Bridging Leadership Lessons from the Workplace and Those Experiences Shaping Today's Youth and Tomorrow's Leaders
Dr. Henry Sineath, known affectionately as Dr. Si, was a retired professor when I first met him in my early days at Brewer Science. He provided mentoring to Dr. Brewer and leadership and management training to the employees. An older man of a diminutive stature, he displayed a large personality and persona that built instant connections. As a graduate of the Engineering Management Department at what was then University of Missouri - Rolla, Dr. Si as a professor and former Chair, took an immediate liking to me.
Dr Si’s approach ignited a spark in me to find out more about the leadership potential in myself and those around me. Working to create impact by engaging others for mutual benefit versus the authoritarian style of telling people what to do. This was far different from how I grew up and what I had experienced in college.
At one of our first training sessions at work, Dr. Si handed out bunny rabbit Beanie Babies at the start of the meeting. He explained that he was going to ask a lot out of us and to do that he had to work on building trust with us so that we would be willing to put in the work he was asking of us. He pointed out that these rabbits represent what he called Warm Fuzzies, and they were necessary to build trust and an openness to receive feedback and instruction. If you don’t start with the Warm Fuzzies, you don’t have anything in the bank when you need to make a withdrawal.
Stephen Covey talked about the Emotional Bank Account in his highly acclaimed book, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The Emotional Bank Account is a metaphor for relationships with others and that you must deposit into the account i.e., relationship before you can make a withdrawal.
From my perspective, the sports world has been slow to adopt this philosophy which has been more common in business and personal relationships. The traditional in your face, my way or the highway style of coaching had dominated the athletic field at all levels. The Zen master Phil Jackson, Gregg Poppovich, and Tony Dungy stood out because of their focus on the players as individuals and chose to spend more time investing in them as people than in the X’s and the O’s. This has led to the recent wave of more engaged and aware coaches who are attempting to integrate a servant leadership style.
INVEST IN THE RIGHT ACCOUNT
We had an experience with our oldest son, Zach, when he was playing high school basketball. Zach had known the coach almost his entire life and during high school basketball, the relationship between him and the coach had become strained. The Coach approached me to talk about the tension. As we talked, it became evident that there was an imbalance in the emotional bank account, and I explained that to the coach. He struggled to accept this as the issue since they had a great relationship throughout Zach’s childhood and at camps. From his perspective, he had made more than enough deposits into the bank account and therefore was able to make withdrawals without Zach being upset. That is when it hit me. An emotional bank account did exist, but it was between Zach and the person who became the coach. As the Coach, he didn’t establish a bank account and therefore had not deposited anything into the account. He assumed his past deposits into the friendship account would transfer. That was not the case. Once that was understood, the Coach changed his approach and the relationship recovered.
BE SURE TO TRANSFER ACCOUNTS
This confusion of accounts commonly occurs in the workplace as people move from friends and peers to a manager-employee relationship when one gets promoted. The previous deposits were made into a different account and once you become their manager, you are back to a zero balance and must start the deposit process again before you can effectively make a withdrawal. In essence, you need to make a transfer to a new account to build the trust from a leadership position and not a coworker-friend position. While the popular stance is that everything starts back to zero, I like to think of it from the financial perspective and feel that if you were previously able to build a successful relationship with deposits, you probably have some goodwill built up and therefore you have some understanding and grace period to build upon. The counter is if you struggled to make those deposits previously and didn’t have a strong relationship. If that is the case, you are probably in the hole and are going to have to build your way out as you incur damage to your credit and suffer penalties and interest.
INVEST EARLY AND OFTEN TO MAXIMIZE GROWTH
At my wedding, my father-in-law shared his wisdom for creating a strong marriage. The strength of your marriage depends upon what you are willing to invest into each other. He referenced the bank account and explained that every night the account resets to zero. So, every morning, you need to start your day by depositing into the account and continue to deposit through the day. As long as you are both depositing more than you are taking out, your marriage will be healthy and continue to grow.
That was tremendous advice that still holds true today. But after 25+ years of marriage, I would add some more complexity by again removing the zero sum to start the day. The adage of not going to bed angry has come under fire with the new age counseling and such. You can find papers supporting as well as debunking the adage. Logic says it’s better to resolve an issue than let it fester. That’s the intent. If you tick off your spouse and don’t attempt to address the issue, then much like an overdraft notice, you ARE starting in the hole, and it is an uphill climb to start the day. When you don’t start on a positive note for the day, it is more difficult to have the deposits be of value when it is being devalued because of emotions. In turn, when you are constantly making deposits and your marriage is strong, you are gaining interest and your account grows. A strong relationship, like a strong ship at sea or a well-diversified portfolio can survive stormy times. Just like with trust, prior actions determine whether you have it or not.
I know that I have struggled in this area in all facets of my life - work, coaching, family. I don’t make as many deposits as I would like and definitely not as many as people deserve. Recognizing the deficiency, seeing that I am not maximizing the profit in my relationships is what drives me personally to continue to improve Beyond Today.
Tom Brown - a husband and a father who is simply trying to make a difference. Using my experience as a Manufacturing Executive to connect leadership from the boardroom to the hardwood to help teams grow and develop to make a difference in the lives of others.