Challenging times require intentional leadership

Two years ago, after buying my first pair of Brooks running shoes, I wrote about how its CEO (a former highschool classmate) pulled the upstart shoemaker from a cliff’s edge and made it relevant in a market dominated by Nike, Adidas and Skechers. He saved the company through a combination of tough and bold decision-making. I’m not a runner, but I appreciate the fit of my Brooks shoes and have been impressed by the way the company has engendered loyalty for its brand by fostering communities of elite runners. 

I checked in with Brooks recently and discovered the company CEO Jim Weber had recently published a book titled “Running with Purpose.” Weber, who began his career in banking, is making the rounds to promote his book, where he shares leadership lessons pulled from his Brooks experience. Much of what Weber has to say is transferable across industries, and it echoes what leadership experts have been telling bankers for years. I’ll save you $25 by synthesizing what Weber and others have shared:

Carve your niche: It’s a given that the largest players in banking have the scale and resources to serve everyone, albeit with only marginal service. But people who want exceptional service will choose you — once you’ve decided to choose them. Characterize your strategy so it meets (no, exceeds) the expectations of your chosen niche. 

Defend your brand: Brands succeed when they reflect authenticity and communicate trust. Think about what your brand communicates to the market and ask yourself if it’s a position you can defend today and over time. The most storied brands begin with a commitment to a purpose; such brands are easy to defend. 

Build (and support) your team: The best laid plans will fail if you cannot execute. Successful businesses have great leaders and great followers. You need both. If you lead with passion, people will rally around the mission. 

Foster an empowering culture: The operational headwinds in banking are dizzying. You know you will not succeed without surrounding yourself with the best people. Understand that you won’t keep these people, or be able to replace them, if you haven’t fostered a culture where the people closest to the customer are empowered to act in their customers’ best interests. Hierarchies and vertical power structures aren’t empowering. Hire people you can trust, train them, and then trust them. You’ll be amazed at how mutual trust builds a great culture!

Lead with empathy: Empathy is perhaps the most important leadership skill you can develop. Demonstrate empathy by asking people questions and waiting for their responses, taking verbal and non-verbal cues during conversations, and following up on promises. Be respectful and show compassion. 

You can’t fully understand another person unless you’ve walked in their shoes. If you walked in mine, you’d know I need something new.