A business that delivers reliable results is the sum of reliable teams, and reliable teams are the sum of reliable individuals. So, building reliable business results really starts with a leader coaching each team member to deliver reliable individual results.
“Personal reliability is a cornerstone of leadership.” -Lee Colan
Personal reliability is a cornerstone of leadership. Ken May began working at FedEx while he was in college. He started at the bottom sorting packages. He gradually worked his way up, becoming the Senior Vice President of North American Operations. He then became CEO of FedEx Kinko’s and is currently CEO of Topgolf. When asked about his career climb, May is quick to say, “I just work hard at whatever I do. I don’t complain. I don’t blame. I just work hard. I’m grateful for my job, my organization and my customers. I try to never promise what I can’t deliver.”
May knows that he can’t expect anything from his employees that he isn’t willing to model. His employees know they have a boss, a friend and an example in May. He, in turn, has a loyal workforce. As May has been heard to say, “Personal reliability at the top is the beginning of a successful organization, a dedicated workforce and loyal customers.”
3 Levels of Leadership
Leadership is an inside job. It starts inside with your personal leadership traits, such as integrity, trust, competence, authenticity – all of which are aspects of personal reliability. In fact, our company logo is a group of three stacked L’s representing the three levels of leadership: personal, team and organizational. You cannot expect your team to be reliable (or any other trait for that matter) if you are not being reliable. Since reliability, like leadership, is built from the inside out, the most important question a leader should ask is, “How reliable am I?”
“Reliability, like leadership, is build from the inside out.” -Lee Colan
Reliability is something every leader wants more of from his or her team. Your challenge is to coach for reliable individual performance as the building block of a reliable and profitable business. Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.
“Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.” -Lee Colan
When a customer needs something done by a set date, or a service performed in a specific manner, he’s seeking someone who can provide that service with certainty. Many companies have built their reputations by providing that certainty for customers. For example, FedEx realized it could corner the market by promising to get your letter to its destination overnight, without fail. The company created an entire niche that never existed before. McDonald’s has built its iconic brand based on a promise of a reliable experience, regardless of which location.
Ultimately, excellent leaders help good employees become even better people. They help their employees build better lives for themselves and others while producing better business results.
“Excellent leaders help good employees become even better people.” -Lee Colan
There are five habits that excellent coaches use to create the reliability advantage. The five habits give your team the biggest boost if applied in sequence. However, you must use your knowledge of your team to determine when to accelerate through or spend more time on a specific habit. The root meaning of the verb “to coach” means to bring a person from where they are to where they want to be. Consider the role of a football coach. He sets clear expectations for his team with a game plan to win. He asks players if they have any questions to ensure they are clear about their respective roles on the team. He also asks them questions like, “How can you improve your performance or overcome a certain obstacle?” Then during the game, he involves them in changing the game plan, if necessary, based on what they are seeing on the field. The coach also observes and measures each player’s performance (e.g., number of tackles, yards gained, etc.). Finally, the coach gives constructive feedback and recognition so his players can elevate their performance in the next game.
These are the same five habits that excellent leaders employ to coach their teams. First, excellent leaders explain expectations. They realize it is necessary but not sufficient, in and of itself, to boost performance. Excellent leaders take the time to ensure alignment with their teams before moving forward. Second, excellent leaders also ask questions. A leader might ask to clarify a problem or ask for ideas and suggestions. Asking questions ignites employee engagement. Third, excellent coaches involve team members in creating solutions to improve their work. This enlists ownership because we are committed to things we help create. Fourth, excellent leaders diligently measure results to boost team accountability. The fifth and final coaching habit is to appreciate people. This builds commitment to sustain and improve results. Using each of these habits in concert elevates team reliability.
Consider this scenario: It’s early February. Jack Samuels, a sales director for a large logistics company, just landed back in Chicago and is now driving to his suburban home from the airport. He pulled off a successful pitch to a new customer in Dallas earlier that day, his final ticket to punch before the promised promotion to a VP role. The thrill of victory is running through his veins as he considers not only the pitch but also how he arrived on time against all odds. As he sits in standstill traffic with worsening road conditions from ice, Jack reflects on his team. Team members pulled off a big win by reliably performing their roles despite a series of obstacles, and it yielded the desired result for all involved.
Jack’s mind drifts to all the others he had to rely on today to make the pitch possible. He realizes that he couldn’t have even made it to the meeting in Dallas without a series of people from the airline team doing their jobs reliably: the curbside attendant quickly checking him in and tagging the big box of presentation boards to beat the 30-minute deadline, the gate agent persistently paging his name to ensure he was not left behind, the flight attendants politely hustling passengers into their seats, the de-icers timing their process just right, the pilots doing their dozens of checks to ensure all were safe, the baggage guys who loaded and unloaded his big box of materials, and the maintenance and food service teams who are invisible to Jack but, no doubt, played a part.
Then Jack’s appreciation deepens as he thinks of their monumental task of delivering reliable performance many, many times each day through hundreds of teams and thousands of team members. He is motivated to boost his personal reliability each day so that he can inspire more reliable performance from his team, an even bigger team with his pending promotion.
You might have experienced a similar scenario at some point where, like Jack, you could see and appreciate the connection between personal and team reliability and its profound impact on the customer.
We all inherently value reliability. It goes way beyond our air travel needs. Every day we value:
Reliable cars that save time and money on repairs.
Reliable mail that gets delivered on time.
Reliable investments that deliver expected returns.
Reliable cell phone service to stay connected.
Reliable vendors who show up on time.
Reliable restaurants that serve quality food and give good service.
Reliable friends and colleagues who do what they say.
