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CultureFeb 08, 2017

Leadership at Credera: Serving and Sharpening One Another

Justin Bell, and Brendan McLean

Leadership is one of the most written and talked about topics of our day. Leadership style and impact vary widely. However, most of us recognize that governments, businesses and families rise and fall based on the quality of their leadership. In this edition of Life at Credera, we’ll unpack seven behaviors we look for in leaders:

  • Set a high bar

  • Serve others

  • Lead by listening

  • Communicate clearly and transparently

  • Demonstrate grit

  • Challenge each other

  • Expect leadership at every level

Set a High Bar

Leaders set a high bar. We expect progress, not perfection. Excellence is the goal in everything we do.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” -Michelangelo Buonarroti

We talk about two “bars” equally important to us: talent and culture. We want our teams to be excellent at their craft, while living consistently with our core values. Credera has built a reasonably good reputation over the years. We must hold ourselves to a high standard and push for excellence with every candidate, client relationship, interaction, and deliverable.

Serve Others

One of the ways we see our “culture” is by demonstrating servant leadership. When we put professionalism, excellence, integrity, and humility into action, the result is a company full of servant leaders.

Simply stated, servant leadership is when a leader’s servant nature permeates their leadership strategy. In Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “The Servant as Leader,” he argues that “the great leader is seen as servant first.” For many this seems paradoxical, but at Credera we see this demonstrated daily. Whether it’s a sacrifice of perception, time, or power, we see team members considering a client or team members interests as greater than their own, and then they act on it. This is what true servant leadership looks like. At Credera we believe that the fundamental position of all servant leaders is that they are, in fact, servants first.

Lead by Listening

There is a strong correlation between great leaders and great listeners. Leaders must listen to and understand their teams and then empower their teams to be part of the solution. There are three primary ways we’ve integrated listening into the regular rhythm of our firm.

It may seem simple, but we work to maintain an open-door practice. We encourage our people to pop into the office of anyone on our partner or leadership team to talk about ideas or concerns. During those meetings, we listen, discuss the situation, and follow through on the conversation. This is a necessary practice of being an organization who has informed leaders where employees voices are heard and appropriate action is taken.

Another way we’ve attempted to instill listening into our culture is by hosting a quarterly lunch between our new hires and our partner team where we open the discussion to hear direct, organic feedback from the newest members of the Credera family. We gain valuable insights as new hires offer constructive feedback about their recruitment experience and their initial impressions of the firm. One thing we listen for, in particular, is if what we are selling during the recruitment cycle about Credera is delivered for our people. We want to be a place that sets high expectations for our firm, but more importantly we want to deliver on our promises without compromise. Additionally, we ask the new hires to reflect on both positives and negatives of their experience thusfar, and ways that we can get better as an organization.

Finally, we utilize employee surveys to help guide how Credera changes moving forward. The feedback from our people provides an honest assessment of the firm’s health and areas we need to give more attention.

Communicate Clearly and Transparently

Clear and transparent communication is critical to leadership because it builds trust. Great leaders clearly articulate their vision, as well as the health of the business, which then empowers their teams to take action and be fully engaged.

For more than twelve years we’ve used our monthly fireside chats.  The term “fireside chat” originated with a series of radio addresses given by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and 1940s where Roosevelt explained his policies in detail, dispelled rumors, and instilled confidence in the future of the nation. Similarly, during these fireside chats, we have key leaders share our financial and operational performance, introduce new team members and offer personal perspectives on how we think and feel about the topics discussed. We take questions in an open forum, unfiltered and unscreened, and invite further dialogs beyond the meetings.

Clarity and transparency are the keys to the long-term success of these meetings. They can’t just be “Rah-Rah” sessions that only tell the good parts of the story and hide anything that could be perceived as negative. Instead, you have to tell the whole story every time. Consistency matters and helps to develop trust over time.

You can read more about our approach to these monthly communications.

Demonstrate Grit

At Credera, we believe that a critical attribute of a good leader is grit and leading others by example to persevere and achieve their goals. Sometimes people think that success is all about talent, but research suggests that talent (e.g., ability to play the piano, throw a baseball, write effectively, be a great doctor, etc.) is based on deliberate practice. You’ve probably heard of the 10,000-hour rule, stating that approximately 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required to master a skill. That means that talent isn’t just about your natural abilities, but instead based on the hard work and discipline required to practice over and over again. So what gives some people the ability to put in the hard work it requires to practice?

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, published a paper in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science that addresses the importance of a psychological trait known as grit. She defines grit as the perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals. In previous papers, Duckworth has demonstrated that grit can be reliably measured with a short survey that measures 1) consistency of passions (e.g., ‘‘I have been obsessed with a certain idea or project for a short time but later lost interest’’) and 2) consistency of effort (e.g., ‘‘Setbacks don’t discourage me’’). Unsurprisingly, those with grit are more single-minded about their goals and are more likely to persist in the face of struggle or failure.

This tells us that our most important talent is having a talent for working hard, for practicing even when practice isn’t fun—and that takes grit.

So how do you find people with grit for your team? I like to look for optimistic, goal-oriented people who have demonstrated the endurance to work toward those goals for long periods of time, bouncing back from any setbacks and relentlessly pursuing success. This can come in many forms from academic to athletics to music, but you need to see that determination to succeed exists. The optimistic attribute is important because, along the way, you will stumble and need a positive outlook to fight through the challenges and continue to pursue the goal.

Challenge Each Other

There is a powerful quote by Jim Rohn that we fully embrace at Credera.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” -Jim Rohn

There was an amazing example of this phenomenon in the last Summer Olympics during the women’s 10,000-meter race. Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana ran the 10k (6.2 miles) in 29 minutes and 17 seconds, shattering the previous world record that had stood for 23 years!

While her record performance was outstanding in its own right, the more interesting thing was what it did to all of the other runners in the race:

  • Finishing behind her, seven other runners set national records.

  • The runners who finished in second, third, and fourth ran the third-, fourth-, and fifth-fastest times ever.

  • Of the 37 runners in the field, 18 ran lifetime bests.

Ayana’s breakthrough performance dramatically impacted the other racers. By setting the pace at a record level, Ayana literally pulled the rest of the runners to their personal bests.

Though we may not see our workplace performances measured by stopwatch or world records, our capacity to lead each other through example is as significant as Ayana’s. In many ways, we have experienced the same effect on our leadership team, where we constantly raise the bar, challenge each other in a positive way, and collectively work to be a little better each day.

Expect Leadership at Every Level

At Credera, we expect to see leadership exemplified from consultants to partners. Though leadership is often used synonymously with position or title, we believe in the power to lead anyone at any level.

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flowcharts. It is about one life influencing another.” John C. Maxwell

Every individual at Credera can lead by influencing the lives of their peers, clients and others on their team. Our client team environments foster a unique opportunity to impact our peers through the way we speak, work, and serve. Whether a team member exhibits a strong work ethic or challenges you to look at a complex problem in a new light, the reality is that we are constantly being molded and led by our peers.  We expect our leaders to demonstrate humility and be open to ideas from anyone on the team, fostering an environment of collaboration and innovation, instead of a top-down hierarchy.

life at credera

We’re “open-sourcing” the Credera culture in a series called Life at Credera. We are sharing an authentic perspective on what we are learning and where we are growing. We are talking about friendships and fungrowth, higher purpose, talent and character, leadership, and communication.

We hope this series is a helpful resource on the continuous pursuit of a great culture. And we hope the results are encouraging to our company, employees, clients, and friends.

Looking for more? Check out these great Life at Credera perspectives: