COO Leadership Update: The Importance of People-First Leadership
The Exchange’s three core values are Respect Everyone, Courage to Use Good Judgment and Family Serving Family. These are people-focused values that foster our culture of service and support.
“Primal Leadership” is one of my favorite leadership books, and it focuses on emotional intelligence with an emphasis on putting people first.
One story from the book really stuck with me. Yale University conducted a study where a group of people took an IQ test. The low performers were given positive feedback—“You had a lot of great answers,” or “You showed a lot of potential.” Top performers were given negative feedback—“We were surprised you didn’t do better,” or “We thought you would have scored higher.”
After the feedback, the group retested and, again, low performers earned positive feedback while high performers received negative feedback. This process was repeated. Each time the group took the test, the ones who scored lower but were praised improved their performance. Conversely, the ones who tested well but had received negative remarks saw their scores slide until the low performers and the high performers had flipped results.
The takeaway from the study is how important emotional factors can be to someone’s success—it’s not simply raw talent or intelligence. Treating people with kindness and bringing positive energy to our work are ways Exchange leaders can help teams succeed. It’s a small change to be intentionally positive, but it has a rippling effect on everyone who comes into contact with us.
We don’t have to ignore problems to be positive leaders. Ask yourself: Am I encouraging? Do associates feel they’re part of the team? Am I finding ways to help them succeed? Leading with positivity leads to stronger organizational performance while improving associate satisfaction and retention. The ripple effect flows to our shoppers. Happy, engaged associates yield better results and customer interactions.
My challenge to you is:
- Be unafraid to reinvent yourself, especially as you move to new assignments. You don’t have to do things a certain way just because that’s how you saw other leaders do things as you were advancing in the organization. As you bring fresh eyes to a new role, reassess yourself.
- Invest in relationships. How you interact with your team has a big impact on how they feel about their jobs. Get to know teammates, whether direct reports or your peers. Even when you’re busy or stressed, it’s important to make time to ask your team how they’re doing and hear what’s going on in their lives. Take time to interact on non-business topics such as sports, travel, family or hobbies—show genuine interest in your teammates’ lives!
- Look for opportunities for inclusive teamwork to improve engagement, productivity and culture while growing sales, earnings and dividends for the communities we serve.
- In an organization as large as the Exchange, it’s important to avoid silos. Cultivating collaboration develops teams and leaders who are better equipped to support Soldiers, Airmen and their mission.
When we focus on people, we build the bench and ensure the Exchange’s success for years to come. Focusing on inclusion and equity while encouraging associates of all races, genders and backgrounds allows the Exchange to benefit from diverse perspectives. We serve shoppers from all walks of life, and greater diversity enables us to better serve the best customers in the world.
One thing that positive leadership shows us is that fear is not a good motivator. No one wants a job that they don’t enjoy or feel appreciated in. Exchange leaders have a role in determining how teams feel about their work. An intentionally positive approach ensures all associates show respect for everyone, have the courage to use good judgment and serve shoppers and each other like family.