Stories from the Road: Hartford
How can I ask my team to stretch and try new things if I’m not willing to do it? I have to lead by example.
I’ve been collecting examples of Business Leaders who have taken the risk of telling a personal story at work. Todd Bateson from Travelers Insurance told the following story at his most recent leadership conference.
The meeting was dedicated to ensuring that his team of about 80 professionals had a solid understanding of the future of their business. During the two-day session they spent time discussing strategies and vision, as well as aligning on how they would support and execute on the vision in order to drive results.
Wearing a pink button down shirt, that had been given to him by members of his team as a bit of an inside joke, Todd approached the stage. He walked center stage and took a moment to just stand there and gaze out at his team. They looked back at him expectantly.
He explained why he thought that each individual in the room needed to leverage their own presence to connect more deeply with their own teams and then began:
It’s a cool June morning as I’m riding in the passenger seat of the car on my way to Baltusrol Golf Club. My mind is racing with many thoughts and doubts.
For anyone with a passion for golf, playing Baltusrol is a privilege. Baltusrol has hosted many national championships where the greats of the game have walked her fairways. It is the “bluest” of blue-blood golf clubs in the country. I’m excited for the opportunity to play this course, but I am also nervous. Questions of: “Will I be accepted? Do I belong in this place?” run through my mind.
Growing up lower-middle class my idea of golf was a local dusty public golf course where I could play in cut-off shorts. The closest thing I had to blue blood was a blue tee-shirt.
The audience chuckled at this detail. As they listened they leaned in and nodded.
As we approach and enter the gates to Baltusrol my heartbeat quickens. We approach the large manor that is the clubhouse. I exit the car and put on my blue blazer to enter the locker room. This is not a course for cut-offs shorts and tee-shirts.
My senses are on high alert. I change into my pressed golf shirt and golf slacks and head out to the golf course. As we approach the first tee another new experience awaits me – a caddy!
I have never played golf before with a caddy. Now the pressure builds not to embarrass myself and be the talk of the caddy pool at the end of the day.
Having never played with a caddy, I’m not sure what to do and my normal habits take over. When it is my time to tee off I go over to my bag to grab my own driver. The caddy stops me and hands me the club.
I step to the tee and look down the green ribbon of fairway in front of me. My hand is shaking as I stick my tee in the ground and place my ball on the tee.
As Todd relives this moment, he bends over as if putting a tee in the ground. He takes a golf stance. Hands clasped in front of his waist, his eye on the invisible ball at his feet. The room becomes so quiet, you can hear a pin drop.
I am doing everything possible to control my nerves. I close my eyes and take deep breathes. I tell myself that I have hit a tee shot thousands of times and this is no different than playing at the public course back home.
One practice swing, and then another. With one last deep breath I step to the ball and swing. The crack of the ball on the club is the only sound you hear as the ball heads down the fairway. I hand the club to the caddy and head off down the fairway for an extremely fun day of golf.
Todd takes a pause here and walks to the edge of the stage to address his team.
What I learned that day was not to be afraid to take risks and stretch myself.
We have ambitious goals for the year. Yes, there will be anxiety and questions along the way. But if you rely on the skills that got you to where you are today, as well as the guidance of others, we can be successful.
All I’m asking you to do is to take a few practice swings and then step to the ball and swing. And if you need my help, I’ll be willing to be your caddy and hand you the club you’ll need.
The audience bursts into applause. Todd takes a gracious bow and introduces the next speaker. Everyone in the room is focused and smiling.
When I invited Todd to be a part of this series I asked him what he thought the impact of this story was on his team.
He confessed to never before having been so personal at work. He added: Let alone wearing a pink shirt! And that doing so was uncomfortable. Then he said: How can I ask my team to stretch and try new things if I’m not willing to do it? I have to lead by example.
He wrote to say that telling the story had a number of benefits.
First, it drove home the point that we need to stretch ourselves and be willing to take risks to achieve our goals. To recognize that this stretching might make us uncomfortable; however, relying on proven skills and the help of others increases the odds of achieving success.
The second benefit was by telling this story it helped me become “human” with people who I do not interact with on a regular basis. Some of the people in that room only see me once a year. It helped me make a connection with them. I’ve gotten great feedback and look forward to a successful year.
And there you have it, one more example from the road of Business Leaders using stories as a way to motivate and connect with their teams.