Each of these outcomes we value is achieved by a team even though, in some cases, an individual is delivering the service. Reliability is a team sport, and like any team sport, it requires a good coach.
Of course, we all know the results of dealing with unreliable people and teams. They cost us more time and money, two things we all would like more of. Further, unreliability costs us more frustration and more stress, two things we would all like less of. Our organization has coached, trained and equipped more than 100,000 leaders to elevate their leadership since 1999. It has been evident that being an excellent coach is central to being an excellent leader. So, it’s no surprise that much of our time is spent helping clients become better coaches, and ultimately better leaders.
“You must be personally reliable before you can coach your team to generate reliable results.” -Lee Colan
My friend Lee Colan is the author of 13 books and the co-founder of The L Group. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with him about leadership and attitude and consistent execution (or what Lee calls adherence).
Lee reminds us that so much of our success starts with our thoughts. Thoughts influence our beliefs, which influence our words. Our words reflect our commitments, which influence our choice of actions. Ultimately, our actions influence the results we achieve.
But it all starts with the thoughts in our head.
As Lee says it, “Your thoughts today lead to your results tomorrow.”
In this brief interview, Lee shares more about this model and why consistent execution is so important.
Below are a few stand-out quotes from Lee:
“Your thoughts today lead to your results tomorrow.” –Lee Colan
This is a guest post by my friend Lee Colan and his three children: Cameron, Grace and Lexi Colan.
Leader as Parent, Parent as Leader
The more I lead, the more I work with leaders, and the more I parent, the more I see compelling parallels between leadership and parenting. Leaders are parents, and parents are leaders. They are in different settings with parallel roles. To illustrate this, here is an excerpt from a refreshing parenting book that was written by three children, Please Listen Up, Parents: 12 Secrets YOUR Kids Want YOU to Know. This excerpt addresses creating connections – on its surface this is also a clear priority for leaders. What is compelling is the parallel actions for parents and leaders even below the surface. As you read this, consider how you can apply these insights from kids to your own team at work and family at home.
Even though our technology helps us stay connected, it doesn’t mean we are really connecting. A family is made up of real connections: connections between individuals, connections to values, and connections to a bigger purpose.
“The first duty of love is to listen.” -Paul Tillich
Show us how to make connections with other people.
Remember, we learn by example. Let us see you talking to other adults at the playground, park, or museum. Nudge us to interact with other kids when we’re feeling shy. Show us that it’s OK to say “hello” and strike up a conversation. Offer to host backyard cookouts and sleepovers with our friends. Encourage us to go on group outings and field trips with our friends and their friends. It’s a great big world out there, and the more connected we feel to it, the better lives we’ll lead.
“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” -Will Rogers
We also need to feel connected to our family values.
We’re navigating an endless stream of confusing messages from advertisers, coaches, friends, movies, teachers, TV, the Internet and more. Having clear family values keeps us grounded. Gen. Colin Powell once said, “The greatest gifts my parents gave to me were their unconditional love and a set of values. Values that they lived and didn’t just lecture about. Values that included an understanding of the simple differences between right and wrong, a belief in God, the importance of hard work, and education, and self-respect.” Our maternal grandfather and “family general” Ron Davis always says, “Family comes first, and they will always be there for you.” This phrase is more than just words for us. It helps to remind us of and reinforce our family’s values.
In addition to trying to live his values, our dad also wrote them down for us to make sure we knew them and had them in writing for safekeeping. Here are a few of them:
Everything starts and ends with our relationships – with God first, then family.
Respect the three P’s: people, property and perspectives. Leave people, places, and situations in a better condition than when you arrived.
Do more than expected before it’s asked of you. Anticipate others’ needs, and take initiative. Think of others more than yourself.
Give more grace to others than you think is necessary because, at some point, you will need more grace than you think you do.
Perseverance and hard work beat natural talent every day. Our trials are God’s way of molding us into who He wants us to be.
When we’re not sure about what to do or how to feel in a new situation, sometimes we think about our family values to see if they can help. The values might not cover everything, but they usually do a good job of pointing us in the right direction.
It helps to discuss family values so we can each interpret what they mean to us. Also, keep them visible (usually in the kitchen) so the whole family can see them, refer to them and remember them, and hopefully, live by them.
We also need your help to begin to figure out how our gifts – artistic, athletic, comedic, intellectual, mathematical, musical, scientific, social, or anything else – can make the world a better place. We’re just kids, but understanding how and where we fit in the world is still really important to us.
Our dad once explained to us that sports equipment like golf clubs, tennis racquets and baseball bats all have a certain spot that, when a ball hits it, gives the best result. Hitting this sweet spot creates a long drive down the fairway, a swift crosscourt return, or a powerful homerun. When the ball hits that sweet spot, you barely feel it. The ball goes where you want it to go, even farther and faster than normal.
“Don’t promise when you’re happy, don’t reply when you’re angry, and don’t decide when you’re sad.” -Ziad K. Abdelnour
We need your help connecting to our sweet spot in life.
When we were little, you asked us, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Now it’s time for the next step, which is, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” Start by helping us answer two simple questions:
What am I passionate about?
Which tasks are easy and natural for me to perform?
You probably remember when you connected to your sweet spot in life. You knew you were “in the zone,” and other people acknowledged your skills and abilities. Maybe you connected to it when you were young, but it was probably a long process of self-discovery that lasted into young adulthood at least. So please don’t rush us. Watch for the right times to ask us these questions because those are the conversations that will help you understand us and really help us understand ourselves.
“There is one thing we can do better than anyone else: we can be ourselves.” -Arthur Ward