Leading with Trust

3 Lessons on Trust and Commitment From a High School Baseball Player

Handshake“A verbal commitment is an invisible handshake.”

That was the response Jack Dashwood, a local high school baseball player, gave to a reporter when asked why he honored his verbal commitment to play baseball at U.C. Santa Barbara (the first school to offer him a scholarship) and turned down more prestigious offers to play at larger schools.

“I was flattered other schools wanted me, but education is first. I wanted to play for a U.C. school. I was determined to honor my word, prove I was trustworthy. So I signed my letter of intent.”

I was struck by the mature response of this high school senior. In the world of competitive high school sports where exceptional athletes compete for coveted college scholarships (that hopefully lead to lucrative professional opportunities), it’s far too common to see recruits renege on verbal commitments and jump ship to the latest and biggest program that will guarantee them a quicker or surer path to success.

Dashwwod’s example provides three simple, yet powerful, lessons that many adults would be lucky to learn:

1. A commitment is a commitment—It doesn’t matter if it’s a verbal agreement, a handshake, or a written contract—a commitment is a commitment. If you make, you should be prepared to honor it. One area about commitments that has tripped me up, and perhaps you’ve experienced the same thing, is implied commitments stemming from unclear expectations. I’ve made comments to colleagues or team members to the effect of “Let me think about that,” or “I need some time to process that idea.” To me those are vague, non-committal statements, but others have interpreted them as meaning that I’m agreeing the ball is now in my court and I’m on the hook for the next action. I’m learning the value of leaving meetings and conversations with clear expectations about who owns what about any next steps.

2. Dependability is the foundation of trustworthiness—Dashwood nailed this on the head. Dependability is at the root of what it means to be trustworthy. Trustworthy people keep their commitments. If they agree to do something, they do it. If challenges crop up that will prevent you from delivering on your commitment, then communicate early and often with the people involved to discuss the ramifications. DWYSYWD—do what you say you will do—that’s the heart of dependability.

3. Have a plan to follow-through—I truly believe that most people intend to follow-through on their commitments. However, I think a lot of us don’t have an effective plan to do so. We neglect to factor in the time or cost of what it will take to deliver on our commitments, and so we get over-committed and overwhelmed, neither of which is conducive to helping us fulfill our promises. Oh…I said the “P” word. Above all, be careful with the P word. The word promise carries a tremendous amount of power. Don’t say you promise unless you absolutely, unequivocally, know you can deliver. Set reasonable expectations for when you can deliver on your commitment and make sure you factor in the time and cost to do so.

How about you? Is your word as good as a handshake?

3 Leadership Lessons from Market Basket CEO Artie Demoulas

demoulasIf your employees felt you were fired unfairly, would they walk off the job in support of you? Would they stage protests and rallies for weeks on end calling for your reinstatement? Would your customers choose to take their business elsewhere to show support to those employees and their cause?

That is what has transpired in the Northeast U.S. over the last six weeks and it provides remarkable lessons for leaders everywhere.

First, a little background. Arthur T. Demoulas (Artie) was fired as CEO of the Market Basket supermarket chain in June by a board of directors controlled by his cousin, Arthur S. Demoulas, in a classic power struggle of a family owned business. Employees staged protests, warehouse workers and drivers refused to deliver food to the chain’s stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and the company lost tens of millions in revenue as loyal customers took their business elsewhere. Customers showed their support by going as far as taping their grocery receipts from competing stores to the windows of their local Market Basket. After weeks of negotiations, Artie Demoulas reached agreement to purchase controlling interest in Market Basket and was reinstated as CEO.

As I’ve read various news articles and commentaries on this situation, three important leadership lessons have emerged:

1. A little caring goes a long way – Artie Demoulas has created a unique emotional bond with Market Basket employees that fosters intense loyalty. He is well-known for remembering names and birthdays, checking on the status of ill employees, inquiring about spouses and kids, and attending the funerals of employees. “He’ll walk into a warehouse and will stop and talk to everyone because he’s genuinely concerned about them,” said Joe Schmidt, a store operations supervisor. “He cares about families, he asks about your career goals, he will walk up to part-timers and ask them about themselves. To him, that cashier and that bagger are just important as the supervisors and the store management team.” People want to feel valued at work as more than just workers showing up to do a job. Make the effort to get to know your people on a personal level and you’ll see the rewards of trust and loyalty.

