These are extreme times that we live in. It’s fair to say that extreme times call for extreme leadership. But what is it? Do we have what it takes to live up to the name and stand as an extreme leader? Steve Farber gives you the answers in this episode as he shares a series of webinars that introduces extreme leadership and how, though juxtaposed to the image it gives, it should go together with the practice of cultivating love. In this first part of the series, he guides us into one of the first elements of his book, The Radical LEAP: love. He shares some great insights and wisdom on how love is not at all inappropriate in the context of business; it is, in fact, at the very foundation of what great leadership is. Join Steve as he continues with the process of how you can bring that love into what you do and inspire others to love your business as well.
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What Is Extreme Leadership?
In this episode, I’m going to share with you a webinar I did for a client. I did a series of five sessions for them. This particular one is an introduction into extreme leadership and into the practice of cultivating love. I thought it would be a nice thing to share this with my dear readers. This is brought to you by the Extreme Leadership Institute. Please visit us at ExtremeLeadership.com. If you’d like to bring me into your team or to your company to do a webinar, a series of webinars, meetings or facilitated discussions about extreme leadership and love as a hardcore business principle, give me a shout. Drop me a line at Steve@SteveFarber.com or visit ExtremeLeadership.com or SteveFarber.com. I hope you enjoy this episode. Here we go.
Welcome to part one of our five-day exploration into the world of extreme leadership. These are extreme times that we live in. It’s fair to say that extreme times call for extreme leadership. The question is are you an extreme leader? Maybe even more important, are you willing to become one? You can’t answer that question until we explore what this extreme leadership thing means. I will promise you that our exploration together is going to open up opportunities for you that you may not have even known that you have. I’m going to encourage you to think about yourself and your role in business, and in all the other roles that you play in your life to think about that differently than you have before.
My great thanks to my wonderful friends at Suntuity for making this possible. We have a lot of ground to cover. I want to dive right in. First, let me give you a little bit of a background as to how I got here to develop the experience that gives me something of value to share with you. I have been at the business of leadership development now for many years. I’ve had the opportunity to work with about every kind of organization in about every kind of industry that you can possibly imagine. I’ve had a very broad-based experience and I’ve met some incredible people. I’ve met some amazing leaders. These are people that you don’t necessarily even know exist because they’re not famous on a world stage. They’re famous for the impact that they have in their organizations. They’re famous in the organizations that they have influence in. They’re incredible people. I’ve learned a lot from them. I have to admit, I’ve also learned quite a bit from people that weren’t so great as leaders.
We’re going to explore what leadership means, but not just leadership. We’re going to explore extreme leadership. Let me set the stage for you a little bit. To be clear, leadership is not about your position or your title. If you’re thinking, “I like the idea of leadership, but I’m a salesperson or I work in support” or “I’m a customer service individual,” whatever it might be. “I’m not a leader. I’m not anybody’s boss. Nobody reports to me. What does this have to do with me?” Let’s be clear. Leadership has nothing to do with your position or your title. It has everything to do with who you are, how you live and your ability to influence people around you to change things for the better.
That’s an opportunity that’s open to all of us. We’re going to explore not only the definition and the description of what extreme leadership is, but we’re going to get into the practices. I’m going to be giving you some very specific things to try out, to think about and to experiment with. You may want to have something handy to write with. If you’re a pen and paper person or if you’re a computer or a tablet person, whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. A place to jot down some of your thoughts and some notes for things that you’re going to want to be sure you remember so you can experiment in the way that works best for you.
Posers Versus Extreme Leaders
I want to start with the underlying theme that’s going to run through this entire week. First and foremost, we have to make sure that we’re not posing as leaders and that we don’t tolerate the posers among us. You may have heard this term poser before. I’ll tell you how I learned it in this particular context. I first learned this term from my son, Saul. I learned this from him when he was ten. I remember vividly it was when he was ten because that’s when he got his ear pierced. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I thought ten was a little young, which may explain why he got his ear pierced when I was out of town. If you must know, his mother pierced his ear when I was out of town. That’s my ex-wife. It’s not significant. It’s just true. Thank you. That was good therapy for me. It was also when he started wearing size 38 pants. This was a skinny ten-year-old kid who started wearing essentially my pants at the time. If you’re old enough to remember, when the baggy pants thing first started, Saul was an early adopter of that style because he was a skater.Leadership, if we're doing it, is already an extreme act because it's about the act of transformation on some level. Click To Tweet
It was the skaters, the skateboarders that started wearing that baggy pants thing. Not because it was a cool counter-cultural fashion statement, which it was, but because it was useful. It gave them the flexibility and the mobility that they needed to do all that crazy stuff on their boards. Here’s what started to happen. It became I’m a popular way to dress. Pretty soon, you had all these other people dressing up like skaters. People who would never even dream of touching a skateboard, people who would never even dream of imagining to think about attempting something like this. I have a pipe, that meant something entirely different to these people. They were dressing up in the clothes of a skater and it ticked off the skaters because they said, “These people are posing as us.”
