Part 4 of 4
Geoff: You and I lived through Enron, Qualcomm, and these big failures of businesses based on character breakdowns where we found that people who were really smart, who focused on results, drove their businesses into the ground because of failure of character. Talk a little bit for me how important character traits are for a leader. What are some of those character traits you’d say are essential?
Tony: If you don’t have the essential ones, again I question whether you’re going to get people to follow you. And how long are they going to follow you for? Again, the trust issue is the first one that comes to mind. If you’re going to lead people in a battle, they have to be able to trust you. If they don’t trust you as an individual or your character or your competencies, they’re not going to follow you. They know that someone is going to get hurt along the way. And that’s no good.
I think another one for me is loyalty. If you’re at an organization, you’re with a team. If you think about sports teams that have really achieved greatness, they trust the coach, they trust the vision of the coach, they follow the coach, and they do what the coach says. They also have extreme loyalty to either the purpose, the mission, or to the team. I think to really excel as an organization, people have got to be loyal to the organization, they’ve got to be supportive and loyal to their team members and put them first.
I think that’s maybe another characteristic. We put others first—servant leadership. Again, there’s quite a number; but those are the ones that immediately come to mind that I think are really important.
Geoff: What’s your view of community involvement? What would you encourage if you were a leader?
Tony: I was lucky. My first job, I was told you must be involved in community. I didn’t have a choice, so I did. There are so many benefits to that. The joy you get when you help others—it’s just hard to describe.
The joy of helping others who are less fortunate than you or maybe unfortunate in some ways but not in others. You get so many more experiences than you’re ever going to get just working, no matter what company you’re at. So, you’re going to get all kinds of life, business, non-profit experiences you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. And you’re going to learn from all of those.
The third thing is, you’re going to come across so many wonderful people. Some will become very good friends that you’ll sit there and reference back on how fortunate to have met so many wonderful people. You’ll be able to think about those people in terms of what are the two or three things that are really special about them. As you go through your own struggles as a leader in an organization, you go, “Oh, here’s the issue. I don’t know what to do about it. I’ll call Geoff Davis.” And then because of the relationships, people are then happy to help you.
I think it’s critical for this world to be the place it needs to be and from a personal joy standpoint, let alone all the things you can learn and benefit from. People always want to talk to me about the millennials. One of the characteristics of millennials is they want to be part of something important. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
If your organization has a very valuable role, but it may not be a mission that is necessarily saving the world, through the community involvement your organization gets involved in and you encourage, that’s where they can see and participate in the fact that you’re there for more than just a business. You’re there to help make the world a better place. I just think it’s huge, and I’ve had so many wonderful experiences. I know so many wonderful people. And I do it for those reasons but all of a sudden you find that you’ve got this and you have to consider yourself very fortunate for all that.
Geoff: Fred Kofman is an author who I’ve really come to like. He’s an MIT professor who started looking at all kinds of human traits. He wrote a book called Conscious Business. In it he makes this claim that the purpose of business is happiness: happiness for your customers, happiness for your employees, happiness for leaders, happiness for the shareholders, happiness for the suppliers. How would you react to that statement?
Tony: I agree with it. I wouldn’t have thought about it in using the word “happiness.” When I tend to think of it, I’m going to go back to Charles Koch. You start off crafting your vision statement by how you’re going to add value to the life of others. John Maxwell talks about, “What are you going to do today to make someone else’s life better?”
Now when you think about it, if you do those things, you are creating happiness. I agree with them because if we’re adding value to the lives of those other folks, we’re achieving that. It’s interesting that you say that. There’s a great book called The Firms of Endearment about the firms that have done really well for an extended period of time. They look at employees or team members, customers, shareholders, communities, and suppliers, partners, and vendors. They don’t ever distinguish between them in terms of what’s the priority or who’s the most important. They don’t do that. They are all important, and they treat them all well and with great care. When you look at great companies, they tend to care deeply about all of those things. I think that exactly is what he just talked about. I guess you’re right—when you’re doing that and enhancing the value of somebody’s life, they probably are going to be happy.
