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Rule 1: Trust and Leadership


Trust

It immediately became clear that I had to earn Angel’s trust and respect and build on this to have her achieve her potential.  The dog who shook convulsively in the back of the car coming to our house from the shelter needed the basics:  good food, a comfortable bed, lots of walking, and protection from the elements.  Bonding comes later.

While Angel and Paula were girl friends, I never quite made the cut.  It required an extraordinary gesture.  When a tick lodged in her paw on a walk down our sandy road, and I saw she was limping, I stopped and had her turn on her side while I took out the burr.  Instinctively, she said “thank you” with a sloppy kiss --- a rare sign of affection.  She is, after all, a female dog and, it has become apparent, not entirely happy with men.  I am not saying that this was a begrudging expression of appreciation, only that it seemed that there was an understanding that this kind of response was reserved only for extraordinary acts of kindness on my part. 

In the world of humans and the workplace, trust is achieved in part by providing for basic needs, security, and the opportunity for an employee to achieve her potential.   Some stroking helps as well.  Unfortunately, with the worst depression in the countries history, with high unemployment, reckless investing, and the bankruptcy of many major corporations, some measure of trust has understandably eroded.  It’s become a lot less clear who is looking out for whose interests.  The new challenge for managers now is to redouble efforts to restore this trust.

Angel believes there is hope.  She points to her own story, which has been described previously.  Then Paula and I came along.  She is now the prettiest, healthiest, marginally-obese, 14 year old in the neighborhood.  No longer shaking in the back seat of a car, she jumps in eagerly, landing neatly on the seat and pokes her nose out of the back window, looking at dogs we pass, dogs walking as she rides by them.  Tongue hanging out, eyes bright, one can imagine her thinking, “Look at me see.  Could any mixed-mutt be happier?  I seriously doubt it.”  I don’t suppose she accounts this better life to the process of our mutual trust, but I know it’s there, and I know that it has provided the deepest foundation on which all other things have been possible.


 

Leadership

Leaders come in all sizes and shapes.  In the early days in working with Angel, I found Cesar Milan through his books and television shows.  He is the “saint” for those owners with problem dogs.  Cesar runs the Dog Psychology Center in South Central Los Angeles.  His theory is that dogs are a pack animal and that they need an alpha person to integrate them into the pack.  Each morning he collects as many as 40 dogs behind him and leads the pack on a four hour walk.  If the little dogs get tired, Cesar loads them on the backs of the big dogs.   His theory is “Exercise and food…Work and treats.”

There are management counterparts to Cesar’s approach.  The tough love component is advocated by many managers, perhaps the most notable proponent being Jack Welch, who claims on the jacket of his best-selling book that he is the “the World’s Greatest Business Leader.”  To be sure, Welch is credited with transforming the General Electric Company, an aging electronics manufacturer beset by foreign competition, to a world class company.  Welch is known for the dissemination of challenging quotes, a kind of Poor Richard’s Almanac for discouraged businessmen.  One of his most intriguing aphorisms is his definition of his job as the top boss of General Electric.

“I firmly believe my job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other and make things flourish.”

In fairness to Welch, putting aside his delight in uttering an almost endless number of pithy anti-establishment quotes, to my mind he certainly got it right where values, transparency, and setting high standards are concerned.  At the end of his career at GE, his only job from after her finished college until he retired, he was named by Fortune Magazine CEO of the century.  Welch, in Cesar Milan terms, is the Alpha Male of big business.

One of my mentors, the late Albert V. Casey, was the President of the Times Mirror Company.  In 1966, he hired me to be the CEO of a struggling group of publishing companies owned by Times Mirror. (With Al’s guidance and some very talented associates, we made this struggling entity the fifth largest publisher in the U.S. and very profitable.)  Al and I worked together for eight years, until American Airlines reached out to make him its CEO in 1974 to replace the legendary C.R. Smith, the founder of American Airlines.

Al Casey was a graduate of the Harvard Business School, the Holy Grail of all business schools.  In the face of the classic Harvard curriculum, Casey reduced management to its essentials. For example, to have a successful company, Casey believed that you only need four individuals:  “a person making the stuff, a person to sell the stuff, a bean counter to keep score, and a Boss”.  In addition to reducing complex matters to the essentials, he did it with a sly Irish wit (the result of kissing the Blarney stone every now and again, he might say).

