We kick off Season 2 of Stories of Creative Leadership with Mark Fernandes, Chief Leadership Officer, Luck Companies.
[Complete transcription below:]
Some highlights from the conversation:
What is Value Based Leadership?
The importance of the Values Journey. It’s one thing to proclaim this…it’s quite another to live it day after day…
How an organization that “crushes rocks and detonates TNT, can value creativity….”
VBL requires vigilance, intention, and purpose.
Mark offers a particularly insightful presentation of the importance of courage.
Not only do you need a business plan, you need a “culture” plan! And you must acknowledge that you can actually measure culture!
Having a passion for inspiring people to believe in themselves and become everything they are capable of becoming, Mark is charged with transforming Luck Companies into a global Values Based Leadership (VBL) organization.
In his role as Chief Leadership Officer, he serves as a thought leader for the ongoing development of the VBL ideology and model, and is responsible for the integration of VBL within Luck Companies.
Mark’s work also extends beyond Luck Companies’ doors and includes sharing the VBL model through mentoring, speaking, teaching, and consulting with organizations of all sizes, across all industries and all geographies.
Mark is an active member of the Mason Center for Social Entrepreneurship and was recently selected as one of the 100 Top Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business 2014 by Trust Across America and Switch and Shift’s Top 75 Human Business Champions.
His genuine interest in helping people flourish is fueled by his deeply held belief in the extraordinary potential of all human beings and peoples’ ability to experience an exceptional quality of life once their potential is actualized.
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Tony Vengrove founded Miles Finch Innovation with the goal of helping companies shatter the cultural barriers that interfere with corporate innovation. He’s an innovation omnivore with a passion for fostering creative thinking in organizations.
Drawing upon more that twenty years of experience in global ad agencies like Grey, Saatchi & Saatchi, and F500 roles in brand marketing, business development, and corporate innovation, Tony knows first-hand what it takes to lead innovation and commercialize ideas.
COMPLETE AUDIO TRANSCRIPTION:
TODD: Good Morning and welcome back to season two of the Stories of Creative Leadership. I am your host, Todd Schnick. Joined by my friend and colleague, Tony Vengrove. Hello to you sir and wow am I looking forward to season two.
TONY: Likewise. It’s good to hear you again, and boy we have a great season lined up for everybody.
TODD: Yeah, I’m looking forward to get into it. If season two is anything like season one, then we’re in for a treat as is our audience. So if you were with us for season one, then you’re well aware of the import of creative leadership. Tony inform the audience that may be new listen to this series about why creative leadership is so important.
TONY: Sure Todd. Well as you know, I kind of exited out of corporate innovation myself, realizing that there was a big void in the academic, and practitioner literature around innovation, and leading innovation. And that is specifically around the softer skills that are really necessary to lead innovation and foster a creative climate in a corporate setting.
So in season one we talked about the seven Cs of creative leadership. Which were seven Cs ranging from communication, curiosity, courage, that were all around creating a conversation about what leaders can do on a day to day basis to really create the conditions for others to be creative and innovated in an organization. And you know, perhaps my favorite quote from Warren Bennis that really brings creative leadership to life is this one, he said, “There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance, or one can create an environment which singers and dancers can flourish.
So in season two what we’re going to do is we’re going to invite another great line-up of guest to come and share their stories from the front lines. What they’re doing day in and day out to drive innovation in their organization. And what they do to foster a creative culture.
TODD: All right, let’s get right to it. So Tony why don’t you tell us a little bit about today’s guest and why he is next up in the series.
TONY: Well I had the pleasure of meeting Mark Fernandes when I lived and worked down in Richmond, Virginia. Mark is the Chief Leadership Officer at Luck Companies. They’re located down in the same neck of the woods. And as we know, Mark is a very compelling leadership figure. And he’s really on the rise, and on the leadership scene. In fact he was just listed on Inc, 100 Great Leadership Speaker list that was just recently published. He’s a great guy and I think the audience is really going to love to hear his insights.
Luck Companies is an aggregates company. And as Mark told us, that’s a fancy way of saying they’re the modern Flintstones. They basically are a quarry business and they crush rocks. And a few years ago they ran into some challenging times and it was really the owner’s commitment to become a values based company that reset the trajectory. And not only put the company back on a path of growth, but unleashed a whole bunch of innovation and creativity in the organization. Expanded their business into new markets. And oh by the way, unleashed a whole bunch of new, or enhanced employee engagement up and down the line. It’s a fabulous story.
TODD: Well I think the audience is going to absolutely adore this gentleman. I mean talk about a genuine guy. There is a lot of guys that talk about values based leadership, it’s a different matter to actually really believe it down to his core. And he clearly does. And it really struck me when we talk to him. And Tony, when talking about executing values based leadership, what I really liked him saying was the idea of you have to be on this values journey, I never thought of it that way before. I he made it clear, it’s going to be hard, it will change and evolve, and it will never end. And as he said, it will require constant vigilance, attention, and purpose.
TONY: Absolutely. And we spoke during that part of the conversation, and he acknowledged that in some ways determining what the values are that you are going to be stakes in the ground, is almost the easy part. It’s the next day when you have to start living those values and begin the journey that the real challenge begins.
You know the other thing that I really walked away, that I found fascinating was when Mark shared the values of Luck Companies with us. And he noted that one of the values for this aggregates company, was creativity. And we had a really interesting conversation about what it was like for this management to address the company that’s used to just, you know, detonating TNT in the quarry, to talk about creativity being a value. So I think the keep take away for the audience to listen for is if this aggregates company can become a more creative company, anybody can become a more creative company.
TODD: Yeah Tony I couldn’t agree more. And I’m sure you’ve had this conversation with a lot of people who said, “Yeah I get what you’re saying, but it doesn’t really apply to my organization. We do things a little bit differently.” The key learning here is that an organization that crushes rocks can be innovative and creative. That is critical, and that’s really, really important from the conversation that we had with him. And it’s going to require change right. I mean, the other thing I found striking with our conversation is that when you talked about making impactful change to your culture, yeah you need a business plan, but you need a culture plan, which I found very intriguing. And he talks about how they can actually measure culture, which I found fascinating.
TONY: Yeah and I thought it was also interesting that he made a specific point, he made two specific points, one was, that culture plan is larger than the overall business plan, which is interesting. And secondly he said when they get the results of the engagement survey, he treats that as the most important day of the year at their organization.
TODD: Well, and the numbers and results have certainly proven that we probably ought to get to the conversation. One final comment though, I was really, really stuck by how powerful is conversation was around the necessity of courage. I mean, I think he did a better job in a couple sentences of explaining courage than you and I did in season one.
TONY: Yeah well, I think we hit on a lot of the seven Cs in the conversation. But I found when we talk about courage, there’s a lot of emotion, and I think a lot of poignant moments where everybody kind of opens up about the fear and the risk taking that’s involved around creative and innovative endeavors. I think, recalling back to Ivy Ross in season one, she said, “Nothing great can happen without courage.” And Mark took a very similar approach to that principle.
TODD: All right, well let’s get to it then. That’s it from Tony and Todd. We have to take a quick break, but up next, enjoy our conversation with Mark Fernandes of Luck Companies. We’ll
be right back.
This program is brought to you by Miles Finch Innovation, LLC. A creative consultancy that is passionate about idea, imagination, and facilitating a culture of innovation. Miles Finch Innovation helps companies navigate the messy territory of corporate innovation. There’s strategic thinking partners who can help you get unstuck and identify creative solutions to your toughest challenges. They also love to train and speak on the subject of creative leadership. Learn more about how they can help you at MilesFinchInnovation.com. Miles Finch Innovation, Ideacentric, strategically driven, human like conscious.
TODD: All right, Todd and Tony back with you. And as promised we are now joined by Mark Fernandes, the Chief Leadership Officer with Luck Companies. Mark welcome to the show.
MARK: Thanks Todd, Tony, it’s great to be here.
TODD: Good to have you. Thanks for carving out some very valuable time to join us. Tony and I are very much looking forward to this conversation. Before we get into however, do take a quick second, inform us a bit about you and your background. And then tell us a bit about Luck Companies.
MARK: Sure. I actually just celebrated, it’s hard to believe, my 25th year here. So I joined the company in 1989, previously I was a bouncer and a stone mason. So I have an interesting background. But it certainly made sense to try and get into a company that fit with me, and a stone company it was. And over the course of the years, you know Todd, I went from being in inside sales, and then I ran a division, and then I became president of multiple division. And in the last six years, I believe, I took on this role of Chief Leadership Officer.
The roles an interesting one. And it has an inside/outside set of responsibilities. We have a model that we’ll talk about today, called Value Based Leadership. That model is the activator of our company mission. Which is to ignite human potential through values based leadership. And positively impact lives around the word. So there’s a team of us that really do two things. We’re constantly evolving the model, which, you know, is an ideology, it’s a philosophy, and then it’s also very specific set up processes, models, tool, rituals, and programs that we bring to life every day inside the company.
So we’re constantly evolving the model, working inside with our 850-900 associates. Because we believe leadership is a choice not a title. And then we turn around and we share it with the world as part of our mission. So that’s the inside/outside responsibility. And that’s what we do, and that’s what I do.
TONY: That’s great Mark. And again welcome to the show, and congratulations on your 25 year milestone, that’s fantastic. Hey Todd I had the privilege of getting to know Mark. I’ve known him for a few years now during my time in Richmond, Virginia. And the story of the transformation of Luck Companies is a really intriguing one. And so Mark, as we kick this off, can you just share with the audience, just tell a little bit about who Luck Companies is. I’m not sure everybody knows that they’re a successful aggregates company. But just tell a little bit about the company and the transformation. Where it was, and let’s set the stage for how values based leadership complete transformed this organization.
MARK: Okay Tony. You know the short version, we are almost a 92 year old, family owned, family run, we call ourselves construction materials company. But predominantly the majority of what we do is an aggregates. And we do it, for the most part, in the state of Virginia, and we spread a little bit in our businesses in the Mid-Atlantic. When you look at us, we’re in our third generation. And the company was founded by Charles Luck Jr. in 1923 as a 25 year old entrepreneur with six guys and a single quarry.
What was fascinating Tony, and kind of what sets the stage for all of this is, back during that time where we were in the heart of the command and control era of leadership. The leadership manual is one sentence, “Do what I say, find a way to like it.” And yet his philosophy was, “If I do right by my people, they will do right by me.” So think about that right back in the 20s. That’s quite different.
And the beautiful thing about family owned businesses, is family values will typically pass generation to generation. And his values passed to his son Charles Luck III who took over the company in 1955. And coined the phrase and tagline, “We Care.” So this love affair that we had with our six associates in 1923, continued forward. And Charles plastered “We Care” on our truck, on our signs. And he himself, you know, when I started the company, he was still president and CEO. And he knew everybody Tony. Twice a year he would come around, he’d shake your hand.
What was interesting is he’d ask you one question. He’s say, “How’s your family?” And so we had this high afflictive DNA about us, relationship, caring. His son, Charles Luck IV, my boss, took over in 1995. And I wasn’t kidding, I did go to NC State, I went for an extended period of time and I wasn’t a great student. Charlie, he went to VMI, and then he became a NASCAR driver for a while. So you got this NASCAR driver, you’ve got this kind of bouncer, old jock guy running the company in 1995. And we decided we were going to get all Harvard smart and grow the company. That was probably our first mistake of many.
The rest of the story, we grew like crazy. Four or five years we went from 300 associates to almost 1300. Sales up 400%, cash flow 900%. So the money was piling up, but the only thing that piled up higher was the dysfunction. And that was the point that all this started. And looking back on it now, what we realize is that, you know, we sort of out grew the hand shake. And this culture, how things get done around here, started splintering as we were just hiring and hiring without any good HR process, without any good thought. And the culture just took over. And we got quite messy.
And then in 2003 we started our values journey. And the first message to us as the officer group was if we wanted anything to change around here, we the leaders had to go first. That was how the values journey started, and we have been at it. We are actually in what we call Values Based Leadership 3.0 at this point. But we had a second big step function in the work in 2009. And here we are today. And what we’ve really done is just, if I was to sum it up, is to kind of take this love affair with our associates, this obsession about them, and figure out a way to make sure and keep that alive in a much bigger company through this model called Values Based Leadership.
TONY: Wow, there’s so much to unwrap there Mark. You know it’s interesting, the first question I want to follow up with is that tagline “We Care” that was in existence prior, the more recent part of a Luck Companies here. I’m just curious, was that still on the walls, on the side of the trucks, as you guys were growing, and the dysfunction started to take place? Was that still there? Or had the company moved on to another kind of mantra?
MARK: Gosh you’re making me think back Tony. That’s such a great question. What I would say is it was still there, but the company moved on.
TONY: Yeah I was kind of curious because, you know, it sounded like one of those instances where a company had their values up on the wall, but every employee said, “We’re not walking the talk.” So everybody kind of knew it, but it took a while for leadership to kind of wake up and say, “Hey we actually got to start walking the talk again.”
MARK: It really did. It’s so interesting that you asked that because that’s what we talk about now, is to make sure that it’s not just words on the wall. And I believe that’s what it became.
TONY: So as the leadership team committed to values based leadership, can you talk a little bit more about how you determines what the company values were? And how did you guys, as a team, get on the same page about how you were going to start demonstrating these values so that they filters through the rest of the organization?
MARK: Another great question.
TONY: I mean was that difficult? Did it take time?
MARK: It was difficult and it took 18 months. We basically, you know, we stayed behind closed doors every quarter two or three days per quarter. And we recognized that two things needed to happen. One was that we really needed to think about what this company truly valued, how we could get it down on paper, institutionalize it, and then operationalize it. But a really critical part of that, and we have this sort of path forward on how you build a value based company. And we call it addressing the leaders in place.
So while we were developing values, and equally as important, the attitude, action, and behavior that were evidence of each of our four values, we also went to work on understanding each of ourselves better. There was 13-14 officers at the time. Because then what we had to do Tony was, look at ourselves in the mirror and go, “How well is my attitude to action behavior aligned with what we say we want in the company.” Because that in and in itself is the number one way you’re going to change the culture is by the leaders modeling the way. People are professional boss watchers. The culture will be a shadow of the leaders.
So during the 18 months it was get really tight on what those values are, and how can each of us do a better job walking in alignment with them. So when we emerged, it was funny, even before we went public with them, you already started to hear people talk about, you know, my personal story is I define myself a recovering jerk. You can imagine what goes along with being a bouncer and athlete. And it’s not a pretty picture on the human side.
Well people are already starting to notice, “Mark’s trying to do, seems like he’s trying to do something different here.” Takes a long time. And then we went public with the values. So 18 months of work, getting them down on paper, not just the words themselves, there’s four of them, but how do we define them, and what are the attitude action behaviors. And then how do we be sure the leaders model the way. The last piece on it Tony, another, again we don’t give a lot of advice, we can only ask people to consider. When we thought about our values, we thought about two things. How do we preserve the core of this company, which has been so wonderful for such a long time, while also innovating for the future?
So we have four values. And at the time, integrity and commitment, that’s what this company was built on okay. But as we look to the future, we realized we needed to really embrace two other values. One was leadership, and the second was creativity. So the companies are doing pretty well and they’ve been around for a while, you want to be careful and make sure you preserve what is good about the organization, while also looking ahead.
TODD: Mark I love this idea of the values journey. And I suspect there’s two journeys that you have to be mindful of. One is the organizational journey, but as you said, this does involve humans and individuals and so there’s their individual journeys as well. And the main point I want to make here, I mean, you said it took 18 months of work to determine those values. But this process, this journey, never ends right? I mean this requires constant love and attention, and focus because people in organization and in the business world, it’s all evolving and it’s all cyclical. But this is a never ending process right?
MARK: Brilliant Todd, absolutely. You know, we’re human beings, we’re not perfect beings. And there’s so many, you know, life right, gets in the way all the time. As do ego and fear, and all the other things that are so interesting about human beings. I’m trying to think of the right word, but I think of words like vigilant, and purposeful, and intentional, and it’s day to day. And it can even be interaction to interaction that you want to be so aware of who you are, and how you’re showing up, and what you want your story of your life to be for this to really work.
And then the other thing you bring up Todd, is conditions change. So every five years we look at our values. While we haven’t changed the four values yet, we’ll go in and we’ll say, “How well are these behaviors going to serve us as the future world of work evolves? And we’re doing it again right now. But it is a journey. It will go on forever.
TONY: Hey Mark I want to ask a follow-up question. But before I ask that question, I’m not sure everybody in the audience understands what aggregates are, or all the different parts of the business that you guys play in. Can you just briefly summarize that before I ask my question?
MARK: Sure. So the company itself has four business units. Construction aggregates, for those that can remember, think Fred Flintstone. We call ourselves the modern day Fred Flintstone. We make little rocks out of big rocks. And we’re really good at it. So we have quarries that we are mining aggregates, construction aggregates. And they are going to roads, and buildings, and bridges, and asphalt, and concrete. That’s the sole of this company. That’s what we’ve been doing for 92 years.
We have three other businesses, Luck Stone Center, and that’s more up high end stone products. Most people know granite countertops, stone house front, landscape materials. Our third business is Har-Tru Sports. So we acquired into the clay court, tennis material business about 12-15 years ago. We supplied the aggregate that went into the making of the manufactured clay surface. We eventually bought the business, we acquired the Har-Tru brand, and we actually distribute that product globally. And then we are in real-estate, Luck Development Companies. We are in the process of standing up a non-profit, yet to be named, that we will use as our mechanism to continue to share our values based leadership with the world. So yeah four profit business, one non-profit.
TONY: Great and thank you for that because the reason why I wanted everybody to understand that essentially, you know, you guys are the modern day Flintstones, is when you unveiled those values for the first time, and in challenges circumstances, and a lot of our businesses, basically digging up and crushing rock. How was it received when you guys stood up and said, “One of our values of creativity?” I mean how did you position that, how did you demonstrate that value once you unveiled it. Because I am sure a lot of people listening right now are working in a culture where they’re dying for more creativity to be expressed in their culture and they just don’t know how to make it happen.
MARK: So if we back up just a little bit, two interesting dynamics at roll out. So even though we were patient, we worked hard, we heard two things. One is, “Who the heck are you to tell me what I value. I already have values.” Very classic. And then the second one was, “Don’t worry this will go away. It’s flavor of the month time.” So you get used to that in terms of the steps of learning for any organization. Again we understand that now, we didn’t understand it then. But we were sure committed. So we had to weather the classic great change model.
Creativity Tony, our biggest stretch. And it remains our biggest stretch. A couple things that we did do, you know, we said, It’s about helping people understand what it means in the context of what we do. It’s like, “Come on guys, we get the stone out of the ground.” Well I believe we were the first aggregate operation to run a man-less plant 24hrs at night. So we automated our plants, this was years ago, where they can actually run at night when nobody’s here. I think even way back in the day, we might have been the first move from steam to electricity.
So when you look back over the history of the company, you could actually see elements of creativity in an environment where ideas and innovation add value is how we defined it. What we did was, number one, try to point out versus, hey this is the future, but it’s not new to us. So any time we saw somebody doing something that looked like it, we would ties it to the value.
The second thing, I would say, and this is one of those, do more often, avoid at all cost around creativity and innovation. You know there’s a great body of work done back in the 40s. A guy name Bowen, Bowen System Theory. And he actually did it around families, but then they realized it applied to organizations. And the theory is this, it says, an organization, or a family, is a system. The system outputs message. Those messages become the rules by which the system functions, or becomes dysfunctional. And then what we know, when we think about a system of an organization or family, that mom and dad kind of own the messages in the family. The leaders own the messages in the organizations.
What we realize is that in the question, and what our vigilance is around, what kind of messages are we sending around out creativity value. And it’s not, Tony the most important part, it’s not the covert ones that kill you, it’s the ones you don’t know about. I can’t remember if I’m getting that backwards. I haven’t talked about this in a while. The ones that you’re not thinking about are the ones that get you in trouble.
So in other words, someone comes up to you with a new idea, what do you do? Someone sends you an article about something crazy out in the world, how do you respond? Somebody wears some type of different clothing to work, what messages are you sending around people thinking and trying things differently. So that’s the second thing that we learned around these stretch values, is boy watch our messages.
TODD: Mark I’m struck by the story about how you went from a small, tight-nit, family owned/operation with the philosophy of “We Care” and “If I do right by my people, they’ll do right by me.” But then you grew awfully fast and you lost sight of that. And you have to go through this value based leadership process to get your mojo back. So now that you’ve gone through that, can you share any advice and counsel to an organization who is listening to this who is going through a growth phase, and how they can keep attuned to their values?
MARK: Growth spurts are really, really interesting. I think that they certainly represent the implications from a culture and climate prospective, how things get done around here and what it feels like to work around here, are very interesting. I think, Todd, one of the things is whether we’re growing through M&A activity, whether organic is just pumping really well because we’re riding an economic wave. What growth can have a tendency to do is have up lensing in really hard on the numbers. You’ll set up a lot of growth goals, and a lot of them are financially oriented, or non-financial yet the things that drive the numbers. And what I think a lot of us have a tendency to do is look away from the human side of the equation. And not think about culture and climate.
If you think about, Todd, when people go to buy another company, a lot of times the financial due diligence is very rigorous. But I’ll ask them “Did you do a culture due diligence?” How much does the culture of that company you’re buying match the culture of you organization? So one is, Todd, we have a business plan, and a lot of growth is captured in our business plan, but we also have a culture plan. We have a plan for our people that is equally as big as our business plan. We have four big strategic objective that drive this company. Two of them are human side, right, our mission, and leadership development in succession, and two of them are more on the performance side. So two are on potential, two are on performance, which is business excellence, and growth.
And then the very last thing is, how do you keep your eyes wide open? And then how do you make that the same conversation versus two different conversations? So that was another thing we learned early on was be careful talking about values and culture over here, and then business excellence and growth over here. Kneading them together makes it a whole lot easier. And then what measure do you have in place that are human related.
TONY: Can you talk a little bit about the measurement? Because I can pull you right back into kind of metrics and numbers again. How do you track whether or not you’re living up to your values?
MARK: I know there’s a lot of debate on whether you can measure culture and just transparently, I believe you can. I can only tell you we do it a couple ways. So the way we do it, every year, and we use Hay Group as our third party partner in this, we do an associates engagement survey. Our language around that, just to put it in prospective, the day we get the scores on our associate engagement survey, we describe that as the most important day of the year, not P&L day. So again what’s the message? Because we see that, Tony, as the report card from our associates to us on, “Is our leadership having the right impact on them?” Their engagement, their enablement, their values alignment. So we have that as a measure.
We have taken our values and leadership competences and developed our own 360 based on our leadership competences, and our values. Every one of our leaders from the front line supervisor, to the C-sweep gets a 360 from your boss, your peers, direct reports, every yeah on how well you’re walking in alignment with those two things. The rest of the story is that that 360, and that AES makes up, for most of us, 2/3 of our pay. The other third is financial performance, key performance indicators. So not only do we measure it, it’s very much a part of our recognition and reward system.
TONY: That’s great. I’m sure just listening to you speak that you’re employees much really love working at Luck Companies. And I also say that knowing because I’ve read a couple of fantastic blogs that you’ve written about how folks working on the front line are contributing in significant ways. Can you just share a couple of lessons learned that you’ve written about in terms of how your front line employees are talking, not just talking the talk of leadership, but walking the talk. And what are some of the things you heard that really made you say, “Gosh, you know what, this is really working. We’ve been able to drive this up and down the whole line.”
MARK: The last blog we wrote, Tony, was around retention. And we’d been reading a lot about how the numbers, the trend is still downward. And the question in one of the big articles that was written by one of the big multi-national was we don’t really understand yet why they’re leaving. So we went to our Spotsylvania quarry. 22-25 associates, about a 175 years of experience, average north of ten years. And instead of wondering why they’re leaving, we asked that bunch, “Why do you stay?” Which was just a different way of looking at it.
And their answers, it was less about career pathing, and compensation, and challenging assignments, which is a lot of what is part of the plans that we’re putting together to help with retention. And it was more about start with the values, they said the values here are walked and talked, we walk them and talk them. They start every day with a values conversation, every day. That’s a requirement to have a safety meeting, they add a values conversation to the safety meeting. And then they also have to behave in alignment with them.
The new guys said, “The values are driving a real positive attitude around here. Which made it a whole lot easier for me when I first got here. It makes it a lot easier to stay.” They talk about, you know, you’ll hear the word “family” used a lot. And some people think that’s a good thing, some people think it’s a bad thing. But it feels like family, which is classic because you’ve got a bunch of shared values going on. And what inspired us the most is when they start talking about the impact that it’s having on their home life. That they’re actually bringing this stuff home with them. And it’s having a positive impact at home. So we continue to go out, we continue to ask. And the messages are simple, but boy they are elegantly simple. And it’s kind of like, wow.
TONY: Yeah it’s very powerful I have to say. And you guys deserve a ton of credit. Congratulations. You know, the theme of the show here is creativity leadership. And just allow me to connect the dots of why I think this story represents a great creative leadership story. My belief is that creativity leadership is all about leaders creating the conditions for others to be creative. And I think what we’ve been talking about, and what you’ve been sharing with us Mark, is by having the value of creativity as one of your core values, you’ve elicited and encouraged all your employees, all up and down the line, to be creative thinkers. And to bring ideas forward, and help grow the business.
And I think it’s a great case study for every organization out there that’s trying to figure out how to drive innovation in their organization, or they’re frustrated by the quality of ideas that it starts and ends with the leadership team. As you say Mark, it’s culture in the shadows of leaders. So it’s important for the senior leadership team to value creativity, be creative leaders, and foster the conditions for creativity thinking to take place.