Geoff: How do you deal with the stress of running a business? You must have had moments where you had the acid stomach, the late night where your head was pounding and you didn’t know what to do, what was the next move? How do you deal with that stress?
Tony: I think there are a couple things. I think exercise is important. Regular exercise is a great way to deal with stress and minimize stress. I think folks should exercise regularly. That’s number one.
Number two, you have to have balance in your life. You should have, hopefully, a caring and loving relationship with God, with your spouse, significant other, family, friends. Having those significant caring, loving relationships is very important and does that as well.
The other thing I think you need to do is put—two of the best words put together were “servant leadership.” Two of the worst words put together were “servant leadership.” On the worst side, sometimes people are so servant to everything else that they don’t take care of themselves first. And then they can’t take care of others. So, I think you’ve got to protect yourself and take care of yourself.
To me, and this goes contrary to what so many people do today, I never believed in nor have I ever requested that my people be 24/7. When you go home, do not text each other, do not check email, don’t be doing that all the time. When there’s an emergency, sure. But don’t do that. When you’re on vacation, don’t call in, don’t check your email, etc. I think that is a way of protecting and preserving yourself by taking breaks and not be there 24/7. To me, especially when you’re going through stressful times, the more you’re 24/7, the more you can no longer see clearly what’s going on and why. This comes from you, Geoff Davis, people get tired.
They don’t realize that they become so tired that they aren’t able to do what needs to be done. They are probably capable, but they’re drained. So, I think you have to take care of yourself through all these means, one of which is to protect your time and balance with other activities—family time, sports, and things like that, whatever your thing is. If you’re 24/7 all the time, you never get a break.
One of my best ways of articulating that is, if you have somebody take a two-week vacation and do not allow them to check in, they come back so energized with so many great ideas that are beneficial to the organization. But if they’re connected, you don’t see that. Those are the things I would tell somebody.
I was hired to help the new CEO at a fairly large organization that was in trouble. The only thing he didn’t listen to me was on this topic—taking care of himself. Every time I asked him to take some time off, take a week off, he gave me this strange look. A year into this, I was in with him. He looked like a dishrag.
I said, “What’s the matter with you?”
He said, “I’m done. I’m exhausted. I’m shot. I can’t keep this up.”
I said, “Yeah, I know. You didn’t listen to me.”
And it took him a long time to get out of that. He admitted to me, “You know. I thought you were just plain weird. Why would you worry about that? Now I understand.” You don’t want to get there because when things get really challenging, if you haven’t taken care of yourself and you’re not in a good place, it’s very difficult to guide the company through those very difficult circumstances.
Geoff: What would you say is the most important thing you learned about leading?
Tony: Creating clarity, high levels of accountability, and execution. The other things came a little bit easier to me, more naturally to me based upon the way I was raised. I always thought I was good at communicating, but when you use the word “clarity,” it doesn’t matter what you said or how often you’ve said it or typed it up or sent it out, if people don’t “get it,” you have failed. Creating clarity is a much higher hurdle to achieve than thinking you’ve communicated effectively. When you’ve done that—this comes from a Harvard Business Review article—when people know where they’re going and the why (the why is so important), then they can use every ability they have to help you get there. If they don’t know the why, they can’t. So, creating that clarity and the amount of work it takes to do that, combined with high levels of accountability and execution, for me they’re probably it.
Geoff: You are in the midst of a great career helping people. My last question is, what do you hope people say about you? What do you hope your legacy is?
Tony: The things I would hope they would say are that I cared about them, it was always about them and it was never about me, he had great business insight, he knew what the questions were, and he was relentless and leading us and/or pushing us into make something happen. Therefore, I would hope that they’d say, “We respect him.”
A fair number would say they like me, and that’d be great, too. But that’s never my purpose in going in there. My purpose in there is not to be liked and I occasionally have to remind them, “I’m not your friend. You have friends. I’m not your friend. I’m friendly, but I’m not your friend. So, don’t make the mistake and think I’m coming in here to be your friend—I’m not. I’ll be friendly, but those other things are more important.” That’s what I would hope they would say.
Geoff: Tony, thanks.
© Geoff Davis, 8/16/19