When I came across Ron Wallace’s book, Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver: Delivering a Culture of We, Not Me, I couldn’t put it down. (You can read my review of it here.)
Ron is the former president of UPS International. During his tenure, he was responsible for operations in more than 200 countries and territories and had more than 60,000 people under his direction. He also served on the corporate management committee that oversaw the day-to-day operations of UPS and its 435,000 employees.
Ron’s primary business is artist development. His company is Number One Group based in Nashville. He represents Cherie Oakley and Lance and Lea. Please check them out on his web site, www.number-one-group.com.
When I reached out to Ron to ask him about his experiences at UPS and beyond, he agreed to answer some questions about the book and his experiences. His responses and my questions are below.
Jay: In the chapter on building a successful team you pose the leadership question: do I play my “five best” or my “best five”? Can you explain what the differences are and your advice on which five to play?
Ron: Playing the best five sets an atmosphere where the chemistry mixes and creates a team that works well together. On a long project, they must play off of each other’s strengths and skills. If there is one or two that believe they are above the rest they will take over. Their behavior is opposite of leadership. It is their profile which normally surfaces as aggressive and dictative.
The other team members will slowly contribute less and feel intimidated. As stated in the book most of the time it is a team effort that brings the end results, no superstars, no heroes. And still, ability matters and should seek out highly skilled people. If they can use those attributes and be a team player that is a winning combination. This can be argued a lot of different ways, but I believe a team that works towards a common goal will bring lasting results and everyone shares in the credit.
Jay: Early in the book you wrote about a “Culture of We” and often use the phrase “we, not me.” You describe the importance of creating and maintaining this cultural environment. How did you accomplish it and what’s your advice to current entrepreneurs and business owners on how to establish it and protect it?
Ron: First, although hard to admit, most top executives can only do one or two things really well. If they try to do too much or micro-manage they will slow down progress and deflate the morale of others who most often can do specialized tasks better. Hire, train, hold accountable is the key.
Next is looking at the big picture. Allow people to do their jobs and stay out of the way. Be a super delegator. Realize that people that are schooled, trained, experienced, and work the job day in and day out know that particular part of the business better than they do. Be a leader, not a boss. Growth will happen, morale will peak, and life will be better for everyone, especially for the executive level managers. The top managers, at least the wise ones, understand that it is the people that makes or breaks a leader and their efforts can make a company successful or otherwise. Your team is a reflection of the CEO beliefs. They are your eyes, ears, hands and feet on the job. Let them be the ambassadors of your company.
Your job is to provide the vision, make it interesting, challenging, and fun. Again, don’t be a boss acting alone, be a leader and focus on building a culture of WE, Not Me. At UPS it was not what I personally did, it is what everyone does. It is about involving people in decisions, share the vision, make them part of it. They are not hired hands. They need to be heard, their ideas considered. Lots of pieces to building a culture but unless you have a company without people it can be summarized in two words. “People Relationships.”
Jay: In your “ready, aim, fire” discussion, the four right questions you recommend asking are “what,” “how,” “who,” and “why” which are aligned, as you put it, to your mission, your strategy, your team, and your vision. You state in your “why” section that while “what,” “who,” and “how” are natural questions, the most important one might be “why”? Can you expand on that?
Ron: If people understand why the leader of the company is doing something, they will be more willing to engage. If it is a directive and they are just to blindly follow along, it will be much more difficult and may even bring resistance. Unless it is top secret, I can’t think of a single reason not to involve employees every step of the way. Get their input, wide open discussion, full visibility. Answer the questions. Get buy in. Share the vision. People will follow a vision; they buy into why you want to do it more than what you want to accomplish. I have to quote from the book to summarize.
“Once the people you deal with recognize what you do springs from an honest heart, they will be surprisingly strong in their support of you. They will believe what you say. They will do what you want. They will give you their loyalty. They will trust and follow you.”
Jay: Do you find as you consult with companies now in the evolving business atmosphere and competitive environment that your “UPS learned experience” is still applicable? If not, how have you adapted your business advice?
Ron: I appreciate things have changed since I was in the corporate world. I know what I don’t know and hesitate to address areas that I am unfamiliar with. However, I truly believe some things stay the same and it is the people that make a company grow and be successful. They do that out of loyalty and that is because their leaders understand that people relationships are more important than anything else they can do.
Jay: I’m really curious about your Indigo Restaurant, Crabapple Mercantile Exchange, and the Old Blind Dog Irish Pub. I’m sure my followers and friends would want to know the influence your successful UPS journey has on your current activity. Did you bring some of that experience into your Milton, GA, holdings and investments?
Ron: I try to get our managers in all of our operations to work under a culture that brings people to the forefront. (Leadership Lessons from a UPS Driver is required reading and going through the study guide is a frequent practice). We know there is a restaurant on every corner, most have good food, most have good atmosphere, most have good service, and most have good locations. So how do we do it better? We recognize we are not in the food business; we are in the people business.
We take care of each other, especially our employees, and in turn they take care of our guests. The other things are easy and obvious. I bring a lot of experience to the restaurants, everything from engineering to marketing, financial and some legal expertise. But, if I could only contribute one thing, it would be to make our managers good “people-people.”
Many thanks to Ron for being a guest on my blog.
You can purchase Ron’s insightful book here. I strongly recommend that you read it, internalize it, and share it.