Small Business Guide: How to Lead a Business
In 2002, I started working for a little company called Under Armour. There were 80 employees and only 15 clothing styles (mostly tight). The “Performance Apparel” category was relatively new to the general public, so most people didn’t know what we were even selling. They were also completely unaware of the benefits of compression clothing, and appalled by the thought of squeezing themselves into something so tight.
Despite all of this, every single one of us who worked there were energized and inspired to be a part of this spunky little start-up. We loved going to work, and did anything and everything we could to help the brand succeed. We didn’t have stock options, we weren’t getting paid particularly well, and I wasn’t even an athlete at the time. So, why were we all so jazzed about working for this unknown company selling this weird new product? Some would say they spiked the water, but in my opinion, the cult-like devotion came from one place: our leader, Kevin Plank. His infectious positivity and belief in his team made Under Armour a rewarding and inspiring place to spend your 40-60 hours a week.
Most of the time, Kevin was out in the field meeting with teams, schools and retailers, trying to sell them on his tight T-shirt idea, but when he was in the office, he would come around and talk to us, ask our opinion, and joke around with us. He brought an unbelievably positive, energetic presence to the office, which made us feel really good about helping him build his vision. He was excited to be there and, as a result, so were we! He believed in the dream and communicated that to us, so we believed in it too. He worked his butt off, and of course, we did too … and look where it got us. We were a part of something bigger than ourselves, and we knew that because Kevin said it, lived it, and believed it.
In addition to believing in the dream, he believed in his team. As a former captain of his University of Maryland football team, he knew the importance of believing in his team, and letting them know their contribution to the overall success of the organization. He thanked us and recognized our hard work. Iremember coming into work one day, and seeing a note card on my desk. It said: “Your energy and enthusiasm are felt throughout the office. Thank you.” I was a lowly customer service rep at the time, and our leader told me that I was making a difference. That was an incredible boost to my emotional investment in the company. It took him a minute and a half to write and deliver, the card probably cost a couple of cents, but it was probably more valuable to my commitment to his mission than a $5,000 bonus. He acknowledged the contribution I was making to the company. He validated the hard work I was doing. It seems too easy, but it made a HUGE difference.
I left Under Armour over five years ago, but it still feels wrong to wear Nike, and I still feel that odd, split-second thrill when I see someone walking down the street wearing a UA logo. Of course, as the company grew, we had great successes, awesome opportunities and a ton of fun and learning to bolster our emotional ownership of the company, but we always talked about “the good old days” when we all did whatever it took to make our little tight t-shirt company a success, when all we had was a sweaty charismatic leader and a dream.
As you roll into the New Year, think about what you are doing for the people you lead, and how you would feel if you worked for you:
Do you bring a positive atmosphere to the office?
Do you make the workplace an inspiring, positive place to be?
Do you believe in your team? Do you tell them?
Do you thank them?
These are all little things that are often overlooked and underestimated, but are very often the difference between hitting and missing sales and productivity goals, and retaining your best employees. Add value to them, and they will add value to your business.
Anne Bonney is a John Maxwell Team certified speaker, trainer and coach specializing in empowerment and leadership topics. After 20 years in leadership and educational roles with companies including Under Armour, Les Mills International, Town Sports International and The New England Aquarium, she now uses her boundless positive energy to bring fun, inspiring and memorable messages right when and how they’re needed. www.AnneBonney.com.