I recently read Mary Barra’s 2014 commencement address at the University of Michigan, and this part of her speech jumped out at me.
“Don’t wait to be invited to important meetings, or asked to work on crucial assignments. Instead, do whatever it takes to ensure that you work in the middle of your business. Speak up. Volunteer. Show your enthusiasm. Knock on doors.”
I am lucky to be surrounded by some amazing people at YinzCam, people who keep me going on my worst days, people who make me want to work harder, people who inspire me to dig deeper. It’s the thought of these people that gets me through yet another red-eye flight, yet another road-trip, yet another hotel room, yet another all-nighter.
Mary Barra’s words got me thinking about the qualities that I prize in the people whom I rely on every single day.
Being outspoken. My best people call out any problems we are facing, unflinchingly warn me before we screw up, openly debate what is right or wrong with our products/people/strategy, thoughtfully convince me about what they think we should focus on, advise me on what to accelerate/decelerate, and more. My best people are my inner voice of reason and my conscience. I trust them implicitly. When they speak, I listen immediately.
Being business-aligned. My best people align themselves with the needs of our business. They understand what our strengths are, and how we can work to make them stronger. They understand what our weaknesses are, and are always looking for ways to fix them. They will willingly, unhesitatingly, uncomplainingly, enthusiastically do whatever it takes, when something is strategic for our business. They will step up, time and again, when it matters to the future of our company.
Being reputation-sensitive. My best people take our reputation in the marketplace seriously. They never want to do anything that makes us look bad, weak, negligent, or incompetent. They do more, not less, and without anyone asking them to. They obsess over the quality of our products, and take it to heart when anyone disparages us. They never want to do anything that we need to apologize for.
Holding themselves accountable. My best people hold themselves accountable for the work that they produce. When they make a mistake, they will be the first to disclose it, even if nobody else has noticed that anything was broken. When they make a mistake, big or small, I am guaranteed to hear from them first, with an apology, and a complete candid explanation, not just of the problem, but also of the resolution that they are already implementing. It takes a big person to apologize, to take ownership of a situation, and to ensure that the problem never recurs; that’s the stuff these people are made of.
Being fearless. My best people are unafraid of challenges, of big ideas, of the effort in implementing them, or the unknown difficulties that lie ahead of us as we grow our company. They put every naysayer out there to shame with their roll-up-their-sleeves-and-get-it-done attitude. The bigger the idea, the more enthusiastic they become. The more tricky the problem, the more fun they find in overcoming it. The more ambitious the undertaking, the more quickly they sign up to lead the charge.
Being curious. My best people are curious about every aspect of our business. They keep up to speed on the competition, on other products out there, on best practices, new design principles, and new technologies. They are constantly experimenting and tinkering to make our products and our processes better, all on their own time and their own steam. They are always learning, always seeking to know more, and always finding ways to put into practice what they learn.
These fearless, ambitious, accountable, outspoken, curious people are the ones whom I feel fortunate to have by my side, every single day. These are the people whom I trust to nudge me before I make a mistake, not commiserate with me after I’ve made one. These are the people whom I consistently go to, for every big idea and every difficulty that I am wrestling with. These are the people who take initiative because they care, and who don’t simply sit around, waiting to be asked. These people are the leaders that form the indispensable backbone of my company, and who are already living Mary Barra’s words by example every single day.