In other words, they’re trying to grab some of our glory without ever putting themselves personally at risk, without ever sticking their necks out in any way, shape or form. It’s my estimation that posers are everywhere. We see posers in every arena of life and they’re damaging. We see posers in the business world. We see it in the political arena. We all know that. We see it in the community arena. We see it in the family arena. Metaphorically speaking, a poser is any time somebody dresses him or herself up in the clothes of a leader. They assume the persona of a leader without shifting the way they approach their work, their relationship with the people around them, and the way that they view the world. Anytime somebody dresses up as a leader without making that shift, that’s what I call the poser.
We could talk about posers all week. It would be fun to share some stories if we were sitting together in the same room. We could have a long conversation about the posers we’ve known. Wouldn’t that make us feel good? It would be very therapeutic to get it off our chest. We’ve all had the horror stories, but it’s far more productive instead to consider the polar opposite of the poser. This is where the phrase extreme leader or extreme leadership comes into play. First of all, a word about the phrase extreme leadership. When you put those two words together, it creates an interesting dynamic. There’s a bit of a problem with it. On the one hand, as business people, we’re a little bit prone to buzzwords. We like grabbing onto a catchy new phrase.
We use it to make ourselves feel good about being cutting-edge and trying something new. Have you heard any buzz words over the years? There are some classics. I remember way back when, for those of you that have been around long enough, re-engineering was a big buzz word. There was a book that came out in the early ‘90s called Reengineering the Corporation and re-engineering became the buzz word of the day. Within about a week, I had clients that were no longer changing things. Now they were re-engineering them. The behavior didn’t change but the label did so that sounded cutting edge. I moved the stapler from the left side of my desk to the right side of my desk. What have I done here? I’ve re-engineered my workspace. That’s a productive day.
I had a friend who was going through a divorce at the time. He told me he was re-engineering his domestic strategy. This is what we do with buzzwords. Leadership has become another one of those buzz words. If you take the phrase extreme leadership, it sounds a little buzzwordy too. What a catchy new phrase. I would admit it sounds a little bit like a marketing thing. If you want to accuse me of doing a little bit of that marketing stuff with the phrase extreme leadership, you would not be entirely unjustified, but that’s not the problem. The problem with the phrase extreme leadership is that it’s a redundant phrase. There should be no reason to modify the word leadership with the word extreme because leadership is already an extreme act if we’re doing it.
Leadership is an intrinsically extreme act because it’s about the act of transformation on some level. It’s taking nothing and turning it into something. It’s taking something good and turning it into something great. It’s stretching and growing our own skills and capabilities as human beings and doing that for the people around us. This is already extreme stuff. Extreme leadership is my way of saying real leadership. The real leader is involved in something extreme. In my estimation, the extreme leader is a person who puts himself or herself at risk in order to accomplish extraordinary things, in order to strive to change the world for the better. Simply put, extreme leadership is a wholehearted commitment to making things better often at the risk of failure and sacrifice.
The first question I’d like you to consider for yourself, let it soak in a little bit. I’m not asking you for a definitive answer right now. When you think about this definition, wholehearted commitment, striving to make things better. It’s not just get stuff done, but make things better to the point where the downside to that might be my own risk or my own failure. Are you acting in a way that’s consistent with that? If not, are you willing to consider going to that level of extreme? Let’s be honest, maybe the answer to that is no right now. If you keep an open mind, what you’re going to find is the payoff for willing to go into that world of extreme leadership is extraordinary. I’m going to give you lots of examples of this. What we’re going to be exploring where we’re already exploring right now and what we will continue to explore is the detail, the framework, the roadmap around what extreme leadership is.
This is a methodology that I call The Radical LEAP, which is also the title of my first book, which came out in its first edition in 2004. These ideas have been out there in the business world for quite some time now, and not just in the business world. It’s in the world of education and nonprofits. They apply everywhere. The business world has been my playground for many decades. What I’m finding is as more people understand, operationalize, and make use of this Radical LEAP framework, the evidence of the results that they get is piling up like crazy. I’ll share some of that with you as we go along. LEAP is going to be our roadmap throughout the week. It stands for Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof. The extreme leader with conscious intent cultivates love, generates energy, inspires audacity and ultimately provides proof.