Al accepted monumental challenges when he became CEO at American Airlines, and he cautioned his wife, Ellie, not to expect him home for a while.  He then proceeded to fly every route that American flew, talked to the crews on board and in the ready-rooms.  This was Casey’s style -- managing was about “walking around”.  One was never sure when Al would appear, but they knew that he would be around in person, even if it was for just a short visit, to see for himself how you were doing.  By walking around, he always obtained valuable unfiltered information directly from employees and customers.  His presence in the field also demonstrated that he really cared.  He was able to discuss and arrive at shared goals sitting in ready rooms  with pilots, crew, and ground staff, in addition to his executives in the  Board Room.  By talking bluntly about financial performance, and the problems they all faced, he developed trust and demonstrated transparency.  Al warned that there would be mistakes before they got it right and this too, was part of the process.  No matter the difficulty of the problem, all he asked was the sharing of information with no surprises.  It was typical of Al in his autobiography to create a new “Casey’s Law”: “If Something Can Go Right, It Should”.

Murphy’s Law tells us that if something can go wrong, it will.  “Nonsense!” says Al Casey.  But for those things that can go right to do so, Casey maintains that you’ve got to make them go right, with hard work, by focusing on key problems, and, perhaps most of all, by believing in the people around you.  One of the most successful – and original – American businessmen of our time, Al Casey was a no-nonsense turnaround specialist who loved nothing more than the big challenges, whether in the private or the public sector.  As president of Times Mirror Corporation, he was instrumental in taking an historic West Coast company, whose main product was the Los Angeles Times, and turning it into a multifaceted media giant, with interests in magazines, newspapers, book publishing, forest products, radio and television.  He presided over Times Mirror’s move from a private to a public company, listed first on the NASDAQ, and then on the New York Stock Exchange, during his tenure.

As Chairman of American Airlines for eleven years, he took that ailing giant -- heavily in debt and losing money when he because CEO early in 1974 -- and made it into the highly profitable, pre-eminent company it still is today.  As Postmaster General of the United States, he attacked the problems of the country’s largest government agency -- with almost a million employees -- and left it leaner, more motivated, for the first time truly competitive, and -- to the great surprise of Washington insiders -- both efficient and profitable.

Casey’s style of management contrasts with Jack Welch in that Casey was a collaborative and decisive manager, while Welch was “top down.”  Both were effective.  It is true that management comes in all sizes and shapes, and new styles are being introduced regularly.  The latest contribution to the art of management – one with a softer style -- appears in a new book, “Leading with Kindness”, written by William Baker and Michael O’Malley.  The best way to describe this is to share, with the permission of the authors, their fable that describes their management  approach.

A child and his father are hiking.  They come upon a long suspension bridge that traverses a deep canyon.  It gently swings in the wind that traverses the canyon.  The father looks at the boy and says, “We need to get to the other side.”  The father steps out first and walks a few paces before turning.  “Come on walk close to me.”  The child pauses.  “Come on.”  We have to get to the other side, and I am not going on without you.  The boy steps on the bridge and freezes as he feels it shake.  The father explains the bridge will shake a little, but their bodies will move quite naturally with it.  They start up again.  As they near the half way point, the bridge’s movements seem soothingly rhythmic and the wind warmly refreshing against their faces.  The father stops at the midpoint: “Do you want to lead?”  The boy beams with pleasure. “Sure,” the boys responds.   And they proceed to the other side.

The authors point out that good leadership is like leading people across a suspension bridge.  First, the son had to feel secure enough to step on the bridge and start, to trust that the leader would be there for him and not let him down.  They point to development theorists who define this as providing a “secure base” – the “safe haven” concept.  Second, the endeavor has to be valuable enough to be worth the risk.  Third, despite the danger, the leader must convey confidence that, even with fears and unknown consequences, they will press on.  Fourth, that ultimately the experience will be an enjoyable one, so that followers will cross the bridge again and again bringing their followers back.



