Character Counts—Business Fuel Podcast #55

Listen to our interview with Dick Cross

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Dick Cross, 9x turnaround CEO, suggests there are two things required by the job at the top—thinking (which we’ve talked about before) and character. Dick not only talks about the importance of character and why it makes a difference in how well a company performs, but what it means to have character. This week we talk about the first three of nine traits Cross describes as critical to having character, and you just might be surprised at what they are.

Readable Transcript

Information you need, the podcasts you trust, this is the PatrickWiscombe.com podcast network.  Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to fuel your American dream.  This is The Business Fuel Podcast heard exclusively on Lendio.com.  And now, here are your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe.

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Patrick Wiscombe:  This is The Business Fuel Podcast.  My name is Patrick Wiscombe.  Thank you for tuning us in and taking us along wherever and however you’re accessing the podcast today.  Coming up today, we’re going to be speaking with Dick Cross.  He’s the author of, Just Run It.  And I know we’re going to be talking about character today.  But before we do,  let me bring in the producer and co-host of the podcast, Ty Kiisel.  How are you today.

Ty Kiisel:  Doing really good. How are you?

Patrick Wiscombe:  Great, thanks.  I know we are going to talk about character, but what specifically did you want to ask Dick?

Ty Kiisel:  Over the years Dick has talked about two basic things that are required by the job at the top, the CEO.  The first one is thinking, and the second is character.  So today we will talk about why character is important for the CEO and how Dick defines it.  For me, it’s a no brainer, but I get push back.  People say that it’s naive and how it is sometimes ok to be disingenuous and even lie.  But I’m of the opinion that an honest and transparent environment is critical to success and so I’m excited to hear Dick’s take on all of this.

Dick Cross:  Ty, you set me up perfectly with this idea.  It boils down to the idea of being able to think about a business, the whole back of the envelope thing.  Think about the business as a whole.  Where the business is today and where it needs to be tomorrow and how you’re going to get it there.  But the last part, how you’re going to get it there, is where the bridge to character lies.  The only way you’ll get it there is with a bunch of people who want to help you.

Ty:  I’m pretty convinced that most people want to hire and work with people who have good character.  You want to trust your employees. You want to trust them with your customers.  Morale in a company is a top down type of thing.  Isn’t character the same way?  If you want your employees to have character, isn’t that something you need to model at the top?

Dick Cross:   Absolutely.  If you’re at the top, be it a CEO or department head, most people underestimate the degree to which people are watching you for signals about how to get along with you.  And how they should be in order to be successful.  So yes, it is a top down sort of thing.   You can’t exhort people to have great character if you don’t exhibit it yourself. They will imprint on the figure of authority that they perceive.  I have found over the years, 9 attributes that have supported me through thick and thin and have never failed to create maniacal followership.   I recite them to myself several times throughout the day.  They are: patience, kindness, generosity, courtesy, humility, unselfishness, good humor, guilelessness and sincerity.  They couldn’t be more different than the model most people have about how they’re supposed to handle themselves at the top.  They think they’re supposed to be tough, aloof, and demanding.  When I was a young naval officer, there was a hard line drawn between the officers and enlisted people.  I think that works when you have people doing pretty basic jobs that are dangerous, but it just doesn’t work in our world today.  It has the exact opposite effect.

Patrick:  Was that hard for you, as an officer, to not reach across?

Dick:  I ended up figuring out a way to have a small group of guys that I worked with.  It’s where I learned these things.  It’s very easy for me to understand the things that they were better at than I was and not put myself over them.  I relied on them to teach me what they knew to get through the day.

Ty:  I worked with a guy one time who was the second generation owner and he said, “One of the things my father told me was don’t become friends with your employees.  Make sure you don’t get too close.”   I said, “You’re dad doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  That’s a huge mistake.”  He was shortchanging his company and his life because we spend the lion’s share of time with each other at work.  Dick:  The control and command mentality came from my father’s generation where they used it to fight and win a world war.  They came home and ran their businesses and families that way.  We’re now four generations from that and we’ve got people smarter than the average troop in 1943.  They expect to be respected and to have people to follow.  And they follow not because they’re fearful, but because they like them.  Chapter 11 of Just Run It, introduces the idea of love into business.  Companies that absolutely love that person at the top get things done that are unimaginable to other companies.

Ty:  I’m going to admit something that will sound silly to everyone else but you.  There is a young guy here in my group at Lendio and he’s a part time college student.   Not too long ago, he goofed something up.  It happens, people make mistakes.  He came and apologized to me.  I said, “Look, mistakes happen.  I’ve done the same thing before.  Let’s just fix it.  I still love ya.”  He looked just looked at me, but he understood what I was saying.   I don’t have a problem expressing myself that way because the 9 character traits you described are what I would consider a good person.  Why is it that we expect that of people, but when we talk about it in terms of leadership, it sounds so foreign?

Dick:  That circles back around to how we have been educated. And the comfort, or lack of comfort, we feel about ourselves as we work up the ladder of an organization.  People spot a phony a mile away.  Somehow we’ve got this model that we have to be gruff and the only way to get things done is to have people fearful of us.  The spirit of not having to be perfect, of being a real person, is what inspires companies these days.  The person at the top is supposed to set the persona of the company.  That is the new frontier of marketing.

