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Brett Favre had his own private parking space at the Green Bay Packers practice facility while his offensive linemen who blocked for him parked in the general employee parking lot outdoors a few hundred yards from the facility. They would have to make that walk to the facility every day in feet of snow during the winters in Green Bay.
When Favre retired and Aaron Rodgers took over as starting quarterback he was offered Favre’s parking space and turned it down. He opted instead to park next to his teammates in the outdoor employee lot.
Which leader’s actions do you think engendered greater loyalty and respect among his teammates?
Are you practicing example leadership like Rodgers? Call it whatever you like: practicing what you preach, walking your talk, living the life of your requests, but no matter what you say spoken leadership alone won’t get you far.
Your example is the main thing. You are the book your people read, they are observing and reading your actions and behaviors all the time. To willingly buy in to your initiatives, they demand more than just spoken leadership. They need a model to see, not just a tired old motto to hear. They will only follow your words if, and only if, they are preceded by congruent action. Are you setting the example and modeling the very behavior you want to see from your team? Even something as simple as a parking space sends a loud, clear message about your leadership or a lack thereof.
Several years ago, my friend Paul took a position as Dean of Students at a private college. When I asked him what his first order of business would be he explained that he was going to get rid of his front row, reserved parking space in the parking lot adjacent to his office. With enrollment growth, the campus had developed a parking problem. Quite simply there were too many vehicles and not enough spaces. At the outset of his tenure, Paul decided he was going make a very clear statement to those he was charged with leading. I’m going to suffer the same hardship as everyone else while we attempt to solve this problem together.
Contrast this with the institution I was working at during the same time. The Dean of Student Affairs was charged with the responsibility of solving its campus parking problem. He created a committee to study the number of spaces available for students and they decided to install parking meters in the parking lots designated for library and academic buildings.
They believed the students were abusing the privilege of having a vehicle on campus by parking for extended periods of time in academic lots. My feeling was there is no better way to ensure your students don’t stay for extra help after class and don’t make a habit of studying in the library than to “have the meter running” on their time in academic facilities. I thought they should compare the student body’s GPA’s pre-parking meters vs. post-parking meters. I’d bet the mortgage that the collective GPA (and intelligence) of the entire campus went down significantly after those meters were installed.
To satisfy my own curiosity I asked the Dean how many student spaces the campus was short in comparison to the number of registered student vehicles. Then I walked around and counted the number of parking spaces reserved for the president, vice-presidents and other administrators, including the very Dean responsible for solving the problem. Wouldn’t you know those two totals were almost identical.
The single greatest source of revenue at an institution is tuition; which makes your students your customers. Shouldn’t your customers receive priority parking? Retailers (and Aaron Rodgers) understand this better than anyone. It is common practice for retail employees to park in the back of the lot and leave the closest spaces for the customers.
A former consulting client of mine received anonymous feedback from their employees that they feel the owners are “getting rich off their backs.” I explained that it was probably in part because through their actions they gave the impression they valued themselves more than their employees’ contributions to the company. When the hourly wage warehouse employee walks 200 yards across a muddy unpaved parking lot filled with puddles to get to the front door of the office he is greeted by several paved parking spaces labelled “Reserved for the President and CEO” where he would see their Ferrari and Cadillac parked.
If you don’t want people to be resentful of the inequality in your salaries, don’t rub their noses in it. It is a good reminder for leaders to reflect on the fact that if it weren’t for the efforts of the little guys, they wouldn’t be the big guys. And in the case of Green Bay, if it weren’t for the offensive line, the quarterback wouldn’t be getting rich throwing touchdown passes.
On the flipside, a coaching client of mine named Chad is a very successful salesperson, and the president of his company is extremely proud of the fact that his top sales people make significantly more in annual salary than he does. He makes it a point to invite each of them to his office and personally hand them their commission checks. He wants it that way and when someone asked him why a sales person would make more than the company president he said “Easy, they deserve it and earn it. They have much tougher jobs than I do.” (I’ve seen their parking lot. Reserved spaces for “management” don’t exist there.)
The leadership lesson of these stories is never asking more of your people than you are willing to give yourself. When you do this, people will want to work their tails off for a leader like you. Great leaders don’t talk a good game, they walk a good game.
The best leaders are always the hardest workers on any type of team. When I was coaching, my best team captains were always the hardest working players. Day in and day out, teammates consistently saw their leaders be the first to show up at practice and the last to leave and then saw them working out in the weight room after practice. After observing their hard work and dedication to improving their bodies and their game, when the leader made a request of his teammates, or even demanded a little more of them, what type of response do you think that was met with? They would dig deep and give a little more, knowing they weren’t being asked to do something their team leader wasn’t already doing. They saw them walking their talk and knew they weren’t being asked to do anything their leaders weren’t already doing.
When you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, over time you will lose the trust of your team. So I ask you again: Where are you parking? It just might tell everyone who and what you value most.