If you happen to catch my session with the Suntuity online event, you’ve heard me talk a little bit about this first element of LEAP, which is cultivate love. If this is a brand-new concept to you, chances are you might be doing this thing, “I thought this was a business workshop. What the hell are we doing talking about love?” If you might be feeling that way, a little hesitant or you’re tempted to dismiss it as California touchy-feely, hoo-ha crap, let me acknowledge that I understand we are not accustomed to using the word love and business in the same sentence. It does make some people squirm because our immediate knee-jerk definition of love is something sentimental. It’s something a little bit squishy or abstract.
What I’m going to suggest to you is that nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is love not inappropriate in the context of business, it is at the very foundation of what great leadership is. I’m not making this up. I’m not suggesting this to you because it sounds nice and it sounds provocative. If you look behind the curtain at many influential leaders and begin to peel back how do they go about getting the results that they’ve gotten, if you listen for it, you’ll begin to hear the L-word used quite a bit more than maybe you realized before. For example, Burton Goldfield is the President and CEO of a company called TriNet. It is a $4 billion publicly-traded company. You know how it is with public companies, they are watched like a hawk by their investors and by Wall Street. They are prone into being seen as fluffy as it were.
Let me share with you Burton’s perspective on this love thing from running this $4 billion enterprise called TriNet. Here’s what he said in his own words, “In my experience, love is a difference-maker. It brings authenticity to a company’s culture and makes leaders more human and more effective.” What’s the relationship between human and effective? The more human we are, the more we allow ourselves to show up and approach our work as real, genuine, authentic human beings versus the poser, versus somebody who’s putting on an act because that’s the way you’re supposed to do it in business. The more we can fully show up as who we are in whatever work we do, the better the chance is that we’re going to inspire people and engage the people around us so that together we can be more and more effective, in Burton’s words.
If I had to frame this all up in the context of leadership, this love thing makes perfect sense. From a strict business perspective, think of it this way. First and foremost, as business people, we need our customers or our clients to love what we do for them. Anything short of that doesn’t engender any brand loyalty, repeat business or word of mouth. If a customer says, “You guys are pretty good. I’m satisfied with that.” The temptation is to say, “Look at us. We’re pretty good,” but that’s death to a business. If you’re pretty good, I can go find 100 other people who are as pretty good. If I love what you do for me, if I love the way you approach my needs, if I love your product or your service and the way that you anticipate my problems, and give me solutions that I didn’t even think of until you offer them to me, that’s where the payoff comes from. That’s where the repeat business comes from. That’s where the brand loyalty comes from. That’s where the commissions come from if I’m a salesperson.The extreme leader with conscious intent cultivates love, generates energy, inspires audacity and ultimately provides proof. Click To Tweet
This is not frivolous. It’s just damn good business. Let’s start with that. We want our customers to love what we do for them. Let’s back that up. The only way that I individually or us collectively in a team or a company can make that happen in a meaningful and sustainable way over time is to create an environment, an experience, a culture or whatever terminology you want to use that I and we love working in. If I love working here, I’m much more likely to give that experience to my customers. That’s where the payoff is going to come from. We want our customers to love what we do for them.
The way to make that happen in a meaningful and sustainable way over time is to create a working experience that we love being a part of. To back it up one more step, I can’t create or contribute to an experience that we love working in unless I love it myself first. If I don’t love this business, these customers, our product and our solution that we’re bringing to the world, what’s my alternative? I have to fake it. I’m back to the poser thing. Let’s be clear about this. I’ll use a technical term here. People have a pretty good bullshit meter. Do they not? They know when we’re faking it. It comes back to what Burton Goldfield said. It’s about authenticity, and authenticity runs through this whole thing.
If I am authentically connected with my heart to my work, that’s going to show up in the way that I work. It’s going to show up in my presentation to my customers and potential customers, whether I’m giving a literal presentation or I’m presenting my product or service through the way that I live and work every day. I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m pretty convinced of that. I know we’re not running a lot of errands nowadays because we’re all stuck at home. I’m coming to you from my home office in San Diego, which is a place that we’re all spending a lot of time nowadays. Not my home office, but in our own homes. To reminisce a little bit, by those times you’re out running errands. I’m sure you still go to the grocery store occasionally. We all got to eat.
Imagine this scenario, you walk into a grocery store and have you ever had this scene where you’re looking for a product and you can’t find it. You’re lucky enough to find that employee. You asked that person to help you, “Can you help me find this,” whatever it is. It becomes clear to you in that moment that this employee, this person that you asked, hates this freaking place. Have you ever had that experience? It becomes obvious. Their eyes rolled back in her head, “Go over there,” that kind of thing. I bet you’ve had the opposite experience as well. You ask another employee the same question under the same circumstances and get an entirely different response. They light up and then they walk you over to the place in the store where you could find that product. Along the way, they’re having a nice chat with you and learning about your life and learning about your kids. It’s clear that this person is loving their life in that moment.
