“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group. In an interview with Inc. Richard Branson expands a little on how he puts action to this belief (https://www.inc.com/eric-schurenberg/sir-richard-branson-put-your-staff-first-customers-second-and-shareholders-third.html). Walking around, making connections with those who are in the daily activities of delivering on his vision, Richard Branson shows his genuine care for others. As he does this Richard Branson listens to feedback with humility and enthusiasm. He carries a notepad for writing notes of the suggestions provided and concerns shared. He takes the feedback from employees to heart and strives to implement the little things which shows he cares for those who work for his companies. This is the kind of leadership that turns an average company into an exceptional one.
The book, Driven to Delight by Joseph A. Michelli, chronicles the story of Mercedes-Benz USA’s (MBUSA) significant growth that occurred after dealing with some morale problems that occurred in corporate leadership from 2005 to 2006. “[R]esearch from Gallup shows that in the United States alone, productivity losses due to employee disengagement are estimated to be between $450 and $550 billion per annum.” This is a quote directly from Driven to Delight. It highlights the need for leadership within an organization to engage with and humbly listen to those who are putting into practice, the company’s vision. The leadership at MBUSA had to ask tough questions of themselves, and had to be willing to listen to the answers. The realization was that turning around the corporate morale was dependent largely on the engagement of the employees at the Mercedes-Benz dealerships. “Did those employees feel sufficiently cared for by their managers that they would exert the effort needed to delight their customers? More important, how could Mercedes-Benz USA positively enhance the engagement level of dealership employees?”
In these leadership examples, senior management members are focusing on employee engagement, and discovering the little things that drive excellence throughout the organization. They have both discovered that it is not so much about providing the best product, but providing the best employee experience for those who are willing to buy into their vision for the company. Once the employees are engaged, empowered, and feel as though their work makes a true difference, then they will have a passion for their work which will flow out in how they treat their job. Not only will the employees focus on providing the best product, the clients who use these products will hear the passion and excitement that flows naturally from someone who takes pride in their work.
Let’s not forget about those employees who are being engaged. These are the real innovators and drivers of success. If these people did not have a desire to seek improvement and excellence, there would be no feedback for senior management. These are the sales associates, subject matter experts (SMEs), technical leads, business analysts, daily operators, etc. who are on the front-lines of delivering products for their company. Leadership is not dependent upon being part of the senior management team. True leadership is a daily focus on excellence no matter what your role or position.
Providing honest feedback to members of the senior management team can be intimidating. If senior management embraces (sometimes unknowingly) a punitive culture of discipline, many will believe speaking open and honestly will cost them their job. This can mean they will struggle to put food on the table, get clothes for the family, and keep a roof over their head if giving unfavorable, honest feedback. In these cases, the opportunity for greatness gets lost in a sea of bureaucracy. These difficulties are not isolated to large or medium sized businesses. Whether you are in a company of two or thousands of people, without humble leadership throughout the organization, the full potential will never be met.
Senior management of Virgin Group and MBUSA show leadership within management can add value to their employees by listening with humility, honesty, and a true desire for excellence. They create an atmosphere of mutual respect, open engagement, and a desire to learn from each other. Employees show their leadership by adding value in striving for excellence with the daily tasks, coming up with new and better ways to deliver quality and excellence, and provide rich, authentic, positive feedback to management.
It is not necessary to have “manager”, “director”, or any other special title to be a leader and add value to others. Take some time to think about the value you are adding to others. As a parent, teacher, manager, employee, or any other role, are you seeking out honest feedback? Are you being humble when providing or asking for ways to improve? Are you following through with working on the little things that help transform an average company, team, or organization into one of excellence?
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