philosophy (and them), and it inspired them too.
It bound us closer together, against a common enemy, our Darth (“da-da-da, da-ta-da, da-ta-da“).
So yes, we all need a Darth Vader, but I will add one more thing. I tried really, really hard to not let that anger get too far away from me – I directed it in the right place: Towards the goal.
I stayed cool, but relentlessly determined. Focused. Driven.
I filtered my messages before I delivered them, so my anger wouldn’t turn to petty bitterness. And most importantly, I found trusted friends and colleagues to let off the steam, in private.
And then, kept driving towards the end goal, which was now clearly in sight. I just needed to do one more thing,
Principle #8: Connecting It All To a Higher Purpose
I needed to connect all the dots I had drawn to a single point – the core of the trifecta: Happy employees united under a common purpose, bigger than themselves.
Here’s how I did it. I started with 5 things.
It was a list – what I called the “5 Things You Need to Know”
On the list, were the two values, serve our customers and support each other, AND the three key metrics – in our case, the total customer number, the customer fault rate, and the Net Promoter Score.
I calculated and posted them every single week, and required everyone to know them from memory if I walked up to them and asked – and believe me, I did.
Now remember, I had spent several years leading up to this dot connecting, so the significance of what I was doing was well understood. The only thing that wasn’t quite apparent was the connection I ultimately made.
I suppose the ultimate connection would have been profit – after all, that’s the most common measurement of success for a business, right?
It made sense – if you do these five things, we’ll be successful.
But I was different now, and I knew the MORE. I knew what it felt like to just be “profitable”. I had my sights on something bigger. And I made it ridiculously simple.
I went on the road and had a ton of team meetings. And at each one, I’d walk up to the whiteboard, and draw one thing.
And that was the only visual aid I used – that one thing was all they needed to know about our REAL objective.
Getting To Happy
It was a badly drawn (I am not an artist) smiley face.
Do me a favor, and if you have a pen or pencil nearby, stop reading this and draw one right now.
Tell me that doesn’t make you smile when you do it? So I drew out smiles. And it set the stage for what I wanted to say.
And it went this way:
We had a Cause that was bigger than ourselves – serving our customers and supporting each other. If they could embrace that Cause by doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, and with a good understanding of the significance of their job in relation to the Cause (in our case, installing or fixing cable connections and providing outstanding customer care), AND all their teammates do the same thing (the support part), then the collective pride will rise, the proportion of happy customers to angry customers will shoot way up, and the team dynamic will create a positive and productive work environment .
With fewer problems, and early wake up calls, or late night repair jobs at 2AM, they could also spend more stress-free time at home, improving their overall life in the process.
Thus, they would be happy, and fulfilled. The smiley face.
That was the business plan. I know, crazy! Profit never was on the table with them. But I knew this so well by now – Happy people make bigger profits.
So after a zillion smiley faces, they got it, and we just kept getting better and better. And you know what, it got to the point to when I got to the field, I didn’t have to manufacture any smiles – they were all on the faces of our people.
We got the MORE. We got the happy.
And because we did that, the owners were able to sell the company at a wonderful profit.
And as that happened, and as I made the rounds with those 1,100 people one more time before the sale was final, I realized that I had fulfilled my desire. This was an almost identical outcome to my first career experience when it came to the traditional definition of success – but this time, there was no discomfort. There was no emptiness. There was no yearning for something MORE.
I chose a more human path, one with its share of setbacks, challenges and tests of my will to succeed. But through those trying times I also discovered that by STAYING true to the more human principles, the connections I had made with my teammates only deepened.
I put myself out there, not a business facsimile (who I like to call “bossman”). I made myself vulnerable by admitting I wasn’t perfect, or that my way wasn’t the only way, and showing emotions like empathy, caring, and yes, even love.
“Love” and “Care” are words not usually spoken in the hallways and boardrooms of the business world, but for a more human leader, they are most important things of all.
Because through those feeling and emotions comes the final part of the trifecta – personal fulfillment. I was filled with satisfaction and joy, knowing it was a unique experience that had enriched my life in ways I never thought possible.
The funny thing is, loving and caring are not new concepts when it comes to great leadership- after all, in one of the oldest leadership books out there, “The Art of War” (it goes back to the 6th Century BC), Sun Tzu said;
“He treats them as his own beloved sons and they will stand by him until death”.
You too can get to the trifecta, and be the great leader that you aspire to be.
All you have to be is more human.
The 8 Principles Of More Human Leadership
by Terry “Starbucker” St. Marie
- Crossing the bridge from “I” to “We” – It can’t be about you – it’s about a team
- Asking for trust and keeping your promises – Integrity is an absolute must
- Establishing a mantra of key values – It’s the glue that holds all of us together
- Finding and teaching more human leaders – The legacy must be passed on; we can’t do it ourselves
- Building a culture of accountability – It’s all about fairness and shared responsibility
- Measuring, monitoring and managing with the right metrics – The team needs to know where they stand, and what they are aiming for
- Fighting complacency and the naysayers – Inertia is a momentum killer, as well as those who still desire the old ways
- Connecting it all to a higher purpose – Humans want to be a part of a meaningful cause that’s bigger then themselves