"A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.”
As a CEO, this quote was on my desk and served as a constant reminder that the battle for business was not waged in our corporate headquarters, nor the corner office, but rather every day in the trenches with our people on the front line. Now, don’t get me wrong, the corporate office plays a huge role in supporting our front-line client development efforts. Business, after all, IS A TEAM SPORT.
I know I drove my Board crazy because most weeks I was in the field Tuesday through Thursday. Board members would ask, “Why do you have to be in the field so much? Don’t you have an infrastructure built to handle your customers?” Fair questions, and after some back and forth discussion, I believe they were satisfied with my answers.
I asked that Board member "What business do you think we are in?" He quickly responded, “the staffing business.” I agreed that we were in the staffing business, but aren't we in the customer business first and foremost? And in staffing, we have two sets of customers, the client and the talent (temps)." He responded, “Semantics.”
I asked him what he thought revenue was? He said, “Revenue is sales dollars.” I said, “I believe revenue is customer money. Thinking this way helps our people to personalize their efforts. How could it be anything else?“ He reluctantly agreed.
Then, I asked him, "What do you think my paycheck is made up of?" He quickly responded, “Your bi-weekly salary.” To which I said, “I believe it is made up of customer money. It is not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages.”
He said, “I get where you are going. But as CEO, we hired you to work on the business, not in the business. That is why you have a client development infrastructure. Don’t you trust your people?”
Again, a fair question from an active Board Member.
I said that I believed this approach put me in a better position to work on the business as demonstrated in our strategic plan. But in answer to his question, I responded with the following:
I do trust my people. I trust them to get me in front of the most influential and forward-thinking customers.
I trust my people to ensure the following mantra is etched in their minds:
"If we solve our customers problems, we’ll solve our own.®"
I trust my people to follow my lead, by being in the customer business first and foremost. They understand that the toughest thing to do in business is to win a customer. The second toughest thing to do is to retain them.
I trust my intuition. When I see how my field people react to adversity, it provides great insight for succession planning.
I trust my corporate infrastructure to make speed and quality a priority. They understand they are either part of the solution or part of the problem. There is no middle ground. Speed is the currency of today.
I trust the customers to tell me the truth about where we haven’t performed up to their expectations and where they believe the competition may be gaining an edge on us.
I trust the NPS surveys we run are fact-based, data-driven, and able to provide actionable insights from which we can continually improve.
Leadership in a word is influence, nothing more, nothing less. And the closer we stay to where the business is won and lost, the better position we can be to allocate the appropriate resources to ensure our company is adapting to customer needs and wants.
As a leader, whether running a department, branch or company, it is imperative you understand your success will be defined by your vision and influence, which will be dependent on your ability to connect with your people. To connect with your people, you must get out from behind your desk. Walk among them. Work with them. Travel with them. Break bread with them. Remember: a desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.
At Butler Street, our Leadership Training was recently ranked among the best in the country by HR Tech Magazine. With us, you get experienced executives training your people, not contract trainers like most of our competition. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you help your leaders grow your business.