Authentic Leadership: Valuing Each Team Member

I love Adam Bryant’s column “Corner Office” in the Sunday NY Times Business Section — it’s the first thing I read each week. Charles Schwab Corporation CEO Walt Bettinger was featured earlier this year and the authentic leadership lessons he’s learned throughout his life and career really struck me. (Sadly, it’s taken this long for me to post about it!)

authentic leadershipThe biggest gem I found in Bettinger’s advice was the importance of valuing every member of the team—bottom to top—in being an authentic and impactful leader.

We All Have ‘Dotties’

Bettinger recounts this lesson he learned during a final exam at Harvard:

“The professor said, ‘I’ve taught you everything I can teach you about business in the last 10 weeks, but the most important message, the most important question, is this: What’s the name of the woman who cleans this building?’

“And that had a powerful impact. It was the only test I ever failed, and I got the B I deserved. Her name was Dottie, and I didn’t know Dottie. I’d seen her, but I’d never taken the time to ask her name. I’ve tried to know every Dottie I’ve worked with ever since.”

Graciousness can go a long way to inspire those you lead. All of us have many “Dotties” in our work and lives—taking the time to get to know them is the first step towards truly valuing every team member, including those who do the real work.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is known for eating lunch with employees in the staff cafeteria, a small step that goes a long way to increase his approachability. On the social media front, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has created stirs posting intimate images with his new child Max, crafting a very human image of himself to both his employees and the public.

Here’s another inspired Bettinger anecdote, this time about how he hires people:

“One thing I’ll do sometimes is to meet someone for breakfast for the interview. I’ll get there early, pull the manager of the restaurant aside, and say, ‘I want you to mess up the order of the person who’s going to be joining me. It’ll be O.K., and I’ll give a good tip, but mess up their order.’

“I do that because I want to see how the person responds. That will help me understand how they deal with adversity. Are they upset, are they frustrated or are they understanding? Life is like that, and business is like that. It’s just another way to get a look inside their heart rather than their head.”

How awesomely brilliant is this idea? What are the biggest lessons you learned that shaped your leadership style? And how do you try to pass those lessons on to those you lead?

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