In my constant improvement quest (or as Stephen Covey would say, my “sharpening of the saw”) I had just finished reading two books that impressed me as important for most leaders’ success. The first book was “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute and the second was “Adversaries into Allies” by Bob Burg.
In combination, they seemed to be a one-two punch for success. My opportunity to implement the lessons of the two books came almost immediately, when I received a call from Paul Thomas with Darper Construction.
Ted Stanton, the owner of Darper Construction, was a terse, no-nonsense, owner who ruled with an iron fist. Paul, their top foreman, had asked me to meet with Ted. Paul knew of my executive coaching history from another construction company where we worked together a few years back. Paul felt I might be able to get through to Ted the importance of modifying his approach with people a bit, so the whole company could be more successful.
The first challenge was to even get the meeting with Ted, but Paul managed to arrange a coffee meeting by having Ted do him a favor.
The three of us ordered and secured a corner booth in a quiet coffee shop called Alice’s Brew.
Fitting his character, Ted opened the meeting by saying, “So you’re the hot-shot that Paul wanted me to meet? Well here I am.” As I had read in “Adversaries into Allies,” it is tough to influence some people even if you are known, liked and trusted, so I was already 0 for 3.
“Ted, Paul tells me you built this company from nothing to where it is today. Could you take a couple of minutes and fill me in on the highlights of your success?” As Ted proudly listed his accomplishments, I was making mental notes as to his belief systems and his sense of self. His historical recounting was void of any other people who might have helped him along the way.
It was as if the contributions by Paul, other supervisors, the many loyal and efficient contractors, the admin staff and the 50-plus operators and laborers simply didn’t count.
There were several comments that Ted made that pointed to what he believed was most important and one of those was “the bottom line.” This gave me the opportunity to set the proper framing for a possible expanded conversation.
“Ted,” I asked, “Would it be of interest to you if I could show you a way to dramatically increase your bottom line while reducing your risk and protecting your assets?”
Ted shot back, “Have you ever owned a construction company?”
“No, but I have worked with several owners that have,” I responded.
“I didn’t think so,” Ted said smugly.
Ted certainly had a way of quickly irritating people and I was feeling annoyed, but as Adversaries into Allies suggested, I controlled my emotions and continued with tact and empathy. “Ted, I could not begin to understand your company and your business like you do, but I do understand a bit about the amazing results any company can enjoy if their people feel happy, respected, appreciated and are in alignment with the goals of the owner. It has been my experience that such a team of people can consistently perform at a level that might surprise you.” Before he could say anything, I continued.
“Ted, Paul tells me that you were quite a football player in your day. (It was now time to work in the lessons gleaned from Leadership and Self-Deception.) If you follow the game at either the college or pro level, you have probably noticed the team with the best players but a coach that only cares about winning and not the welfare of the players is seldom playing for the championship. Additionally, when a coach develops his coaches and players even when they are out-gunned by the opposition, many times they pull off the upset. In fact, statistics show that the great head coaches who develop their coaches and their players year after year not only consistently play for, and win championships, but they continually attract the best coaches and players.”
“Ted, how would you like to be playing for the championship with your company year after year? Ted was quiet for a few moments. “So what exactly are you saying?” Ted asked.
“What I am pointing to is that it has been my experience, that the owner who thinks about how he can both help and develop his managers and how he can support them in developing their people, that owner can create a team of focused, aligned people that want to win championships. People who feel supported, respected and part of a winning team bring their talents and energy to help any organization succeed by performing at a higher level. In other words, look out for your people and they will look out for your customers, each other, you and the bottom line.”
Then Ted did something surprising. He turned to Paul and said, “Paul I want to thank you for setting up this meeting and, frankly, for going the extra mile to help me see what it takes to achieve and sustained the success we all want.” He then looked at me and asked, “Okay, so what’s next?”
I smiled and said, “First, there are a couple of books I would like you to read.”
Bert Holeton of Leavenworth is founder and CEO of The Mastermind Group, Inc., www.the-mastermind-group.com. The purpose of The Mastermind Group, Inc. is to support leaders of organizations and businesses to achieve and sustain success. Since 1980, he has consulted with over 80 companies in 14 industries.