"Everyday Leadership Acts of Courage: Leaving A Legacy" originally appeared on Forbes.com.
Earlier this year, we lost a true leader and special person: Blake Nordstrom. Nordstrom was co-president of the specialty retailer that bears his family’s name. He passed away unexpectedly at age 58 on Wednesday, January 2, 2019.
I started my career at Nordstrom and worked for the company for more than 17 years. Although my day-to-day work only occasionally intersected with members of the Nordstrom family, every interaction and conversation I had with them stayed with me — ultimately putting me on my current path developing transformational and authentic leaders, especially in the workplace.
“Leadership Acts of Courage” is a series of articles I started on Memorial Day 2018 as I was reflecting on my gratitude to those, past and present, who have chosen to be leaders in serving our country. I got to thinking about some of the leadership “acts of courage” I see in the workplace, and this is my final article in the series for leaders on courage. This isn't the “lay down your life” acts of courage so common to those in the military, but the acts of doing the right thing — which is almost always the hard thing — to inspire others to be their best selves and to create excellence in one’s organization. As my final article in this series, I’d like to share a few examples of my Nordstrom experiences and explain how these hold important lessons for today’s leaders.
Greetings In The Elevator
Bruce Nordstrom, Blake’s father, was said to only need to meet someone once to remember their name. Case in point: I stepped into an elevator at a mall (not a Nordstrom store) with “Mr. Bruce” more than 10 years after leaving the company. I was pleased and surprised to see him but also certain he wouldn’t remember me. I decided to greet him anyway.
“Hello, Mr. Bruce,” I said, expecting to have to also tell him my name. But he immediately replied, “Hello, Lynda! How have you been?” I probably spoke to Bruce Nordstrom a maximum of five or six times in the 17 years I worked there. Blake was the same way.
What does this have to do with courage and leadership? Everything. Succeeding in business is about knowing people, building trust and managing relationships. Make an effort to remember someone’s name to show that you care enough to take the time to recognize them as a fellow human being. This means making oneself vulnerable by interacting with others on a personal level.
Another act of courage that occurred every day right up until Blake passed was answering his own phone calls and emails. In the 1980s, it was considered shocking that a C-suite executive in a Fortune 500 company would take his own calls. But that’s what Mr. Bruce and Blake did.
This is an act of courage because it would be easy for a leader to delegate the task of answering their calls or emails to a complaint department, but this wasn't their way.
It’s also an act of vulnerability because being responsive keeps you close to the heartbeat of your organization and enables you to interact with those who work for you or buy from you. These interactions will call for you to share yourself — your voice, thoughts, personality — and be personally accountable. Many leaders choose not to do this. So instead of taking the easy path for yourself by seeking out someone to blame and delegating the apology, take accountability for your company, and speak to your consumers directly.
What You Can Learn
A few other lessons that were never taught in a classroom at Nordstrom but were learned from my daily interactions with other leaders include:
The inverted pyramid: This is more than a diagram; it is a philosophy and core value. At the top are customers, then employees, then managers, and executives are at the bottom. This means the culture is first focused on the customer and respect and appreciation of employees. The key is to lead from behind. Leave your ego and title out of it, and be authentic in service to others.
The employee handbook: It’s a 5x7 postcard with only two rules: 1. Give the best possible customer service always, and 2. Use good judgment in all situations when executing Rule No. 1. People are aghast when they hear this and often insist there must have been some other sort of “rulebook." There wasn't. The leadership lesson here is to treat people like adults. Trust your employees to do what’s best for the customer, including internal customers and co-workers.
Inspiration and teaching through storytelling: Storytelling is one of the oldest acts of courage and vulnerability. To stand in front of others and command their attention, hoping they’ll find your tale engaging and enlightening, is challenging. Leaders can't truly lead without being able to communicate their vision in a way that inspires others to want to follow. Telling success stories of people who exemplify your company values and culture will reinforce for others how you do things and is so much more effective than an employee handbook or a poster of your core values on the wall.
A Lifelong Influence
Blake Nordstrom and his family were enormously influential on me as I embarked on my career. They helped me evolve into the leader I am today. You can create your own leadership legacy by developing your abilities to lead with honesty, transparency and authenticity — as well as with courage and vulnerability. Why? Because being a leader worth following can build a better organization and stronger people and can enhance the community around it.
How can you do it? There are three simple (but not always easy) steps: First, choose it. See yourself as being this type of leader. Second, learn it. Get a coach. Join a learning group. Take some classes to learn the skills. Third, do it. Knowing is not doing. It requires action and practice, along with reflection, to develop these leadership habits. But when you do, you’ll go far.
POST WRITTEN BY
Founder of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration and member of the Forbes Coaches Council
Lynda Silsbee is Founder and President of the Alliance for Leadership Acceleration. She has spent more than 30 years creating and leading high performance teams. Along with the other LEAP Certified Coaches, she reports that helping managers make the LEAP to leader is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her work.