My great friend and fellow Integra Telecom leader Jim Huesgen, who served as our president for many years, came up with a brilliant exercise that we used regularly. This occurred during a period of steady growth for the company, when we were constantly hiring people.
Every week, we had new-employee training classes. Jim or I would join the class in Portland for an hour or two each session, and we’d often both sit around the table with the new employees, introduce ourselves, and talk about the strategy of the company and what made us different in the marketplace.
Before going into these classes, we’d study the photos and resumes of the new employees to memorize their faces, their names, and the personal information they had provided to our human resources team—things like where they attended college, what they liked to do on vacation, their favorite music, hobbies, and other interests.
The employees were expecting the traditional introduction with an exchange of names, handshakes, and small-talk pleasantries. Instead, Jim and I broke any pattern of predictability. We’d address each person and use her name before she got the chance to introduce herself—and the new employees wouldn’t be wearing name tags: “Hello, Mary. I’m really glad to get to meet you. I understand you went to college in Arizona and like to go backpacking in the mountains. I do a bit of that myself.” I’d add the last line to show we had something in common but only, of course, if it were true. And then I’d quickly bring the conversation back to Mary and her background. I tell you, it would astound these people that the president or the CEO would take the time to know who they were and something personal about them.
What I really love about this technique is that Jim was the champion of the idea. This underscores the notion that, when Fusion Leadership is thriving and the roots are penetrating deeper into the soil of the organization and the trunk is growing stronger and broader, other people naturally employ the tools and the power of the collective ego. This was Jim’s idea, his initiative, and he deserves all the credit for it. I’m not for a moment suggesting that I did anything to bring it out of him.
But I will say that when this notion of reciprocal respect takes root in an organization and its members become motivated to perpetuate the power of this leadership tool, people bring forward innovation and inspiration. And not just the CEO. As I’ve mentioned, a work environment with this kind of atmosphere produces ideas and outcomes from all kinds of people in a positively infectious manner. It triggers a chain reaction of creativity and accomplishment.
What’s more, we enhance the broader strength of this phenomenon by pushing aside that pesky, narcissistic, selfish ego. For example, while I usually looked forward to these around-the-table introductions, I must admit that, sometimes, I didn’t want to take the half an hour or so required to memorize the names, photos, and information of the new employees, like I was cramming for a final exam at college. My selfish ego would rather linger longer at lunch or even over-prepare for the upcoming board meeting so that I could impress that constituency. But I sublimated Mr. Selfish Ego and made the time and energy investment, and Jim did too.
Consequently, we reaped enormous satisfaction from the introduction sessions and came away from them energized. More importantly, the company benefited from this potent leadership tool. But then again, one of the themes of this model of leadership is When your organization benefits, you benefit. Embrace that.
You’re really just welcoming people to the company and letting them know that you care about their lives outside of the workplace. By doing so, you’re also sending an important message: The company values each person who works here. We’re going to take our time to invest in you. And we expect this will enhance our culture and that you’re going to buy into our strategy and mission and do great things for our customers. Just as we invest in you, we expect you to invest in our customers.
I can say with certainty that this approach worked for us.
Dudley, I didn’t have this particular experience when I was at Integra – but both you and Jim knew who I was and always greeted me by name when we had occasion to talk. I found this really surprising and that acknowledgment and respect meant the world to me. It certainly motivated me and created a desire to show you (and the company) the same respect that you showed us. Those early days on the Amberglen campus were formative for me. We worked our tails off and had a lot of fun doing it!