What I’m about to say is not 100% true, but it is mostly true that that person’s reaction to you in that moment is a direct reflection of that person’s experience in working in that place. If I hate working here, it’s very difficult for me to give you an experience that you’re going to love. Having said that, there are exceptions to the rule. There are always going to be people that no matter how great the place is, they’re just miserable people. That’s the way they’re going to act towards you. I’ll never understand why people like that are put in customer-facing positions, but sometimes it happens.
There are some people that no matter how terrible the place is, they’re wired in a way that they understand that’s not your problem. They’re going to treat you well anyhow. There are exceptions. For the most part, my experience in working here is going to affect the experience that I give to you as my customer. I’m going to guess that we’ve all had experiences like that. I’m going to share with you one of my favorite ones. This came into sharper leaf for me. Under normal circumstances, I do a lot of traveling. Under normal circumstances, you and I would likely right now be sitting in a room together in some big conference hall or ballroom at a hotel because I do a lot of speaking at events.
One of these times, this was a little while back, I was traveling out to Boston to work with the senior management team of a company, which at the time was called Sovereign Bank. Now they’re part of Santander. Sovereign Bank was a regional bank in the Northeast. Therefore, they did not exist out here in California where I live, and I had never heard of them. I did my usual preparation ahead of time before I went out for the event. I sat down on the phone with some of their senior executives to learn about the company. They told me about their mission, their values, their competitive landscape, their plans for the future, their objectives for the meeting and all that good stuff. I got a pretty good education, but I’d never been in a Sovereign Bank. I got out to Boston a day early, which was unusual for me. I took advantage of the extra time on the road to take care of some personal business that I had going on at home, which required me getting a couple of documents notarized.
I went down to the concierge of the hotel. I told them I was looking for a notary. He said, “We don’t have any notaries on staff, but there is across the street a branch of Sovereign Bank. I’m pretty sure they have a notary there. You may want to check them out.” I was thinking, “That’s convenient.” I could go get my personal stuff done. I could do a little reconnaissance work at the same time. I could do a little ghost customer thing. I walked across the street. It was a small branch. There were two tellers sitting side by side. I walked up to teller number one. I told her I was looking for a notary. She pointed to teller number two. She said, “That would be Rosella over here. She is a teller and she’s also a notary. She’ll take care of you.” I said, “Thank you very much.” I stepped over to Rosella’s window. We started doing the usual notary stuff, signing and stamping and all that. What I need you to know is I didn’t say anything to Rosella at all about who I was or what I was doing there. We were making small talk. I didn’t tell her that the next day in that hotel across the street, I was going to be sitting down with all the big bosses of the company that she works for, and that her boss’ bosses will likely be there.
I didn’t say anything to Rosella about my philosophy of leadership. It was just sign, stamp and small talk, which was quite lovely. There wasn’t anything particularly profound going on. After she stamped the last stamp, I asked her a question that I’ve asked every notary I’ve ever used. What do you think that question was? “What do I owe you? How much?” She said, “You don’t owe me anything. This is a service that we provide to our customers.” I said, “Rosella, I’m not a customer.” She said, “That’s okay. Maybe you will be someday.” I thought, “That’s pretty good.” I was struck with this inspiration to ask her this question, which in retrospect seems obvious. At that time, I realized, “I’m anonymous right now. I can get a pretty good glimpse into the culture, the experience of what it’s like to work at this company if I asked her a simple question.”
I said conspiratorially, “Rosella, would you mind telling me how do you like working here at Sovereign Bank?” I’m telling you, there was no hesitation. Her face lit up and she said, “I love it.” Just like that. She started telling me about that other bank that she worked for and how terrible it was. This place was so different because people took care of each other. She started telling me about her customers and the relationship she has with them. Sometimes their customers stop in to say hello even when they have no business to do.
She’s going on and on with this wonderful stuff. I have this odd habit that when I’m hearing something that’s relevant to my work, I like to take notes. She’s talking and I’m writing on the back of one of these documents that I signed. What I’m going to share with you now is a direct quote from Rosella. This is one of the things that she said to me in that moment. I quote, “I love my customers and I get great pleasure from serving them so I’m happy.” She started explaining this wonderful dynamic. “I love my customers, which makes me want to take care of them. I take care of them so well that sometimes they stop in to say hello even when they have no business to do.” This is the kind of relationship she has with them. It’s beautiful stuff.
