3 Actions to Take on the Road to Leadership Bravery

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“The best way to learn if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
– Ernest Hemingway

Companies that practice what I call “leadership bravery” are choosing to reverse the trend on business practices that have defined their industries. Through leadership guidance and company actions,  they are establishing more balanced relationships, where both sides win.  Both customer and company are better off because they are in each other’s lives.

What Does Leadership Bravery Look Like?

Ask how we will and will not grow.

Three common behaviors are common among these admired companies as they move in this direction. First, leaders are clear about how they will and will not grow.  Leaders diligently take actions to point out exactly what the high road is; creating a path for the company to follow.  For example, by refusing to open their stores on Black Friday, REI’s CEO took a stand to inspire employees and the marketplace by deciding how they would and would not grow.  For REI, Black Friday is a family day, not a commerce day.  Airbnb takes the high road by showing employees how to embrace the coda “belong anywhere:” building its culture of “belonging.”

Lean into transparency.

Next, they choose to be transparent in explaining the “why” behind their actions, such as pricing or how and why they build products the way that they do.  By sharing information about their products and pricing, and by openly transferring knowledge to customers they prove they want to do what’s best for them.

When writing my book, Would You Do That To Your Mother?, I learned a term that describes this approach to fearlessly sharing, that builds bonds with customers: “radical transparency.” In that book, you’ll read about OVO Energy in the UK, who practices this level of transparency with customers by opening up their pricing plans to the public, outlining exactly what the energy costs are to them, so customers feel equity in what they are paying.  As a result, they are earning customer raves and growth.

Transparency, increasingly, is becoming more important to customers, and more differentiating for brands.  A recent Harvard Business Review article cites a study by researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management, which found that consumers may be willing to pay 2% to 10% more for products from companies that provide greater supply chain transparency.

Level the playing field.

Finally, these admired companies choose to level the playing field, reducing or eliminating practices where in the past, customers might have felt that the company was holding all the cards. They are deliberately resisting or changing industry practices so that customers feel a balanced and equitable partnership, and one based on trust. For example, Luscious Garage brings the technician and customer together as partners making decisions.  As a result, they have eliminated that phone call of waiting for the ‘final’ estimate of the car repair, turning the experience instead into one of collaboration, trust, and even joy.

Why Take the High Road?

Some of the high-road actions these admired companies take to grow may sound irrational.  But repeatedly, examples of their bravery in committing to customer relationships have proven otherwise.  They build bonds by the humanity that their acts display.

The high road is a choice.  And while it’s not always the easiest choice, it’s the one you’ll be happiest about in the rearview mirror. It’s the stuff that clearly makes that mom of yours proud.

The high road is also the route to success for companies who take this path. Empirical data and anecdotes from customers and employees prove that behaving in this manner grows a business.  Fred Reichheld was one of the first to connect the dots between “golden rule behavior” and business growth.  Further, Danny Meyer’s Hospitality Quotient proves how companies with business practices and employees that deliver values based and human experiences significantly beat the S&P 500. But the key to growing in this manner is leadership.  Leaders must build a company that believes that doing the right thing is the right way to grow.

Leadership Bravery Pays Dividends

As customers, we desire to give our trust to companies who trust us back.  We seek out companies whose employees are given permission to do the right thing, and where we are honored as assets. We breathe a sigh of relief and gratitude when “Gotcha!” moments are flipped to “We’ve got your back” moments. We applaud accountability  because we know that everyone makes mistakes.  And we thank goodness for the companies who level the playing field, and give us information to prosper.

It takes all of us years of experience to figure out exactly how we, as leaders, will take the high road.  But as we go through the ups and downs of living…it becomes clearer.  Situations provide the choice.  The hard work is having the life lessons to test it out.  Those moments where my dad would say to me, “Jeanne, you can learn from this if you let yourself.”


This blog post is excerpted and adapted from Would You Do That To Your Mother?  Learn more about the book and find out where to order »

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