Leadership is not always about being the loudest voice in the room, it’s about the ability to bring a group of people together around one goal.
Today’s post is by John Piester, President of RedPeg Marketing.
Nearly four years ago I became President of RedPeg Marketing. I quickly encountered many firsts in my 20+ year career that I wasn’t sure I was prepared for, namely becoming the leader of a then 21-year-old privately owned agency with roughly 45 employees.
For the first time in my professional life, I’d have the overall responsibility for the success or failure of an organization and, in turn, everyone who worked there. I’d been in leadership positions before across business units, work groups within companies, sports teams — but this felt different. Bigger. Was I ready?
A team is only as good as the people on it
As a young boy, I learned the importance of being part of a team from watching my dad coach football and basketball for a local high school. Unsurprisingly, sports have always played a huge role in my life and I know it helped me learn valuable lessons about leadership that I’ve been able to apply throughout my career as well. The most important takeaway for me is that a team is only as good as the people that are on it.
I try hard to live and lead through a “One Team” mentality, which I adopted from a former client of mine, Harley-Davison. I found it to be a critical part of our success when we were planning and executing their 110th anniversary tour, which would travel to nine countries for 11 events over the course of one year. The challenges faced when putting on an event of this magnitude requires the team to come together to support each other in numerous ways. Those challenges quickly multiply when you’re scaling a project globally. I firmly believe that had Harley-Davidson not helped us realize that common bond, we would not have been nearly as successful.
In my role at RedPeg, a key focus has been finding and hiring the best people to fill the role, who in tandem, believe in the company’s overall mission and vision for success. I’ve since tried to surround myself with people of this same mindset, so when I joined RedPeg, it was an important first step to introduce the “One Team” mentality.
We broke out into teams and conducted a creative exercise, asking teams to work together to co-create a mural that brought our One Team mentality and our company’s mission statement to life. It was a great exercise to launch the initiative and start heading in the right direction; bringing the team together.
A year went by and our department leadership group started voicing concerns to our executive team about how they were seeing silos forming and a lack of trust at times between various teams. This was especially true during moments of intense pressure, or when things weren’t going as well as they should have. It immediately made me think of our One Team philosophy. Where had it gone? What had we done to carry that message through? What had I done? The answer was: Not nearly enough. It’s naive to launch an initiative and just assume it will simply become part of a company’s DNA. You have to live it every day and set the expectation that it is part of the fabric of the company. I hadn’t done that yet.
Extreme ownership for successful leadership
Not long ago I read a book written by two former Navy Seals, Jocko Willink and Leaf Babin, entitled “Extreme Ownership.” It brought to life many attributes that I’ve always believed make up a successful leader.
At times throughout my career, I heard whispers as to why I wouldn’t be the right choice to run a company. I was either too much of an introvert or not “feared enough” by those I managed. I never thought those things were hindrances to becoming a good leader, but potential strengths. As an introvert, I’ve always felt I was a better listener vs. having to be the biggest voice in the room. I know listening to those around me has helped me in making better decisions for my teams and the company as a whole. And who wants to be feared? I believe it’s more effective to be respected than to be feared and I’ve personally always wanted to perform at a higher level for someone I truly respected.
The leadership trait that resonated with me the most has been the willingness to own one’s mistakes. Not just the obvious ones that you were directly involved with making, but all mistakes made by an organization and the mistakes made by the employees who work there.
Setting everyone up for success
There have been times when a colleague has made a mistake or miscommunicated something to a client, where it would have been easy to lay all the blame at their feet. But it’s a leader’s job to question what they could and should have done differently to prevent that mistake from happening in the first place. Was that person given the proper guidance or training? Were they clear in what success meant and how to achieve it? Had they been set up to fail or succeed to begin with?
People make mistakes no matter how much preparation and care is given to do something correctly. It’s called being human. When mistakes do occur, it’s critical that no matter what position a person holds, they take ownership of that mistake and do what is necessary to overcome it and learn so mistakes aren’t repeated. If you can’t do that at the top, then how can you expect those around you to do the same thing? As a leader, owning the performance and results of a team is non-negotiable in order to drive success.
Own the mistake and course correct
Back to One Team. I hadn’t done that properly at RedPeg. I didn’t manage expectations or put the necessary focus on how to drive it forward to make it a part of our company. But we’ve reset, looked at what mistakes were made, and are pushing One Team forward for what I know will be a benefit to the company, our clients, and all those who work at RedPeg. This certainly isn’t the only mistake I’ve made in my time as President and it won’t be my last, but with the team I’ve surrounded myself with, I look forward to overcoming any challenge that gets put in our path. We will own our mistakes, make course corrections, learn as we go, and ultimately support each other as One Team.
John Piester is the President of RedPeg Marketing
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