At one point I looked up at her and I said, “Rosella, would you mind if I quoted you on this?” She said, “Would you like me to notarize it?” What do you think I said? “That would be awesome.” She did and I have here the back of Rosella’s business card. The reason I have this right now is because I was so excited by this, I ran across the street with her business card in hand. I ran back to my hotel, took a picture of it with my iPhone, stuck it in my PowerPoint deck. The next day, I showed it to the bosses of that company. I said, “Look what you have going on right across the street here. This is Rosella, the teller. She’s awesome.”Not only is love not inappropriate in the context of business, it is at the very foundation of what great leadership is. Click To Tweet
The boss was blown away by this that he ran across the street to say thank you to Rosella. You can imagine how that blew her mind, the impact that had on her day, and therefore on her customers, and around and around it goes. Please don’t tell me that love has no place in business. Of course, it does. It’s damn good business. If that’s true and if we start to add it all up in a business, what implications does that have for the business as a whole? If you can imagine a whole company of Rosella-like people and the experience that they’re creating for their customers. Therefore, the relationship that they’re developing between the company and those customers. The loyalty that gets in gendered as a result of that, the money that they spend and the people that they refer.
Successful People On Love In Business
Does all of that add up? It’s a leading question because the answer is, sure it does. How do we know? What form does that take? In other words, should that experience of love have an impact on the actual monetary value of the company? That’s a leading question. I probably wouldn’t have asked it if the answer is no. Yes, it does add up, but don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask the most successful investor in companies that perhaps the world has ever seen. I’m talking about Warren Buffett. If you know anything about Warren Buffett, you know that Berkshire Hathaway has an incredible track record of finding companies that have value. Buying those companies, keeping them part of their portfolio, and then seeing the value grow over time. It’s an incredible track record.
Everybody’s always wanting to know what his secret is. He’s been asked that question 1,000 times. I happened to catch an interview with Warren Buffett on The Motley Fool website, this was quite some time ago. I was struck by this interview because it was rather informal. He and the interviewer were sitting together on a couch with one camera set up. The question that he’s been asked 1,000 times before is, “How do you do it? How do you account for your amazing track record?” If you know anything about Warren Buffett, you know that he’s almost like a savant when it comes to numbers. This guy can read a spreadsheet and extract meaning from it that most human beings can’t see. He talked a little bit about his facility with numbers, about their competitive analysis, about how they look at the landscape and the management team, and all of that.
He said, “In the final analysis, even when everything looks great on paper, before I buy that company, before I invest heavily in that company and make them part of our portfolio, I have to sit down in the same room with the CEO. I have to look into his or her eyes.” There’s something very specific that he’s looking for. Here’s what he said. “I look into their eyes and I try to figure out whether they love the money or if they love the business. If they don’t love the business, I can’t put my money into it.” He goes on to say, “If they do love the business and then I ended up buying the company, then my job is to make sure that I don’t do anything that kills that love of that business” Now I know this isn’t hard science, but if you take a look at those words in that short fifteen-second answer, he uses the word love four times.
He goes on to say that one of the reasons that’s important is because if he looks into their eyes and he doesn’t see the love there, but he instead he sees dollar signs and he can hear the cash register ringing in the distance, for those of you who remember what cash registers are. He knows that the only thing that this person is interested in is the exit strategy and how quickly they can stuff their money into their own pocket and get the hell out of there. He’s looking to invest in an asset that’s going to grow in value over time, and there’s no way that’s going to happen unless the love is there. Here’s where we are again. We want our customers to love doing business with us. The only way to make that happen in a meaningful and sustainable way over time is to create an environment or a culture or an experience that people love working in.
That will have an impact on the value of the company. Let’s break it down one more step. I can’t help make that happen unless my heart is in it first. All of this, my friends, gets very personal very quickly. We have to start asking some significant questions of ourselves. To tee up this part of the conversation, I want to talk about Steve Jobs and Apple. I’m not going to rehash the whole Apple story because we all know it to some degree or another. It’s part of our business culture, not just in the US but anywhere around the world. Let me summarize it like this. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple computer in Jobs’ parent’s garage in Silicon Valley all those many years ago. He sold his Volkswagen to raise the money to build their first circuit board. That’s where Apple started.
We all know what Steve Jobs helped to create in his lifetime and how successful that company became and still is. The part that some of us may not remember so well or maybe never even heard of, depending on how young or old you are, Steve Jobs experienced probably the most significant public humiliation and failure in the technology world when he got fired from Apple. He brought in John Sculley to help him run the company. He brought them in from Pepsi. Within about ten minutes, his own board forced him out. Here’s a guy who quite got fired from the love of his life, which is the way he often described Apple. You can imagine the damage to his pride and his now legendary ego, etc. when that happened.
