It all started with a simple meeting request. My manager asked me to join the Director of Learning, Anne and the General Manager of Organizational Effectiveness, John in a meeting to discuss my role in “Renewal,” the largest organizational change initiative our department had ever implemented. Renewal’s purpose was simple: To create a customer centric organization where business results flourish. However, Implementing “Renewal” was anything but simple. It would require sweeping changes in the organization’s vision, goals, roles and responsibilities, work processes and even relationships for the 20,000 employees.
For eighteen months a team of seven facilitators delivered two weeks’ worth of materials to more than four hundred front line managers and senior leaders in thirteen cities. Most people would think that the lesson learned came from the leadership content we prepared and delivered. But the truth is the real learning’s came from the process of delivering these sessions.
During the eighteen months we were inspired by Anne and John’s leadership style. They had a vision for our project, but they actively sought our ideas and suggestions and made changes along the way. Anne and John ensured that we were given assignments and responsibilities that clearly pushed us past our self-imposed limitations and boundaries and at the same time utilized our unique talents and gifts.
As I reflected on this experience, I believe the turning point for our team came after we trained 120 mangers in New York, our fourth city. By now everyone including our leaders realized that we needed very little direction and that we were operating like a well oiled machine. It seemed that John had come to rely on me to both manage the training logistics as well as take the lead facilitator role.
As we prepared to leave New York, I asked John if he would be willing to allow our team to share the leadership role. This would give everyone the opportunity to grow their capabilities and take ownership and responsibility for a project. With John’s blessings, we shifted the leadership role for the remaining nine cities. This change was the single defining factor that moved our team from being very effective to high performing.
When the project came to an end in Seattle after eighteen months, John and Anne shared their last leadership lesson which was to take time to recognize your team. It’s funny, out of all that was done in our honor: Touring Pike’s Market, Cruising Puget Sound, as well as a delicious, celebratory dinner; what I valued most was how John thanked each one of us. You see, he had taken the time to find out something personal about us over the eighteen months we’d spent together. He then proceeded to give us a gift that reflected our unique personalities, interests and gifts as he thanked us for our contributions.
While this experience is now a part of my past, the lessons learned are always present. In fact when I speak about leadership or work with teams, I let them know that I am forever grateful that when I was a student ready to learn that both Anne and John appeared.