Our leadership roundtable group has just started reviewing Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust.” Preparing for this week’s session, I found myself reflecting on going through the leadership development process while at Mississippi Power Company. David Ratcliffe had recently accepted the role of CEO. One key trait David quickly became known for was his ability to build trust. But David also took a very personal interest in developing teams. One of the company wide team building initiatives David focused on a program referred to as “Principled Centered Leadership.”
A core element of the program was Dr. Stephen M. Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” and how it helped Mississippi Power build a culture of developing successful leaders. As an example of empowering leaders, David highlighted Mississippi Power Company’s response following Hurricane Katrina in a USA Today article, as he referenced the importance that developing a team culture had on Mississippi Power’s 1,250 employees. Those employees did a great job during the effort to restore power to the Gulf Coast after the hurricane, all while supporting more than 11,000 other workers who responded to the disaster as well.
One interesting coincidence of the hurricane is that, while Mississippi Power employees used the strategies from Covey’s book, the Covey Center training building was flooded. But Covey-speak — “win-win,” “be proactive,”— survived as a lubricant to quick action and on-the-spot innovation.
What about this team building stuff?
I have been blessed to be part of some great teams that have exceeded anyone’s initial expectations. When I look at the mix that produces a great team, more often an organization builds a great team by leveraging employees’ existing skills, talents and resources. Seldom do we see it happening with our team even when it happens right in front of us. Realization kicks in when we evaluate the progress made by breakthrough solutions developed and delivered by a total team effort.
This leads us back to Mississippi Power, where one area the corporate leadership team had to address was morale. We (employees) had just come through a hard “right-sizing effort.” So to say suspicion about our new CEO, David Ratcliffe, was high would be an understatement. But in spite of the pain, suspicion and lack of trust, David was very quickly able to build and instill trust in the leadership team, by fundamentally changing Mississippi Power.
David firmly believes in the right tool for the right job and let the employees know they had his confidence. He didn’t communicate this message in memos, fancy presentations or company directives. He did it by building relationships throughout the company by becoming a personal part of the team building experience. The “Principled Centered Leadership” project built a foundation of trust and created a leadership mentoring environment that to this day continues to develop effective Southern Company leaders, including Southern Company’s current CEO, Tom Fanning .
Core belief challenge?
One point Stephen M. R. Covey highlights in “The Speed of Trust” is the effect lack of trust has on an organization. I have seen companies fall short of the energy required to achieving a well-defined vision. Sometimes, in seeking short-term results, the leadership team, including board members and investors, don’t spend the needed time to develop relationships to produce trust. But Covey hits a point that most individuals operate from a belief system based on the premises that you either trust someone or you don’t.
Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, elusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create – much faster that you probably think possible.
— Stephen M. R. Covey
Back to the original question
So how do we develop a team of leaders? This is an opportunity to reflect on the individuals on your team. They may be family, friends, co-workers, employers, fellow church members or elected representatives. I would challenge you not to underestimate the power of trust and the role it has in developing effective, influential teams. In turn, this will create relationships that can last decades, even after we are long gone, because of the culture of trust that we can have a role in restoring and developing.
We have all been burned by an individual, organization or group that took advantage of our trust. But we also may have missed an opportunity for reasons that seemed valid at the time. As a friend and I shared in a recent discussion, you can’t un-ring the bell that rang yesterday. You can start a legacy of change by your actions in the future.