After he left, after he was booted out, he had a couple of other ventures. Apple went off the rails and then eventually Steve Jobs came riding back in on the proverbial white horse. He turned the place around and the rest is history. There was a speech that he gave to the graduating class of ‘05 at Stanford University. It was a beautiful speech and has become quite famous. I’m pretty sure you can find that on iTunes if you look there. People were playing this a lot after he passed away as a remembrance because this is a wonderful speech. I recommend that you go listen to it. In that speech, he tells his story. When he got to the part where he talked about how he made it through those particularly difficult times, here’s what he said in his own words.
The Whole Story Of Doing What You Love
“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” To say it another way, the only way to do great work is to love what you do. I’m not making this stuff up. I have a question for you, but I want to frame it up in a way to think about this. You might get the impression at this point that all I’m suggesting is that just love your work. Love your work and everything will take care of itself. Do what you love and the money will fall on your head. I wish that were true, but I don’t think it’s quite that simple.
Here’s the way I like to frame it up and I want to give you something to consider around this framework. Doing what you love is important, but it’s not the whole story. Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. Doing what you love is important, but it’s not the whole picture. One could argue that criminals are doing what they love too. That doesn’t qualify them for extreme leadership as far as I’m concerned. Yes, I want to do what I love, but I’m using that to serve you. Think of those as three different sections. I’m doing what I love. That’s my connection of my heart to my work. If all I was doing was what I loved and that I didn’t care about anybody else in that equation, that’s another way of saying narcissism.
I’m doing what I love, but I’m using that to serve you, to give value to you in the service of people. Those people being my customers, my colleagues, my family, my community, whatever it is. Doing what I love in the service of people. I’m not serving people simply because I know I’m supposed to or I feel obligated to, but because I want to have an impact. The greater the impact that I can have through that service that I give, the greater the likelihood is that feeling will be reciprocated. In other words, they’ll love me in return. I’m doing what I love in the service of people who love what I do for them. When you have a customer that raises their hand and says, “I love you,” that’s your ideal customer.
That’s like Rosella’s customers at the bank on a one-to-one individual scale. It’s also true on a collective scale. The company’s customers who love them are more loyal to the brand. We can look at this on every level, but that’s what we’re after. When we have customers that say they love what we do, we know we’re on the right track and we want to develop more of those customers. Find those prospects and develop those customers who say they love us. That’s the framework. You might be looking at those words or pondering those words and saying something to yourself like, “That’s a pretty good description of who I am and what I do. I just maybe haven’t used those words before,” or you may be looking at those words and thinking, “It would be nice, but I have ways to go.”The only way to do great work is to love what you do. Click To Tweet
That’s fine. Wherever you are on that spectrum, it’s a great starting place. We have to get clear on where we are and where are we starting from. This is what I’m going to suggest you do. Take each one of those elements and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. Here’s how we can frame it up. On a scale of 1 to 10, I am doing what I love. To what degree am I doing what I love on a scale of 1 to 10? What I’d like you to do right now is either jot down what that number is or make a mental note of it. On a scale of 1 to 10, to what degree am I serving people. Give yourself a number with ten being the highest.
Finally, on a scale of 1 to 10, those people who I’m serving love what I do for them, love the way that I’m serving them. To what degree am I doing what I love, to what degree am I serving people, to what degree of those people that I’m serving love what I do for them? Here’s the thing. This is a reflection tool. It’s not hard science. That last one, to what degree do they love what I do for them? That’s not yours to answer. That’s for them to answer. I would highly recommend that you seek out the answer to that question. What this is a variation on what is known as the net promoter score.
Net promoter score is a very simple and elegant way of measuring customer response. It asks a very simple question, “On a scale of 1 to 10, customer, how likely are you to recommend us, our product or service to friends, colleagues and family?” The nuance here is that according to the Net Promoter Score approach, anything less than a nine is unacceptable. The only answer that we’re striving for is a 9 or ideally a 10. That’s what we’re after. We don’t want to say, “I got an 8 out of 10. That’s 80%. That isn’t too bad.” That’s a fail in the net promoter score world. It’s a very high standard that I’m asking you to apply to yourself. To what degree am I doing what I love? Anything less than a 9, we’ve got a lot of work to do.
To what degree am I serving people? Anything less than a 9, we got a lot of work to do. To what degree do they love how I’m serving them? Anything less than a 9, we have a lot of work to do. The question now becomes, what do I need to do to raise those scores through the way that I work, through the way that I act? What we’re striving to answer here now is, what should love look like in the way that we do business? What should love look like in the way that I do business? How can I operationalize love? This is not a sentiment or an abstract feeling, but a practice and a discipline. How can I put that into action? The result of which will be higher scores on those measures. It’s not about the scores per se. It’s about the actions they created.
I want to give you a brilliant example, in a company that has taken every opportunity to operationalize love and raise their own scores and all of these measures. I love this example because it’s not a particularly glamorous or sexy business. The company is called Trailer Bridge. They’re in Jacksonville, Florida. They’re in the shipping business. They’re a shipping and logistics company. They ship stuff primarily from the mainland US to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Here’s the thing about Trailer Bridge, and I’m not speaking out of school here. This is common knowledge and they will admit to this themselves. It might sound like a judgmental statement, but it’s a statement of fact. They’ve been around for many years. That’s fact number one. In their past, they were awful. They were a terrible company. They were toxic.
One of my mentors, a guy by the name of Tom Peters, who is one of the greatest management thinkers of our day, once upon a time said the following words. This is very technical language. He said, “If your company’s having trouble attracting fabulous people, it’s because your company sucks.” That’s nicely put. That was the reality of Trailer Bridge. They had very high turnover. They had a hard time holding onto people, let alone recruiting new people. It’s very difficult to get people in the door and then to have them stay because the place was toxic. The only reason their customers did business with them was because they were cheap. They had to be cheap because their service was so bad. They were a place of last resort.
They were losing money, hand over fist. All of this came together in a perfect storm, which forced them into bankruptcy. On any measure, these guys were not good. As they emerged from bankruptcy, they burned through four CEOs in two years and four heads of HR in that same period of time. Imagine that you were working at Trailer Bridge and now there’s a new CEO that comes along. It’s like, “Keep your head down. This will pass. We can’t even hold on to CEOs around here.” That was the feeling of the place and this is the way it went. Until one day, the board of the company tapped a guy named Mitch Luciano on the shoulder who was part of the management team.
They said, “Mitch, it’s your turn. Do you want to give this a try? You think you can turn this place around?” Here’s what you need to know about Mitch. He was a love guy. By the way, I hadn’t met him yet at this point. I came later on to find out that he had read The Radical LEAP and my other books earlier on in his career. It had a huge impact on the way that he led. Love, Energy, Audacity and Proof was his own personal leadership methodology. Now he was given this opportunity to run this company. He’s thinking, “For the first time in my career here, I can build a company that’s based on love. I can create an environment that people will love working in. I can create an offering that our clients are going to love to do business with. That’s how I can turn this place around.”
He went to the board and he said, “I’ll take it but there are a couple of conditions. Number one, I don’t want the title of CEO. I’ll take the title of President. I’ll earn the title of CEO. When the employees feel that I deserve CEO after my name, that’s when I’ll take it. Number two, you have to give me license to do what I feel I need to do because I’m a love guy.” I’m pretty sure he didn’t say those words exactly, but he said, “My approach is going to be different. It’s not going to be what you, the private equity and VC people expect. If you want me to turn this around, you’ve got to give me carte blanche.” They said, “Fine, please go ahead. Turn it around.”
The first thing he did was he began to ask the question, “If I want to create an environment here that people are going to love working in, what do we need to do differently? How do I create that? What changes do I need to make?” Some of the answers to that question were symbolic, while others were more systemic. For example, by saying, “I don’t want title of CEO,” there was a symbolic gesture where you starting to prove right out of the gate that I’m being authentic about this. He looked at some of the ways that they did business. For example, this is a very simple thing and symbolic more than anything else. He knew that it was a tradition at Trailer Bridge forever that people would walk around with their name badges on.
He said, “We’re a company of 130 people. We should know each other’s names. If I’m going to be working in a place that I love working in, I’m going to know who the people are.” What do you think he did? He banished the name tags. No more name tags. The implication for him was he had to learn everybody’s names. Right out of the gate, symbolic gesture, we needed to learn everybody’s names. It’s very simple on the surface, but think about the powerful message that sent. He looked at the physical environment. He said, “This is cubicle city. Floor to ceiling partitions everywhere you look. Now we have people that have worked together for years sitting side by side that rarely even see each other because they’re in their own little cubicle cave all day long.”
He lowered the heights of the cubicles, forcing everybody to be able to look over the partition and see into each other’s eyes. He told his managers, “Get out of your offices. Get out there and meet people, wander around.” There’s nothing new in this. It’s not a new concept, but it was radical at Trailer Bridge because he’s trying to create an environment that people will love working in. In order to do that, he has to give them the opportunity to create relationships with each other, get to know each other. In order to do that, he had to adjust the physical environment. He looked at the break room and he said, “Let’s bring in some opportunities for people to hang out together,” foosball table, ping pong table, the usual thing that they started in Silicon Valley. He picked up on that.
