By Chuck Lauer
Mike Leonard is a good friend of mine. You may have seen his work. He’s a broadcast journalist whose stories appear on NBC’s Today Show, mostly on Wednesdays. He and I met a number of years ago when we both played what could be termed “old man’s hockey.”
Most of us were in our 30s or older, and even though many had played college hockey, we were long past our prime, to say the least. It was a great way to get a workout, but the camaraderie was what was really important.
On NBC's Today, Mike Leonard’s genius is exploring everyday human interest stories, the kinds of things we rarely pay attention to although they are right under our noses. For instance, he'll interview the fellow who handles the scoreboard at Wrigley Field, or he'll find someone who has the same name as Bill Clinton or Clint Eastwood and talk to him about what he has to contend with when he checks into a hotel or rents a car. Mike has been on the show for years, and though others have tried to copy his style, most just don’t have his touch. When we get together, Mike and I talk about many things, including sports, our families and friends, and the state of the country. Just the other day we got into a discussion about teamwork and leadership in today’s competitive business world that I want to share with you.
Mike told me about going to Providence College in Rhode Island back in the 1960s. He was a Chicago kid who was a little out of his element. When he arrived as a freshman, he tried out for the hockey team. In those days, Providence was one of the top collegiate teams in the country, and it recruited the very best kids it could get from the East Coast. Chicago wasn't known for its hockey players, and, consequently, when Mike went out for the team nobody paid much attention to him. But Mike persevered. He hustled on every play. Later he would make varsity, and for three years was a standout forward for the Providence College hockey team.
“There were some great individual players on the team, but the one thing the coach insisted on was that everyone, no matter their talent level, was always working as a unit,” Mike recalled. The coach kept drilling into the team the fact that teamwork was essential to winning. “There were often more talented players on the other team, but they didn’t work well together and we usually ended up beating them.
Of course, those same lessons apply to business. Too often, however, we see organizations that talk a great deal about team, but the reality is that a top-down approach, hubris and greed stifle talent, creativity and productivity. In the long run, those companies stop producing great products or providing good service. Clients figure things out pretty quickly. It’s a competitive world out there, and someone else is always ready to fill a vacuum.
Pick up a copy of the Wall Street Journal on any given day and there are stories about companies that have enjoyed great success and then fallen on hard times. Did you know that every decade, 20 percent of the Fortune 500 companies disappear? If you really want to know why most companies start to fall apart, just talk to one of their representatives and he or she can tell you.
It comes back to leadership and it comes back to total dedication to taking care of the customer. The CEO of one of our legendary hospital systems told me a story that says it all. When he took the job, he decided to review many supplier contracts. Most vendors brought in their very best talent and top leaders to make presentations. They made it clear they wanted to continue to have that business. However, the biggest supplier, from which the system bought tens of millions of dollars’ worth of products, felt comfortable enough to send in the B-team. Not too surprisingly, this vendor lost the account and didn’t understand why.
Success isn’t that complicated. If you really want it, you have to have a unified team using the same playbook. The truly successful CEOs keep their egos in check and make sure their key people share in the credit and successes of their organizations.
Really great companies never but never take customers for granted. Their people work as a team. They listen to their customers and make sure their needs are taken care of immediately. They hustle and stay in touch. And no, I am not talking about e-mail and Facebook and tweets. They make personal calls and more personal calls and they make sure their customers know they are there for them at all times. It’s called customer service and should never be taken casually!
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