2. Business doesn’t have to pursue profits at the expense of people – Last year Market Basket generated $4.6 billion in revenue and has doubled their profitability since 2008, making it the country’s 127th biggest company despite being a regional chain that operates in only three states. The company pays its clerks starting salaries $4 above minimum wage and full-time employees earn 15% profit-sharing bonuses, all the while Market Basket’s prices are 22% lower on average than their closest competitor. “If there’s anything people should take from this, it’s that America is hungry for this kind of success story where everybody wins: the customers, the employees, and the people who run the show,” said Shawn Dwyer, a manager at the Burlington Market Basket store. Profits don’t have to come at the expense of people. Good leaders value results and people.

3. Work has a higher calling and purpose beyond a paycheck –  In his return speech to employees, Artie beautifully expressed this concept.

The workplace here at Market Basket is so much more than just a job.

You have demonstrated that everyone here has a purpose. You have demonstrated that everyone has meaning and no one person is better or more important than another, and no one person holds a position of privilege.

I have always believed that we are born into this world and at a certain place to be with certain people for a reason and a purpose. Everyone has a destiny, and because of you, I stand here with a renewed vigor and a sense of purpose. May we always remember this past summer first as a time where our collective values of loyalty and courage and kindness for one another really prevailed. And, in that process, we just happened to save our company.

You all have demonstrated to the world that it is a person’s moral obligation and social responsibility to protect the culture which provides an honorable and dignified place in which to work.

Leadership doesn’t have to be that complicated: provide a good work environment, take pride in your work, care about people as individuals and not just workers, and serve your customers well. It seems as though Artie Demoulas and the Market Basket employees have found a formula that works and it offers valuable lessons for leaders everywhere.

Two Things Your Boss Should Never Have to Talk to You About

Tyler RoyA few weeks ago I was watching my son compete at a high school track meet when I ran into Tyler, a young man whom I had the pleasure of coaching in baseball a few years back. Tyler was there to cheer on his sister, a member of the opposing squad, and we caught up on how his baseball season was going. Tyler plays on his high school’s varsity team but isn’t getting quite as much playing time as he’d like.

I see Tyler fairly regularly, and since he still calls me “Coach,” I couldn’t help but offer some on-the-spot coaching to help encourage him. I said “Tyler, when I coached you I always appreciated that I never had to say anything to you about your effort and attitude. You always worked hard in practices and games, gave your best effort, and always displayed an excellent attitude with coaches and teammates. Effort and attitude are two things that you completely control. You can’t control how much playing time you get, but you have 100% control over the amount of effort you give and the attitude you choose to have. Keep working hard, have a great attitude, and your time will come.”

Your boss should never have to ask you to give a better effort or improve your attitude.

There are a lot of things about work we can’t control – angry customers, heavy workloads, annoying co-workers, bad bosses, or dysfunctional teams, just to name a few. But your personal effort and attitude? Totally under your control.

Here’s some coaching tips that may help you improve in these areas:

Effort

  • Be organized. Plan your work. Work your plan.
  • Prioritize. Balance the urgent and important tasks. Don’t just work hard, work smart.
  • Don’t multi-task. It’s a myth, it’s stupid, and it doesn’t work. Start a task and finish it.
  • Stay focused by working in 20-30 minute phases and then take a 3-5 minute break. It helps you maintain your attention and energy levels.
  • Identify the high performers in your role. Watch how they work. Do what they do.
  • Keep learning, growing, and improving your skills.

Attitude

  • Focus on the positive elements of your job, not the negative.
  • Follow Mom’s advice. If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
  • Assume best intentions. Most people aren’t trying to intentionally ruin your day.
  • Get a coach or mentor. Having someone to help you see the bigger picture keeps things in perspective.
  • Exercise. Eat healthy. Pick up a hobby. It’s important to take care of yourself and find ways to relieve stress.
  • Prayer, meditation, solitude, and other spiritual practices help keep you balanced.

Effort and attitude, two things always under your control. Will you control them?

Five Leadership Lessons From The Life of Neil Armstrong

Yesterday we lost a true American hero. Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, passed away at the age of 82. Armstrong’s life story read like pages from an adventure novel: earned his pilot license at age 15, flew 78 missions in the Korean War as a Navy fighter pilot, test piloted experimental rocket planes that flew to the edge of space at altitudes of over 200,000 feet, and commanded the Apollo 11 space mission and became the first man to walk on the moon.

Despite his many accomplishments, Neil Armstrong was a humble, private man who didn’t seek to turn his achievements into fortune and fame. After retiring from NASA in 1971, Armstrong taught engineering at Purdue University and served on the boards of several businesses. His reserved, low-key approach to leading his life is strikingly at odds with today’s “look at me” reality TV infused culture. In An Audience with Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut discusses his life and the experience of traveling to the moon. The interview is a treasure-trove of leadership wisdom, but there were five lessons that struck me as important for leaders of all generations.

