Listen to our interview with 9X turnaround CEO Dick Cross
This week we’re talking to Dick Cross about the difference between being motivated by “duty” and “responsibility” when leading a values-driven organization to achieve peak performance. It’s not about looking at leadership interactions from a transactional perspective, but from how they align with your company’s stated values.
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Patrick Wiscombe: Coming up on today’s show, we have Dick Cross in Birmingham, Alabama. We will be talking to him about duty and responsibility. But first, let’s bring in Ty Kiisel. How are you?
Ty Kiisel: I’m doing really good. How are you?
Patrick Wiscombe: Great. I know you had the first question for Dick, so go ahead.
Ty Kiisel: This is going to be a great discussion. There is nothing wrong with responsibility, and there is nothing really wrong with a sense of duty. But Dick identifies responsibility as a trap and I would like to know why.
Dick Cross: This really sort of focuses on the job at the top. Thinking of your job in terms of responsibility really is a trap and it’s a pervasive trap. We live in a transactional society these days. We tend to think, “If I do something, I get something.” And also the inverse, “If I get something, I owe somebody something.” There is an ennobling sense that you feel you are being responsible to those dependant on you. But it is a trap. And the trap I see is that when we think of our responsibilities, we tend not to think about our dreams. We get wrapped up in our obligations rather than our aspirations. It is our aspirations and dreams that build great companies.
Ty Kiisel: You said something that really struck me. We have become very focused on transactions. Does this focus on responsibility hurt us in the long run? Does it lead to decisions based on the wrong things?
Dick Cross: I think it has the effect of limiting potential. It sets far too low a ceiling. Create something that is aspirational rather than responsible. I also think about it in terms of family. I think about my own daughters and it’s easy to get into the trap. You can think that I’ve done all these things for my child, now my child owes me good grades. As opposed to thinking that I want my child to be happy. That’s the payoff.
Ty: I like that you said that if you focus on responsibility, you are limiting yourself. Seth Godden writes about being indispensable. It’s not just enough to do your job, you need to be the lynchpin. Responsibility kind of restricts that, doesn’t it?
Dick: Exactly, Ty. If you live your life in the grip of responsibility, and that’s what a mortgage is all about, I think we deny ourselves the opportunity to take risks. In a sense we shortchange ourselves instead of pursuing a higher calling. In the grip of responsibility, you have essentially given your life over to someone else to do what they want rather than what you want.
Ty: I think we both agree that at a certain level, there’s nothing wrong with being responsible. But at the same time, how do you focus on your dreams? How does that relate to running a business?
Dick: The key is finding some time when you can get out of the mode of thinking the way we do most of the time in business. I suggest one hour, three times a week. Think about, “What’s the moral basis for what I’m doing? What is my higher calling?” Of course you have to be responsible to your bankers and creditors and all that. But my business is really not all about just that. It’s about doing something that nobody else is able to do that’s going to make a difference. If you can think consciously about what your business means to society, you will develop a sense of duty. That gives you courage and backbone that you won’t get anywhere else. It gives you the willingness to put yourself at risk and to persevere. That’s the greatest feeling of joy out there. So many of us deny ourselves of that because we are always laboring under the responsibility to do what somebody else wants us to do. It is worse in big, corporate environments. There’s just not enough conversation about this higher call.
Ty: A lot of people would think that duty and responsibility are synonyms. But in this conversation, they are two very different concepts.
Dick: There’s another idea to sort of split the atom and that is patriotism. When most people think back to our forefathers creating the country, they think they did it out of responsibility. If they were truly being responsible, they would have never created a nation. They would have bowed to King George. They were driven by a sense of duty and it put them at great mortal risk. They wanted to create a nation that would be unimaginably beautiful for the generations that followed. As you know, I’m a military guy. What compels you to do something in the moment that you know is probably the dumbest thing you could ever do, is not a sense of responsibility to your commanding officer. It is a sense of duty to the guy sitting next to you. I believe that a business, especially a small to medium tier business, that is driven by duty, will accomplish things they could never do if they were driven by responsibility.
Ty: This might be considered corny by some people. I am convinced that it is not money that motivates most people. It is a sense of purpose and providing a meaningful value to some effort. That’s what motivates people to perform at their best. We’ve got to get on this band wagon, as business leaders, to strengthen the economy.
Dick: I agree with you 100%. That’s an increasingly important part of the job at the top. The job at the top is to create a maniacal organization committed to do something extraordinary. The “millennials” and “nexters” really get it. Studies were done a couple of years ago that showed people coming out of college were willing to take a 30% pay cut in order to work for a company that they felt was doing something good. I think that’s a growing trend. People at the top of companies are going to find themselves no longer at the top if they think that shouting orders is effective. They will find themselves in a one man charge. I still draw the organizational chart as a pyramid, but it’s upside down. The CEO is still the tip, but it’s at the bottom. That job is to inspire people to do what they would never do on their own. That’s what duty is all about. It’s creating an atmosphere of zeal. Not because you’re going to get something out of it personally, but because it’s just a good thing to do.
Ty: So if I’m a small business owner, or I’m the CEO of a company, and I want to change the paradigm in my organization, how do I do that? What’s the first thing I need to do?
