To lead, one must be trusted.

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

In four months, I’ll formally retire from an employer of fifteen years. Working from a home-based office over this entire period flavors this separation differently than one may anticipate as I’m not going to have a shorter commute or be relieved of the daily water-cooler gossip.

Over these four months, I’ll think about what I’ve seen and comment on what I’ve learned since I began as Project Engineer with Bath Iron Works in 1981.

As has been obvious throughout my blog, I think about leadership a lot. Effective leadership unlocks the potential of individual and organization potential; ineffective leadership constrains individual initiative and smothers dynamic organizational growth. When it’s good, we all have a chance; when it’s bad, it’s crushing.

In 1989, we bought the automation division of Lord Corporation based in Cary, North Carolina. I was a Sales Engineer (I know. We’ll do anything not to use the phrase Salesman) with responsibility for the co-marketing partnership with Bando Chemical in Osaka, Japan. Lord wanted out of the business of robots, young kids in a warmer climate with their desks of Macintosh computers. Bando Chemical feared upsetting their key client at Mazda with this unplanned announcement so they lent 5 of us the money to buy the business from Lord. Note to self: 5 equal partners is 4 too many.

We moved from the plush environs of a new office park to converted mini-storage space in Garner, North Carolina. We made payroll and profits every month beginning in month one. Doing so required scaling back from 40 people to 10 and from 20,000 square feet to 4,000. We assembled and sold sensing systems for assembly robotics. Great idea and about 5 years behind one market rise and 25 years ahead of the next one.

The team of 10 celebrated its flag-planting with an all-hands hamburger lunch and a VHS tape of Lou Holz, formerly of NC State and Notre Dame and now a commentator on ESPN, describing successful management. The Age of the Internet diffuses the impact of his words then as we now have thousands of such keys or citations available. Please know that then these words meant a lot to young adults wondering if they could and how could they salvage a business that a huge and well funded organization decided to unload. This is all pre-Interent when just because you were older probably meant that you knew something that no one else did.

Holz suggested that the answers to the following 3 questions reveal employee loyalty to an organization:

1. Can I Trust You?

2. Do You Care About Me?

3. Will You Be There When I Need You?

As I recall, he suggested that one can get by if the employee answers two of the three with a Yes. Doom to the outfit where the employee answers only one of three with a Yes.

How an enterprise of small or large scale demonstrates Trust, Care and Reliability may and does and should vary. Neutral or Not Sure answers to these 3 questions do not inspire exceptional performance.

So what happened to me and this buy-out? Went well for two years even with a salesman as the general manager of a technology team. I recall that we all worked well together so long as our survival was at stake. As we grew to surpass the one million dollar annual revenue mark with a decent stream of reliable contracts including General Motors, we began to act like our elders with lots of meetings and opinions about the management of the business.

I knew I was doomed as the GM when the partners met for two hours one day to decided if the office manager should have one or two megs of RAM in her desktop computer. RAM was expensive in 1990 when compared to 2013 prices. In this case, it became a drama of seniority, standards and purchasing authority. I was bought-out two months later.