Character begets trust, begets communication, begets business growth
April 19, 2013
At The FABRICATOR's Leadership Summit in February, speaker Tom Ziglar used a bicycle as a metaphor for how people drive business success.
“The scarce commodity of the connection economy is trust. I don’t focus on revenue or profits. I focus on scaling trust.”
Tom Ziglar espoused this at The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit, which wrapped up March 1 in Palm Harbor, Fla., outside of Tampa. He was quoting is father, notable motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, who passed away in November of last year. In a style so unlike his dad, Tom spoke in a relaxed rhythm, pausing for emphasis. When he recalled his dad’s statement on trust, he paused for a long time, letting his audience of about 150 fabricators drink it in.
His term “connection economy” is insightful and a bit ironic. Business leaders can check e-mail in an instant, and call to check in constantly. They’re plugged in, efficient, and effective. But with all these tools that allow them to connect, what happens to trust?
Trust is in short supply in modern life, especially in our work lives, and it’s understandable. Consider trust between an employer and employee: An engineer works 30 years at a tool and die company, only to be let go. What about the shop floor worker who leaves for 50 cents more an hour at a shop down the street? Trust is a two-way street, and quite often there isn’t much traffic on either side.
So what builds trust? Is it just about job performance—about delivering quality product on time—or is there something else to it? We aren’t perfect. A fabricator may be a reliable supplier for years and then fall behind for one project. Is it the best move for the customer to drop that supplier? Similarly, a brake operator may be incredibly productive for years, and then go through a rough patch at home, which in turn affects the quality of his work. Should that person be let go?
I look at trust between two people like an onion. You peel back one layer—the “introduction” layer—and you find a fresher layer that may be smooth, but perhaps with some discoloration or other imperfections. This could be called the “relationship-building” layer, when two people get to know each other. Peel back another layer, and you get to communication and transparency about operational practices, design-for-manufacturability, work practices, standard procedures, training, scheduling, and other specifics that allow the supplier-customer (between companies) or worker-worker (within one company) relationship to prosper.
I had thought that in business, this would be the final layer, the one that helps establish open communication between two people who can exchange ideas to discover better ways to get the job done. But when I heard Ziglar at the Leadership Summit, I realized that this may be only the beginning. Peel back another layer of the onion, and you get to the human qualities that drive people to behave the way they do—including, not least, character and integrity.
How does a person build good character, exactly? With friendships, I think it’s subjective. I consider one of my best friends to have good character: He knows right from wrong, he’s there when others need him, and he thinks of others before himself. But he’s also a poor planner and forgets details. I’ve known him since first grade, but I’d never enter a business relationship with him.
So how do you identify someone with good character and with attributes that would foster a profitable business relationship, be they with customers, suppliers, or co-workers? Ziglar took an impressive stab at an answer. He drew a bicycle with two wheels, each with labeled spokes. The front wheel has spokes representing basic business tenets: sales, marketing, leadership, administration, and operations. The back wheel (the driven wheel) represents employees of the business, with seven spokes showing the parts of a person’s life: personal, career, spiritual, financial, mental, family, and physical. He labeled the pedals of the bike “persistent consistency.” Even if all these characteristics are fulfilled, the bike won’t roll if the person doesn’t pedal.
“In any organization, there are top performers,” Ziglar said. “When a project comes up, you trust that top performer. These people also are usually active in their kids’ lives. If you dig deeper, you realize they live a balanced life.”
The bike is still missing one thing, of course: a place to sit. Ziglar drew a seat and labeled it “character.” That seat of character is buttressed by the spokes of the two wheels and the motion of the pedals (persistent consistency). “Without character and integrity, none of it works,” Ziglar said. “Unless you build your life on character and integrity, you have no long-term sustainability.
“Character and integrity represented the No. 1 reason for my dad’s success,” he added. “The reason I’m here [standing on this stage], quite honestly, is because Dad had integrity.”
Ziglar’s bike had no mention of something manufacturers crave: knowledge. At first glance, that’s surprising, but on second glance, it makes sense. The qualities mentioned on Ziglar’s bike nurture curiosity and drive, which in turn lead to knowledge. Several years ago the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association’s Nuts Bolts & Thingamajigs® (NBT) Foundation conducted a study asking what skills employers sought in metal fabrication. Not surprisingly, skills like welding ranked near the top, but at the very top wasn’t a hard skill involving machine operation or math. It was a soft skill: leadership. I’ve talked with some fabricators who hire people because of their soft skills—leadership, curiosity, drive, and the like—because they know that they can teach new hires the hard skills, but they can’t make them want to learn.
Admittedly, Ziglar’s bike isn’t as objective as putting a micrometer on a part. But it at least removes a tiny amount of subjectivity when thinking about character, which in turn builds trust—that perennially scarce commodity in modern business.
The next Leadership Summit will be held Feb. 26-28, 2014, in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit www.fmanet.org/metalmatters, or call 888-394-4362. For more on Ziglar, visit www.ziglar.com.