business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

The "Corner Office" column in Sunday's New York Times had an interview with Clorox Co. CEO Don Knauss, in which he talked about an issue dear to our hearts on MNB … specifically referring to lessons he learned in the Marines about the importance of convincing employees and associates that you care more about them than yourself.

"The first day I was actually in a line unit — after 15 months of school and training — was on Hawaii, the Big Island," Knauss says. "There’s a big Army base there where artillery units train and shoot live rounds. They helicoptered me over and I took a jeep to join 120 Marines in this artillery battery. They’d been out in the field for several weeks, and the commanding officer had ordered hot food from the base camp because they’d been eating C rations [canned food] for several days.

"I had been up since 5 in the morning, and I was pretty hungry. I started walking over to get in front of the line, and this gunnery sergeant grabbed my shoulder and turned me around. He said: 'Lieutenant, in the field the men always eat first. You can have some if there’s any left.' I said, 'O.K., I get it.'  That was the whole Marine Corps approach - it’s all about your people; it’s not about you."

This is a scenario, by the way, that plays out in corporations all over the country and the world. I've spoken to people who have attended lunch meetings where the CEO is first on line to get their meal, and people who have attended similar meetings where the CEO holds back, waiting for everyone else to eat first. This may be a small example, but I'm told that the differences in atmosphere and culture are tangible…

Knauss goes on: "If you’re going to engage the best and the brightest and retain them, they’d better think that you care more about them than you care about yourself. They’re not about making you look good.  You’re about making them successful. If you really believe that and act on that, it gains you credibility and trust. You can run an organization based on fear for a short time. But trust is a much more powerful, long-term and sustainable way to drive an organization."

And, he adds: "One of the things I’ve learned is that as you move up in an organization, you’re given more power. The less you use the power you’ve been given, the more authority people give you, because they think: 'You know what? This guy’s O.K.' Persuading people to do things — come along with me because we’re going in the right direction — is much more powerful over time."

Some people lead by creating an atmosphere of fear, and others by understanding that the real power in any organizations from the front lines, and from people up and down the org chart who are empowered, committed and engaged.

What continues to amaze me - in 2014 - is that there are boards of directors and senior executive teams that don't get it … that believe in old-fashioned notions of hierarchical and dictatorial management. I'm not saying that CEOs should not be tough and demanding … just that they need to understand that the music of leadership is not played with just one note.

It's an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: