On January 4, 2014 the University of Texas hired Charlie Strong as their new head football coach. The cupboards weren’t exactly full in Austin when he arrived as he inherited a 4-8 squad and had a rebuilding project on his hands. In just two short years he’s already on the hot seat for not turning their fortunes around fast enough. And even though his team knocked off the #8 ranked Baylor Bears Saturday there’s speculation he might be fired at the end of the season. If that’s the case, I believe it’s the University’s loss. There are no quick fixes or short cuts, it requires time and effort. But we live in an era where too many people expect microwave results in a crock pot world so to speak.
Strong has taken the right approach shaping his team’s culture and it’s unfortunate many haven’t noticed. You simply can’t build a high rise without a solid foundation, and that foundation is built on trust.
Trust is the most foundational element of where he started with the team when he arrived in Austin and it should be the same starting point for you with your people. Charlie Strong knew a solid foundation with his team couldn’t be built without trust and building solid relationships with each team member. In every industry, there’s a direct correlation between relationships and championships because great teams have great teammates.
Until you know your people really well, you can’t possibly relate to them or understand them much less lead them effectively. How do you get to know your people well? You remove barriers and constraints.
When he was hired in January of 2014 Strong had the locks removed from the doors to the coaches offices and encouraged the players to come up to the office and spend time with them. What a subtle yet powerful leadership message… We trust you and we are highly accessible to you.
Previously the access to the facility was so limited Strong and his coaches had to start by calling players and invite them to come to the office to show them they truly were accessible.
In my work as an executive coach, I’m amazed at how many organizations don’t allow their people access into the building and even within the building for that matter. If you can’t trust someone with a key to the building, why did you hire them? If you don’t allow certain employees or departments access to other areas of the building, don’t be surprised when there are silos built up and teamwork suffers.
When leaders ask me why I think their team isn’t firing on all cylinders, I usually end up telling them they need to spend more time taking a genuine interest in the lives of their people and then the results will follow. Why? Because #1 It means you’re listening and #2 Your people will know you care. (As cliche as it may sound, they really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.) You fix the relationships and the championships will follow.
A second thing Coach Strong has done is to make sure he doesn’t ask his players to do anything he doesn’t do himself. When he instituted 6 am strength and conditioning sessions in the off-season, the first players to arrive would find their coach there drenched in sweat because he had arrived a full hour earlier to workout. Strong wakes up at 4:30 every morning to run 5-6 miles. When the players arrive, he lifts weights with them.
You’ll notice a common thread with what Strong has done with the culture, he has led by example. Here are six ways you can lead by example, build trust and be more accessible in the process.
6 Ways You Can Get To Know Your People Better:
1. Round on your people, like doctors check the charts and round on patients in the hospital. Set a designated time each day and go visit your employees. “Check their vitals so to speak” by finding out how they are doing and what you can help them with.
2. Have an open door. Not all the time because that invites constant interruptions but set aside office hours when your people know they can walk in, sit down and talk to you about anything.
3. Bait the hook. If you’re going to have an open door, make it worth walking in. Beside the fact that you’re going to be welcoming, offer something else up that makes your office a destination for team members. Have a large candy dish, it will encourage people to swing by, grab a handful of candy and in the process spark a conversation. You can also do what one of my clients does, he set up a charging station in the corner of his office. Make a variety of cell phone and iPad chargers available to use at a moment’s notice. This not only gets them in the office, it also get them back in when they return for their device.
4. Break bread. Whether it’s bringing in breakfast and feeding your team or making sure everyone gets out of the office and eats a real lunch this gives you an opportunity to interact in a more casual setting with your people. It’s amazing how sharing food helps people open up.
5. The Bat Phone: Be accessible to your people outside of work. When Commissioner Gordon needed Bruce Wayne (aka Bat Man) at any time day or night, he knew he was just a phone call away on the red bat phone. You can’t outsource personal attention.
6. Tear Down That Wall. Less walls, shared work-spaces, more transparency. What you lose in privacy you gain in synergy. A college athletic director once asked me to advise him on how to create more synergy among his coaching staff. Each coach had a modest sized, private office. I encouraged him to rip down the walls and create an open concept environment. That was the only change made and less than a year later he couldn’t have been happier with his staff’s synergy and communication with one another.
And, you could always remove the locks from all the doors. How do you build trust with your team? Let me know…