Friday, February 13, 2009

Protect the troops and they will protect you

Roy Spence is the chairman and CEO of GSD&M, one of the top ad agencies in the country. He recently published a book titled, "It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For."

While much of the book focuses on ways marketers can build their brands, Chapter 8 is dedicated to "Purpose-Based Leadership Principles."


Purpose-based leaders have a tendency to live by certain principles.

1. Protect The Troops: Protect the troops and they will win the war. If your people feel like you've got their back, they'll go the distance for you in return. Protect the troops. They will protect you.

2. Be Curious. Norman Brinker is the father of the modern casual sit-down restaurant. He brought Chili's, Romano's Macaroni Grill, and a variety of other concepts to middle-class America searching for a place to eat with their families.

He taught me what curiousity looks like in action. He would personally check out every competitor on every corner of the earth. He taught us to look beyond the obvious, to learn and question everything about the competition.

The Art of War teaches us to reward the "scouts" -- those individuals who are sent out on the front lines to evaluate the terrain, assess the threats and opportunities, and help the generals create a plan based on the situation on the ground. The scouts are the ones who will help you and your team win. The scouts are the curious ones seeking to find out the truth. As a leader, it's your job to encourage, recognize, and reward acts of curiousity throughout your organization.

One last thought on curiousity: Process can be the killer of curiousity. There is a time and a place for process. But when process becomes too prescriptive, bureaucratic, or inflexible, it actually undermines curiousity. It essentially says to your people, don't think about new ways to do something. The great leaders we've worked with know when to apply process and when to let go of the reins and give people the freedom to be curious, question the status quo, and take the organization to new and greater heights.

3. Focus on the Journey. [Wal-Mart founder] Sam Walton used to say that destinations are a blink on the timeline of life. No doubt that setting destination goals motivates an organization to go faster, harder, and higher. But, as important, once that goal was achieved, Mr. Sam always set another impossible goal and challenged the organization to achieve that new goal as quickly as it could.

4. Practice the Golden Rule ("Treat Others as You Want to be Treated"). Great leaders tend to be practitioners of the Golden Rule. Their application of the Golden Rule goes far beyond just being nice to one another. The Golden Rule can be an amazing catalyst for change -- righting injustices and moving the entire organization forward.

The more the Golden Rule is applied at the personal level, the happier life you're bound to have. If you trample over too many people on your way up, you're going to find yourself awfully lonely, alienated, and rightfully paranoid when you arrive. It's a lot more fun to get there with alliances that will hold you steady and friends that will make it all worthwhile.

So when you think about the Golden Rule, please don't dismiss it as a trivial ditty you heard in Sunday school that means saying please and thank you. All the world religions wouldn't have agreed on it and held it up as a central tenet of a life well lived if it wasn't a powerful idea that could be used for something as lofty as the transformation of the individual.

5. Obsess Over the Details. Does your organization obsess over the details? Why not? Do you think it doesn't matter as long as you take care of the big stuff? Obsession over the details is what separates the great companies from the not-so-great.

6. Fess Up When You Mess Up. Purpose requires accountability. When mistakes happen or bad decisions are made and the troops are placed in jeopardy, people will stay the course if their leaders fess up to the situation and outline a course to correct the errors. In the absence of a mea culpa, a feeling of betrayal and cynicism can quickly erase any feeling of loyalty the troops may have had before the episode. And once loyalty is lost, it is very difficult to get it back.

The leaders who we have seem make mistakes usually make errors of the mind, not the heart. And there's a big difference. We have all made mistakes when we had the best of intentions. In those instances, it's time to assess what went wrong, learn from it, share the lesson with your people, and move forward.

7. Dump the Garbage. Leaders of purpose have garbage to dump: grudges, guilt, greed, mistakes, losses, remorse. Holding on to those feelings will only create more of it. Whatever is on your mind will show up in your organization and in your life. Dump the garbage. Do it early and often.

8. Help People Believe in Themselves. My last observation of great leaders is how they enable other people to live up to their potential and fulfill their own dreams -- without seeking acknowledgment in return.