1. Humility – Virtually every written account of Armstrong’s life, as well as descriptions from those who knew him best, describe him as a man of extreme humility. He resisted bringing attention to himself and always viewed his accomplishments as simply the result of “doing his job.” Humility is a key characteristic of Jim Collins’ profile of successful Level 5 leaders and it is a key component to establishing high-trust relationships. It’s hard to trust the intentions of self-absorbed leaders whereas humble leaders create an environment and culture that breeds openness and trust.

2. Recognize and value the contributions of others – Armstrong readily acknowledged the invaluable contributions of the Apollo 1-10 missions as laying the building blocks for his crew’s moon landing. Each Apollo mission had specific goals that were milestones to the ultimate mission of landing on the moon. Armstrong’s Apollo 11 crew got the nod for the moon landing and he recognized that his efforts were just the next link in the entire chain of the Apollo space program. Today’s leaders would be wise to honor and respect those who have laid the groundwork ahead of them and not act like the success they’re enjoying today is solely a result of their efforts.

3. Stay vigilant because problems occur when you least expect them – On the descent to the moon, the Lunar Module’s navigation system was targeting a landing spot that would be on the edge of a slight hill. Armstrong had to take manual control of the spacecraft for the last 2 minutes and fly it to a safe landing site. Successful leaders are always scanning the environment so they can react to changing conditions. Flying on auto-pilot is best when conditions are stable, but in today’s world where daily change is the norm, using auto-pilot for too long can have disastrous consequences.

4. The power of focus – Shortly after stepping onto the surface of the moon, Armstrong and fellow astronaut Buzz Aldrin placed a memorial on the lunar surface honoring the deceased astronauts, both Russian and American, who had preceded them in attempts to reach the moon. Armstrong describes it as being a tender moment, yet a very quick one because there was a checklist of many tasks awaiting their attention. Armstrong took a focused, methodical approach to his work that shows the power of concentrated attention. It’s easy for leaders to have their focused diffused among all the demands competing for their attention, yet the most successful leaders have learned to block out the distractions and focus on those activities that produce the most results.

5. Never let a good problem go to waste – The Apollo 1 crew suffered a terrible tragedy in 1967 when during a pre-flight test a cabin fire in the control module killed the crew of Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chafee. The Apollo space flights were put on nearly a two-year hold while the accident was investigated. NASA only had four years to fulfill President Kennedy’s challenge to reach the moon by the end of the decade, but rather than letting the delay prevent them from achieving their goal, they used those two years to refine the design of the control module and to keep training for the moon landing. Armstrong and his colleagues demonstrated ingenuity and perseverance in dealing with this setback and it’s a lesson for all leaders about how to make the most of the problems thrown their way.

I think his family described it best when they said yesterday, “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

Face Time Builds Trust & Teamwork

Last week my organization conducted our annual all-company meeting, and for the first time in a few years, we were able to have a face to face gathering. Prior to the all-company meeting, I held a team-building event for my department, Client Services. Nearly 50 people from the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Singapore gathered in Old Town San Diego for an “Amazing Race” kind of scavenger hunt that built teamwork, relationships, communication skills, and trust.

My experiences last week reminded me of the critical importance of face to face interactions to build a successful team. The prevalence and ease of use of video-conferencing technologies, webcams, and social media applications has caused many leaders and organizations to question the need for in-person meetings. Those are fantastic tools for many business meeting needs, but nothing can replace the value of “face time,” those personal interactions that form the cohesiveness and trust necessary for high-performing teams.

Regular face time allows for the building of personal rapport and trust at a faster pace than what can be accomplished in virtual mediums. Body language, facial expressions, speech patterns, and hand gestures can only be fully appreciated when observed in person. It also allows preconceptions about relationships to be broken down. It’s easy to form judgments about others when you only interact with them via electronic communications, but when you’re able to spend time together, you form a more personal and deeper relationship that provides a deeper level of understanding of each others’ behavior.

The deepening of relationships through in-person meetings provides a greater level of accountability among team members. It’s much harder to let someone down when you know them on a personal level versus a person you’ve only interacted with via email or the phone. Humans are social creatures and face time allows us to form complex social bonds that transcend simple mechanical work relationships. Learning about a teammate’s family background, hobbies, values, likes and dislikes, creates a more intimate, transparent relationship that greatly enhances teamwork. Perhaps most importantly, face to face meetings allows for the expression of fun and humor in a much richer setting than via technology. Fun is a dynamic condition created magically through personal interactions in a specific place and time that can only occur when people are gathered together. I believe a team that plays together is one that stays together.

Don’t neglect the opportunity to gather your team together for a face to face meeting or team outing. You’ll reinforce the important norms and values of your team’s culture and provide the opportunity for your team members to build higher levels of trust and commitment with each other.

%d bloggers like this: