The man was wearing a red T-shirt. On the back were six words in white: "I Coach, They Play, You Cheer."
These words provide alignment, roles and responsibilities for three stakeholders (coach, players and parents) for a team sport. The sport could be football, volleyball, soccer, baseball, basketball, hockey, softball or badminton.
Seeing that T-shirt made me wonder, "What would be the most appropriate words for a business owner to have on a T-shirt?"
Would "I Own, You Work, I Profit" be suitable? This is how some owners see things.
Unfortunately, a company run by this type of leader almost never reaches their potential. The leader doesn't believe in incentive plans, raises or performance evaluations, and employees are considered expendable.
Could "I Tell, You Listen, No Discussion" describe an alluring place to work? This owner is dictatorial in nature; not much more needs to be said. Potential employees might want to interview on the day the owner is wearing this shirt to see what kind of person they will be working for.
"I Teach, You Learn, You Do" indicates a learning organization, one where solid teaching is paramount, but the larger burden is the learning and the execution of what is learned.
What about "I Lead, You Perform, Clients Win"?
This sounds simple and appealing. But these six words and 25 characters raise questions that need to be addressed long before the T-shirts are printed and before they can be worn.
When it says "I Lead" what does it mean, exactly?
Does it mean that I am the leader because I own the business? Does it mean that because I am the leader, employees must follow me, regardless of where I go? Does it mean that you can never question me because I am the leader?
When I put that shirt on, where am I taking the people I am leading? Have I thought it through, am I clear about the destination, not just for myself, but for my employees, their families, the vendors who supply the company?
Do I have to have the right plans? Do I need to have an exit strategy? Do I need to have an annual operating plan, a marketing plan, a sales plan and a service quality plan? Must I create an organizational chart, ensure that employees are regularly evaluated for quality and quantity of work done compared to expectations?
Does it mean that I have to lead by example? Does it mean that I need to give up control, learn to delegate better, start holding people accountable?
It means all these things and more. No one wants to follow leaders who do not know exactly where they are going and how they intend to get there.
What exactly does "You Perform" mean? How are those two short words defined? Does it mean that every position needs to have a job description with tangible results detailed? Does it mean that everyone needs to have goals that do not conflict with anyone else's goals? Does it mean that goals need to be hierarchical and in alignment?
Does it mean that need to be consistent with accountability, making sure that everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing when they are supposed to be doing it, at the quality level they need to be performing?
Does that suggest that I might need to confront the fact that some of the people who have been working for me for a long time are not keeping up personally and professionally and might need additional motivation or movement to another position where they are better suited?
Do I have to teach my managers and supervisors how to do these things so that they become better managers and supervisors? And I become a better, stronger leader as a result?
It means that ownership and management must step up and get things done through people. That means being honest with people about how they are doing, what they are doing, how they are doing it and helping them when needed.
Sometimes that help might be showing them a better future elsewhere if all else fails. No one who performs wants to be around people who don't perform.
"Clients Win" means what for the business, and what for the employees?
Does it mean that whatever the client wants we will give them, even if we lose money in the process? Does it mean the client is always right, regardless of anything that has happened?
Does it mean that the game of business is "lose-win," or is "win-win" acceptable? Can we price products and services so that we make a profit? It means all this and more. No one wants to work for a company that is not profitable. No one wants to be the owner of a company that is not profitable. And no one wants to have clients depart to do business for somewhere else.
Six short words can serve the owner of the business better than any mission statement on a wall, maybe even better than a long-range plan. Six words will align, enthuse, focus and get everyone moving forward.
What are your six words?