Trust, Respect Leadership = Excellence

Trust, respect and leadership (along with a little love) are the bedrock of excellent companies.  In Search of Excellence, by Thomas Peters and Robert H. Waterman, is the seminal book on corporate excellence. Their book expands on the study of seventy five companies.  Their findings are sound.  They list 8 characteristics that make for excellence in companies:

1.     Bias for action, for getting on with it.  Do it, fix it, get on with it.

2.     Stay close by your customer.  Learn from them. Provide unparallel quality, service and reliability.

3.     Autonomy and entrepreneurship.  Encourage practical risk taking and support good ideas.  

4.     Productivity Through People.  People are our best investment, help them to be more productive.

5.     Hands-on; Value driven.  This is the Casey mantra - management by walking around.

6.     Stick to the Knitting.  Stay close to the business you know.

7.     Simple form; lean staff.  Top level staff small, push authority down to the operating level.

8.     Simultaneous “loose- tight” properties.  Centralize only what works.

The findings for the study were based on investigations done in the winter of 1979 and 1980.  The contemporary model meeting Peters and Waterman 8 points today is Google, founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they were students at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.  The company was founded as a privately held company in September, 1998 and completed its first public offering in August, 2004, raising $1.6 billion.  Fortune Magazine lists Google each year at the top or close to the top in the study of the best companies for which to work in the U.S., and it is recognized as one of the most powerful brands in the world.

Google web search engine is the most widely used browser on the web, with well over 50% of the market share, with its nearest competitor, Yahoo. slightly under 20%.  Checking Google’s performance with the 8 points of excellence, it is clear they get a high grade in every area.

Google, by internal growth, acquisitions and partnerships has used it staff and resources to find areas of growth.  It is a restless company reaching out to make the impossible possible.  They have spent years and appear close to realizing their goal of putting all books previously and currently published on line and accessible throughout the world.

They have stayed close to their customers by meeting needs outside their original product, a search engine, by providing e-mail that has 146 million customers monthly, web pages, global tracking, storage for text and for video, and is now looking seriously at entering the field of mobile technology. Google’s headquarters are in Mountain View, California, a site it calls the Googleplex.  In sharp contrast traditional offices, the Googleplex is a campus.  It is a delight to visit.  The lobby is decorated with a piano, lava lamps, old server clusters, and a projection of search queries on the wall.  The hallways are filled with exercise balls and bicycles.

There are recreation activities scattered throughout the campus -- amenities include video games, pool tables, weight and rowing machines, and a wide variety of diversions to encourage employees to take a break.  As a motivation technique, all Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their time (one day a week) on projects of their own.  An analysis by Google showed that about half of the new product launches came the 20% time off program.

In addition to Google’s substantial Mountain View premises, there are Google engineering and advertising office in midtown Manhattan.  This office has been responsible for over 100 engineering projects, including Google spreadsheets.  In late 2o06, Google also opened offices in Pittsburg and Ann Arbor to make local university resources and talent pools available.  This is an excellent example of not being held hostage to one area and its resources, of spreading out and locating advantageously.

In true Google style, they engineered a novel and primitive approach to a contemporary problem -- the environment.  Google was challenged about the massive use of energy required to fuel its servers that are located throughout the world.  As part of their response in 2009, Google deployed herds of goats helping to forestall the threat from seasonal bush fires, while also reducing the carbon footprint in mowing the extensive grounds.  There is much more to the Google story, and it is told in depth by Ken Auletta in his worthwhile book:  Google:  The End of the World As We Know It.

I was reminded that there are millions of small businesses -- not just the General Electrics, American Airlines, or Googles of the world -- that have established trust and respect and have achieved excellence through strong leadership.

Every winter, I relocate my office to Sarasota, Florida and I have been shopping at a fishing and boating supply store named CB’s (initials of the founder).  The store is about 1,500 square feet.  It fronts on a major highway and has a rear access from a well paved two lane road.  There is direct access on one side of the store to the Inland waterway.  CB believed in keeping it simple - several huge tanks with shrimp and other live bait.  When CB sold out, the new owner over the years made improvements.  Since there was direct access to the waterway, she built docks so the store could be accessed by boaters.  She redesigned the store and moved the bait and lure area into a quarter of the space.  In the other space, she created an upscale fashion clothing area for men and for women, along with small boating equipment, such as life preservers, oars,  anchors, fish finders and so on.  All without renting new space.

Over the years, she built a team of dedicated, knowledgeable employees who had the ability to serve customers, whether they were there to buy bait or the most fashionable boating jacket.  Her employees were trained to offer, without charge, its most indispensable product—information: where and when to fish, the best gear, the best suntan lotion, the best restaurant along the waterway to stop for lunch, a virtual Google.  Small businesses following the same rules that the giant conglomerates use are successful and are regarded at the “backbone of the U.S. economy”.

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