Ty:  I like the idea of establishing a persona.  You mentioned we would be talking about the first 3 traits the CEO should have.  Let’s jump into that.

Dick:  The first trait is patience.  I think patience builds sustainable speed.   We have very smart people in our workforce these days and they want to be respected.  Respect in their minds means they want to be valued enough to understand why what you’re asking them to do is important.  You have to take your time and explain to them why it’s important.  They also want time for themselves to think about how to get it done.  So many of us at the top have been conditioned to think that we don’t have to tell them why it’s important.  “I sign your paycheck, so you just do it.”   Patience is just the opposite.   Through patience you show respect for an individual, it’s caring about their thought process.  Loyalty comes out of patience.  If you’re patient with people, they will be loyal.   Go slow to go fast.

Ty:  I’ve always like the story of the tortoise and the hare since I was a kid.   Slow and steady wins the race, not jumping all over the place.  What’s your thoughts on that?

Dick:  I think of it as a big, strong, powerful, and deep river.  Patience is the flow that goes on under the surface.  But from time to time it gets windy and the surface is all choppy and wavy.   Having the base of patience gives people confidence and incentive to move fast when you need to.  When the weather changes back, you settle down into the steady pace.   The base of patience gives you the ability to move to mach one when you need to, then settle back down into the steady flow.

Ty:  That’s the biggest reason why this value is so important.

Dick:  Yes.  Patience is sort of like a power fluctuation.  It starts off with a little bit of rise, but somewhere in the mid-range, it’s going to start turning up.   Patience is one of the anchors for indicating to people that you care about them.

Ty:  I don’t want to spend the whole time talking about patience, but I have one more question.  Can you have too much patience?

Dick:  Of course.  You’ve got to be able to discern when to step on the accelerator.

Ty:  What’s the next trait to talk about?

Dick:  It’s kindness.  We’ve got this idea from somewhere that the person at the top is not kind.  Kindness is about making people feel good about themselves.  If you’re at the top, you take the time to extend yourself to individuals when you don’t need to.  Let them know you care about them.  I honestly believe people accomplish what they believe they can accomplish.

Ty:  We’ve all worked for someone that made sure you didn’t feel that way.  I’ve found that if I don’t feel good about myself, I don’t have confidence and I don’t perform very well.

Dick:  If you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re not going to take a risk, you’re not going to extend yourself.   You’re not going to try a new idea.  If people are afraid, you never unlock the potential of a company.

Ty:  If you want to be successful, you have to have exceptional employees.  In order to do that, you have to foster this kind of environment.  Otherwise they leave or shut down and you don’t get that innovation out of them.  What’s the last character trait for today?

Dick:   Generosity.  When I say that, most people think that’s a big bonus or a fancy car.  That’s entirely wrong.   This generosity is not material generosity, it’s generosity of spirit.  It’s about walking around your organization and expecting people to amaze you.  In this little trilogy of traits, generosity is the one with the most punch.  I run through these attributes several times a day, it’s just something I can’t shake.  I think, “Is there a way I could have been more patient?  Is there a way I could have been more kind or generous?”   But there are limits.  There are ways you can set deadlines that absolutely must be met.  There are ways you can be kind, but know an outcome has to occur.  There are ways you can be generous of spirit but not be a patsy.

Ty:  I was going to ask how you keep it top of mind.  But you just answered that you think about it every day.  With this general attitude in place, you never have to call people on the carpet, they will do it.  They will come in and tell you that they blew it and didn’t get something done.  Is that something you see?

Dick:  Yes, but I also see the rest of the organization being self-disciplining.  People look so closely for signals on how to be successful to the person at the top.  And if you do that, they will start doing it themselves.  It’s like unlocking a seventh sense in an organization that blossoms beautifully and infects everyone.

Ty:  I know I’m going to leave this conversation, walk into my office, and write patience, kindness, and generosity on my whiteboard.  I’m going to start focusing on these things and I hope the rest of our audience does too.  This has been a great conversation for me today.

Dick:  What I’ve noticed is if I start living these traits, it takes so much angst out of my life.  I know if I’m doing these things, I’m doing ok.

Patrick:  How many times do you go through the 9 traits a day?

Dick:  I came up with these things two decades ago.  So they are almost involuntary for me.   When I’m faced particularly with a tough personnel issue, these 9 traits come immediately to mind.

Patrick:  Do yourself a favor and pick up the book, Just Run It, by Dick Cross.  Be on the lookout for his new book, 60 Minute CEO, which comes out in April 2014.  So for Dick, Ty, I’m Patrick.  Thanks for listening.  We will talk to you next week.

Bringing you interviews with top business professionals and business financing tips to help fuel your American dream.  This has been the Business Fuel podcast, with your hosts, Ty Kiisel and Patrick Wiscombe, heard exclusively on Lendio.com


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Ty Kiisel
Small business evangelist and veteran of over 30 years in the trenches of Main Street business, Ty makes small business financing and trends accessible in common sense language devoid of the jargon.


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