People were hanging out with each other a little bit on their lunches. Once a week, I think it was on Thursdays, he started bringing in the food truck, parked it outside the building and bought everybody lunch so people can hang out together, eat lunch together, play ping pong together, socialize a little bit, and then get back to work. That’s become a tradition to this very day. Every week they bring in a different a food truck and they all eat lunch together on the company’s dime. He started to look at externally, “What do our customers think about us? We know what they think about us. They can’t stand us. What is it about the way that we approach them that’s so terrible?”
Here’s one of the many things that they saw. It had been a long-standing policy at this company that when they’re shipping a barge of goods from say Florida to Puerto Rico. Unless the barge was 75% full, it would not sail. If you look at a balance sheet, it makes sense, “If we only have 75% occupancy on this barge, we’re going to lose money on the shipment. We’re not in business to lose money, so we won’t sail.” It makes sense on a purely rational point of view, but they asked the question a little bit differently with Mitch’s guidance.
What if we look at this from the customer’s perspective, what does it look like there? Great question. Here’s what it looks like. I’m shipping a car to Puerto Rico. I tell my family, “It’s going to be there on such and such a date.” It doesn’t arrive. I call the company and say, “Trailer Bridge, how come my car isn’t in Puerto Rico yet?” “We didn’t ship on time because we couldn’t sell enough space.” Is that great for the customer? It’s terrible. It made sense internally. Here’s the question that they asked. “If we loved our customers, what would we do in that circumstance?” The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? What would you do? You would sail no matter what. We lose money on that shipment, that’s our problem. If we told them we would sail on that date, we sail on that date. That’s what they started to do.
They looked at every one of their policies, every one of their procedures and every one of their systems that they had in place and asked that question, “If we loved our customers, how would we do it differently? If we loved our employees, how would we do differently?” There are hundreds of things that they did and there were just a few. What happened? Let’s start with that customer policy. We sail anyway even if we’re 75% full or less. Now fast forward to the present time, they are always at least 98% full. Most of the time, 100% full every time. Why is that? It’s because everything has changed at that place. For example, Trailer Bridge has been voted number one and number two best place to work in the City of Jacksonville.
In the years 2015 through 2017, their revenues were greater than the previous 25 years of the company combined. The tail of 2019 was the most profitable year in the history of the company. They are winning all kinds of customer service awards. Not only is their turnover low, but their recruitment cost is practically nonexistent because they don’t have to pay recruiters anymore. Why is that? Now their employees are their best recruiters. Why is that? They love working there and they want to bring on other great people to work with them there. They taught their employees some recruitment techniques and saved tons of money that they normally would have paid to external recruiters, and on and on it goes. Please don’t tell me that love has no place in business. It does. What are you going to do about it?
Why Do I Love This Business?
Here’s the question that I have for you as we bring this in for a landing to part one of our Extreme Leadership journey. “Why do I love this business?” You pick the context. “Why do I love this business, this company, this idea, this product, this colleague, this team, this customer, whatever it is, and how do I show it? Why do I love this work, generically speaking, and how do I show it?” Let me be very clear as to what I’m asking you to do with this question. I’m asking you to make it a habit of asking yourself this question frequently. I understand some days, this question is easier to answer than other days. Some days, you start your workday and you say to yourself, “Why do I love this work?” Let me count the ways.
It’s lovely. You can write a sonnet to everybody on your team and everything is glorious. There are other days where let’s say it feels a bit more like a stretch. The question doesn’t even come out the same way. It’s not, “Why do I love this?” It’s more like, “Why the hell did I sign up for this? All I want to do is go back to bed.” Here’s what I’ll leave you with. The more difficult it is to answer this question, the more important it is to answer this question. This question is designed to help you inspire yourself, to light your own fire. Why do I love this work? Explore it. If that’s too challenging a question for you, then maybe it’s, “What do I love about this work?” See if you can find something that creates that little spark in your heart.
The second part of the question, “How do I show it?” is the part that we have to answer behaviorally. We’ll explore more of that in our next four sessions together. Remember, what we’re exploring here is the methodology of cultivating love, generating energy, inspiring audacity and providing proof. We can look at those as four different elements, but what this is, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about love. If we can get this love thing down, the rest of the LEAP framework takes care of itself because love generates energy. Love inspires audacity and love ultimately requires proof.
- Reengineering the Corporation
- The Radical LEAP
- Berkshire Hathaway
- Speech – Steve Jobs 2005 Commencement Speech Stanford University
- Trailer Bridge
- Tom Peters