Dick: It links back to 60 Minute CEO. One of the themes in that is you need to spend time alone thinking. What is the purpose of my business? It doesn’t matter if you are finding a drug to cure cancer, or making M16’s. It needs to have a purpose to make the world better and it is our duty to make that happen. It takes time alone thinking in this weird way. I counsel people to take some of that 60 minutes, 3 times a week to start working on one little phrase. The first five words are, “My solemn duty is to…” If you start working on that, it’s going to feel weird for awhile. Eventually you will start having some ideas that are at a level of thought that is way beyond what you spend most of your time at work thinking about. You will find answers that have to do with making other people’s lives better, making our world a better place to be, and making a contribution. Once you get that in your mind, it becomes a moral compass.
Ty: Ok. I’m the CEO. I’ve just heard this and I’ve bought in. I want to do this and the first thing I do tomorrow morning is gather my executive team together and we’re going to sit around the table and talk about this.
Ty: Why is that wrong?
Dick: Because you need to lock yourself in your office and shut off your phone and unplug your computer. Sit down with a big yellow pad in front of you and write the words, “My solemn duty is to…” Sit and look at those words and think about it. It’s hard for people who aren’t practiced at this to spend more than 5 minutes. But if you continue to come back to it, you will find moments in the day, when something totally different is going on, that you will get a blinding idea. It will be compelling to you about how to finish that sentence. Once you get it in your own mind, you can start to talk about it to other people. This is not group work. It’s not the least common denominator. It comes out of an individual’s mind thinking soulfully about how they want to spend their lives.
Ty: I’m going to put you on the spot. You’re in Birmingham, Alabama starting a new venture. Have you figured this out for where you are right now?
Dick: You know the answer to that…of course! I spent about the first 90 days here thinking about what are the core values of this company? What is it’s higher calling and what is it’s purpose? I didn’t dream it up, this company has been here for 35 years. In a sense, it’s a transformation. It’s taking a great company and putting in the infrastructure and the soul, so that it can double and triple and more. I use the metaphor of throwing a stone into a pond. You create a little ripple with the folks you trust most. Then they have a conversation with the next level out. Then they have it with the next and the next. If you ask the people in this company now, “What is the higher calling,” most will say, “LBMF.” That means, “Life’s Best Moments Furnished.” We sell spectacular outdoor furniture. I think it’s the most beautiful stuff in the world. Our purpose is to give people the best moments in their lives through their ownership and use of these products. I have a little cottage on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. I can arrive there at 1:30 in the morning after a horrible 10 hour flight and see this beautiful furniture sitting on the front porch. I can flop down and think to myself, “Life is grand.” It’s our privilege to give these experiences to other people. That’s the higher calling of this company right now and it’s already making a difference in what was already a great company.
Ty: A couple of months ago we talked about how important stories are, especially for employees. They can wrap their head around the mission through stories. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I will think about duty differently. The way you described it is the way we should be running business.
Dick: Think about, “LBMF.” It took awhile to get there, but when it gelled, it was right. It is becoming the moral compass for this business right now. I just know in my heart that if we stick to it, the rest is going to be great.
Patrick: You mentioned flopping down on the Summer Classics furniture at 1:30 in the morning. How does that look to a customer? Is it the experience of the employees? Is it the shipping or the whole presentation? What does it look like?
Dick: It will take us awhile for that to be assimilated into behavior. You get ideas like this intellectually at first then they translate down into emotional resonance. And then from emotional resonance, they drive action and activity. I think when you call this company in 18 months, the phone conversation will be different. The stores are spectacular. I think it’s going to drive even more product. We will get to the point where every decision will be run against, “Does this drive life’s greatest moments?”
Ty: There is a story about the early days of NASA. They were having descent about getting a man on the moon. President Kennedy went down to Florida to figure out what was going on. He stepped into the men’s room and supposedly there was a janitor there sweeping up the floor. The President said, “How are you? What are you doing?” The man said, “I’m putting a man on the moon.” President Kennedy turned around, got back on Air Force One, and flew back to Washington because the janitor knew what the mission was. I think that’s a wonderful story. I hope it’s true.
Dick: I’ve heard it as well and my hunch is that it’s true. I choose to believe that it is. My closing point is that I think there is a man on the moon aspiration in every business in The United States. It just takes the person in charge to recognize it, care about it, and promote it.
Ty: I couldn’t say it better. That was awesome. We appreciate it Dick. This has been a wonderful discussion and I totally agree with what we’ve talked about today.
Dick: Thank you so much. Go to the website and look at Summer Classics.
Patrick: Yes, let’s plug it. It’s summerclassics.com. By the way, as I was looking at the website, I thought, “That would be nice to go home to right now.”
Dick: That’s the idea, to give people those experiences.
Patrick: Dick, thanks for being here.
Dick: I love doing this with you guys so much. My tag line at the end of this is, “Life’s best moments…recorded.”
Patrick: Thanks again. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Just search on Lendio. And of course, if you want to read what we talk about, there’s a transcript every Tuesday morning on Lendio.com/blog. You can also stream the audio there as well. So for Dick Cross, Ty Kiisel, I’m Patrick Wiscombe. Thanks for listening. We will have a fresh edition of the show next Tuesday.
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