One challenge inherent in fusing a team together around a shared Mission (Fusion Leadership) surfaces when one of your team members processes information and generates ideas more slowly than you do, walks when you want to run, ruminates and digests when you want to gobble and go.
In the early days of Zulily, when Darrell Cavens, CEO, was first getting the hyper-growth on-line retailer off the ground, he noticed that one of his management team members constantly exhibited go-slow behavior, which stood in sharp contrast to the rip-roaring, movin’-and-shakin’ style of Cavens. This employee, who I’ll call Jennifer, simply thought and acted at a more measured pace, which Cavens initially misinterpreted as a weakness.
Slowly, however, Cavens noticed that when Jennifer had some space and time to ponder a problem, she’d often come back with an innovative solution. “She’d return in a day or two and say, ‘Why don’t we try this?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh my god, that’s brilliant!’”
But it took a few instances like this before it really resonated with Cavens that he needed to adapt to her style. Over the course of a few days several yeas ago, his full understanding of her approach gelled, and then, suddenly, he got it.
Cavens and some members of the leadership group brain-stormed several organizational structures, and his instinct directed him to draw up one flow chart and “drive to an action plan,” as he put it. The group considered various options, but after two hours, they’d run out of time for the day without a satisfactory result.
Consequently, Jennifer had the chance to mull over a few ideas and think about the problem in detail. “She came back in with a different approach and some thoughtful ideas on what different people we could put in these roles and what skill sets mattered,” he said. “It got us to a very quick answer. After two hours of us going in circles in our last session, she went off on her own, thought about the problem, and when we reconvened in a few days, she outlined a model that was different from what we had drawn up on the whiteboard. We showed our enthusiasm for her fantastic idea, went with it, and it still serves as the organizational design we’re using today.”
When Cavens and his team saw her new problem-solving organizational structure laid out, he fully understood the value his colleague could bring to the conference room when she was given the space and time to brainstorm alone and in her own way. Just as important, he also made a commitment to himself to adapt to her style of working—and others’ as well. “It was one of those light bulb moments, when I realized I need to work differently with her,” he said. “It reminded me that you have to look around at the team and realize others probably also have different ways of working and thinking. I ended up being a better leader after that, simply by being aware.”
Is it a stretch to say she exuded satisfaction after her partners embraced her idea?
“No, it’s absolutely not a stretch to say that,” Cavens said. “She demonstrated a confidence I hadn’t seen before. She felt good that she found a complex system solution to the problem as opposed to a bunch of gobbledygook thoughts coming out of my mouth.”
What’s more, the passion she exhibited from her success undoubtedly radiated outward to others at Zulily, fusing together a stronger workplace nucleus. Cavens’ enthusiastic reaction to her solution cemented her loyalty to him and the company.
“There’s a respect for ideas that’s hard to get if you run over the conversation,” he said. “I think [Jennifer] and other folks have been extremely loyal because I truly care about their thoughts. People open up so much more when you sometimes sit on your hands and keep your mouth shut. I so often learn things this way, and I’m able to dig into a set of questions that leads to me learning an incredible amount of information. And they feel like I care—because I do. You can’t fake this stuff. You’ve got to be genuinely interested.”