The biggest problem in business today is that too often we ignore the first three definitions due to our preoccupation with the fourth, positional authority. We look to the top of an organization chart to learn where the power lies in any team or group. The first time this mistake became clear to me was over 30 years ago. It has stuck with me ever since.
Shortly after I was named Director of Marketing for Unisys’ State Government unit, I traveled to meet District Manager Richard Gaddy and his very successful team in Florida. Richard’s team had done a masterful job over many years working with varied departments in Florida’s State Government to earn a reputation of trusted advisor.
On the first day of my visit, Richard set up review sessions for me with each of his sales managers to talk about their sales teams, followed by individual meetings with each sales representative. With one exception, I met every sales leader in the group that first day. Richard told me, with a smile, that I would meet the last member of his team the next day when I was scheduled to visit one of the largest customers in the district.
I asked Richard if he would be attending the meeting with us. He said, “No, Mike can handle it with you.” When I asked if I could get a briefing ahead of time Richard said, “Mike is at the customer site today but left this account plan for you to review,” as he handed me a thick packet of information.
That night I read the detailed account plan and was very impressed. It provided a thorough update on everything I needed to know including people, history, applications, opportunities, threats, and current priorities. It clearly laid out who we would meet with the next day, likely issues that would be raised, and our responses. The document blew me away. I went to bed looking forward to our morning meeting.
The next day at 8:00 a.m. sharp, a car pulled up to the circular driveway outside the front door of my hotel and out jumped Mike Willenborg. A big smile on his face, Mike extended his hand and said, “Good morning Rick!” with such gusto that I am sure every bellman within 30 yards jumped. I was beaming as I headed for the passenger’s seat.
Mike immediately went on the offensive. “How did yesterday go?” he asked as we settled in for our ride to the customer site. He was questioning me to assess my priorities and reactions to a cast of characters he knew well. Though we had met only minutes before, our conversation was lively and rather meaningful thanks to the way Mike was using open-ended questions to learn more about the latest executive who would soon be introduced to his means of livelihood. He asked if I had any questions about the briefing package he had prepared. His line of questioning was meant to ensure I was ready. But it was clear he had done his homework on me too.
During the next 30 minutes, he made reference to everything from my education and prior assignments to my volunteer work. And as we went back and forth during the drive, Mike’s enthusiasm for his customer and his role in helping his customer succeed came through like a bright light.
“Did you know that we have been identified as one of the top departments in the State for consistently delivering on our plans and staying under our budget projections? And we have been asked to present again this year at the national conference to highlight our best practices for using technology? We’re on a roll!” Mike’s enthusiasm was palpable.
He loved what he was doing, that was clear. And I could feel my normally high morning energy level surge even higher to match his.
The customer meetings were successful. Perhaps from Mike’s perspective, another suit from headquarters had been successfully introduced to his client and had not made a mess of things. From my perspective I knew I had been given a gift. I had felt the power of someone who was all-in.
The day after I arrived back at the home office I called Richard to talk about the visit. He picked up the phone and we talked about how the customer visit went but the subject quickly shifted to Mike.
Richard laughed when I described the impact my encounter with Mike had on me. He said, “Welcome to the club.” He told me many others had the same reaction to Mike. “He lifts everyone in the office,” Richard said.
“About a month ago I asked each sales manager to nominate a member of their team for a District Sales Council,” Richard told me. “I wanted us to do a better job sharing best practices across teams. Mike’s manager sent Mike and we are still talking about what happened. It was like Mike lit a fuse under his peers. Not only did they share best practices between each other, but they decided to reach out to other districts as well. And I credit Mike. He started a chain reaction. It was great.”
The truth was it didn’t matter that the organization chart showed that Mike sat three levels down from where I sat. In this case, Mike had the power. His ability, energy, and influence showed it.
Since that memorable event, I’ve seen many other extroverts like Mike—and just as many introverts—demonstrate enthusiasm and confidence from connecting what they do to who they are, each in their own unique way. I refer to these powerful leaders as Chiefs.
What could happen if your organization recognized where true power comes from?