And it sounds like you guys have been doing a great job of that. You know we’re kind of winding down on our time here, but there’s an element to this story that I think we haven’t really hit directly. And that is the notion of courage. I think when you pursue creativity, whether you share an idea with somebody, it takes a little bit of courage, risk taking, to do that. But I think there’s a lot of courage embedded in this story. Can you share with us, from your experience, when was it really hard? Did you ever feel doubtful that you were doing the right thing? And if so how did you get through that?
MARK: I think the two times, at least for me personally Tony, that have been like, hang on. One is at any given time especially that we’ve walked an officer out of here. And it’s really, you know, you talk about an ethical dilemma, one of our course of core beliefs is in the extraordinary potential of all human beings. And yet you have to sit down with someone and say, “Hey, love you to death, you’re an extraordinary person, just not here.” It’s that whole concept of finding you’re dance floor that we talk about. You’ve got to be in a place and around the people who share in the same values and beliefs that you do. And then you can be best version of self. It takes a lot.
And one of the toughest parts for us was, there were times where we’ve been separated with folks, I mean during the darkest, darkest days of the financial crisis here, we had to separate with a guy who was probably one of the best money makers we ever had. And I’ll tell you, you go man are these values better. And the only reason you’re doing it is not because they don’t know how to make money, it’s they’re missing the meaning side. They’re not walking in alignment with the values.
So those times can be really, really challenging. And then personally for yourself, it’s never a perfect fit. So for me, as the recovering jerk, there’s a lot of compassion, and empathy, and caring that goes along with a culture like this. I mean if you study out values, and you study our leadership competencies, you’ll see a lot of language around other’s orientation. That was not my fast ball coming here. And for all of us, when we talk about, you know, going home for me the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And I could have done really, really well back in the day with “Do this and find a way to like it.” And so there’s also the personal struggle that goes along with this for anybody.
And the courage to look yourself in the mirror and go, “Man that’s not what I’m signed up for here.” Or the courage to hear the feedback that comes along with it, because we’re a feedback rich culture. And you got to take it. Because our self-reports can be a little inaccurate. So this whole program is wrapped in courage. It really is.
TONY: Well I get that. I mean It’s clear to me listening to you share the story that the hard work almost begins after you’ve determined what the values are because you have to demonstrate it and live them day to day. Wow, time has flown by Mark, and I want to thank you for being on the show here. You know, we have a tradition called the Seven Cs lightening round. And we ask our guest to help up wrap up by just offering a short sound bite on each of the seven Cs of creative leadership. So I’m just going to throw these at you and you can just have fun and give a quick sound bite as to why these areas are important for driving creativity leadership. In essence they’re my values around creative leadership. So you ready?
MARK: I’m ready.
TONY: All right. Think of like boxing, you know, this is for Rocky who is in the corner. It’s a metaphor for an executive that’s been beat up, he really wants to get out there and win, and you’re going to be Burgess Meredith giving the pep talk here. Bonus points if you can do the accent. All right the first one is communication.
MARK: We just always want to remember that the biggest valise of communication is when we think it happens. And so the pep talk is keep going back, and just because they don’t hear you, or they’re not getting on board, it doesn’t mean you’re not saying it. Just means you might want to say it a little bit differently.
MARK: That’s one of the big three for me Tony when I think about young leaders. And you know that curiosity killed the cat, not sure where that came from, but I don’t, I think in the future world of work, those of us that aren’t curious, I think that’s going to be a very short story. And I think the big idea here is don’t be afraid of what you might find, be open to it.
TONY: Love that. Creativity?
MARK: Yeah, one of our values. So in terms of it, I think that creativity comes in so many different, you know, so many times we think we tie it to the next iPhone, right. But we try to find the simplest, and the tiniest little pieces of evidence around it. Like I said, someone might dress differently one day, they might go to a different, and how do you find the smallest bit of evidence and then go from there instead of going for the big things. And then do it in our own life. We are creative creatures. I think for each of us to look inside of our own souls and look at the video of our own life, it’s in there if you just open your eyes to it.
TONY: And I’ll just add in, and not shut down that inner judge.
TONY: Inner critic we call it. Next on is connecting.
MARK: That seems to be a new word. And I would say the idea here is that we’re using it a lot on the context of the digital world, the high-tech world. And I think the magic here is, the future is not just about high-tech, it’s also about high-touch. And let’s make sure that when we think about connecting, that we’re looking at it both through the lens of high-tech and high-touch.
TONY: Great. Culture.
MARK: Culture, how things get done around here. Our biggest message on this is it will happen. And left unattended to, my question would be let me know how that works out for you. So what we say is, you know, be very purposeful, and intentional about your culture. Think of it as a brand right. Have an aspiration for it, and then make sure you’re doing the things that move you in the direction of that aspiration.
TONY: Two more, next one is change management.
MARK: Boy how much has been written about change management. I think we process it to death. I think the magic around change really lives on the human side. And our biggest learner here was human beings are going to go through steps of learning. And as a lot of type A leaders, it’s like “Well I gave it to them why aren’t they doing it right now?” That’s not the way this works.
I think the best word to associate with change management is patience, and then persistent. People are going to go through the cycle of change, and we all know part of that is despair. And our willingness as leaders to inspire, breathe life into people, not take it personal, not get defensive about it. Just understand that that’s part of the cycle of despair. And it is our job to lead them through that part of the cycle and back up to the performance part. Don’t judge them for that.
TONY: Brilliant. And last but not least, courage.
MARK: Courage, talked a lot about it today. I put that with curiosity in terms of when we’re looking for young leaders. Courage is one of the things that we look for. You know, what are the great quotes right. It’s not about fear, we all have fear. It’s about what you do with it. I think it’s part of the keys to the kingdom. If I was ever to write a book someday, courage, confidence, self-esteem would all be part of it.
So I think you’ve got to start with yourself, and really develop it in terms of how you lens yourself. Because I don’t think you can help someone else with their own courage unless you go there first. I also don’t think you can lead without it. If you’re lacking it, I think you’re going to walk the earth needing from others versus being able to give to others.
TODD: Boom. That was outstanding. You know Tony when I think about how Mark dealt with the lightening round there, I can translate it down into one phrase. It’s treating people like human beings is what he’s really saying there. And I do appreciate the line about curiosity where you say don’t be afraid about what you might find. It’s like the Hitchcock quote, the terror doesn’t come from the bang, it comes from the anticipation of it. So you’re going to stumble upon things, but that’s to be expected and you just got to deal with that. But if you treat you people like humans, and empower them to be that way, well then boom, they can deal with virtually anything.
TONY: Absolutely. And jus to build off that, I think over the last several decades we’ve built this perception, or this belief, that everything has to be perfect. Especially in a corporate setting, everything’s got to be perfect, everything’s got to be 100% efficient. And you’re right, we’re human, it’s never going to be that. And we have to be careful in the pursuit of that that we don’t kind of drive people into insanity.
MARK: Oh my God Tony, and embrace that. You talk about creativity and innovation, you embrace the messiness. The more that we get okay with how messy we are, the better off. And the other thing I wanted to ping off of what Todd said on treat people as human beings, we typically sum up in one short phrase. And what I love is it’s on Tony’s number two thing. His attachment to the word belief, or believe. And we feel similar.
Where what we say is at the end of the day, whether you’re talking creativity, innovation, culture, climate, leadership, we say if you can start with three things. Number one is loving your associates to death. And we say love. And for me, I didn’t even learn to say that word until about four or five years ago. We say number two, Tony, give them something to believe in, starting with themselves. But love them to death, give them something to believe in, and then wake up every day and obsess about them becoming everything they’re capable of becoming. I think if that’s the DNA and the soul of an organization, I really believe everything else will work itself out.
TODD: I couldn’t think of a better place to end this conversation. Mark we’re out of time. Before we let you go, how can people get in touch with you and learn more about Luck Companies?
MARK: So we blog at ValuesBasedLeasder.com. I also personally spend a lot of time on Twitter @MarkSFernandes. And then our company has our own website, LuckCompanies.com. Come on in, you know, we love to dialog. And every time we get in one, we get more than we give. So you’re more than welcome to join us.
TODD: All right, Mark Fernandes, the Chief Leadership Officer with Luck Companies. Mark it was a real joy to have you. Thanks for stopping by and joining us.
MARK: Thanks Todd, Tony great to be with you again.
TONY: Thank you, it was great fun.
TODD: All right. Well that wraps this episode On behalf of our guest, Mark Fernandes, my co-host Tony Vengrove, I’m Todd Schnick. We’ll return soon with another fascinating conversation on Stories of Creative Leadership. So this is Todd and Tony signing off, we’ll see you soon.
He is a former marketing strategist, national political operative, and lobbyist.
Todd has published five books, writes a business + lifestyle column, is a distance runner, and lives in Chicago with his wife Stephanie + family.