The Luckiest Rebuke

Posted on April 17th, 2018

In every leader’s journey there come moments which are transformative.  Seldom are these moments planned or part of an official educational process, they tend to come when least expected and most often from sources not anticipated.  Frequently this moment comes as a true surprise and if not recognized may go past, unnoticed and lost forever.

Six years, or so ago, I was engaged in a process for a very large corporate entity with a focus on a renovation, retail food offering and general facelift of the retail area of a mid-sized community hospital.  As part of the process, I had scheduled a meeting with the CEO as he was very engaged in all things that represented the face of his organization and had an affect on the associate experience.

I had been through the process with nearly two dozen facilities and felt like I had the presentation dialed.  I was grooving, on cruise control, making my pitch for why it was so important to make the suggested changes, on our dime, mind you.  Having progressed beyond the what and the why, I rolled smoothly, so I felt, into the most powerful part of the presentation.  My wheel house, my hook, the point at which I laid out our plan for how we would engage the teams to modify what had been the “way it was” done FOREVER.

“Here is the key to the success of the process.  We will take the opportunity to show our associates, your associates, the key to great food is not exclusive of good nutrition.  When we involve them in the process of menu development, sales evaluation, local food scene implementation and recipe modifications we are given the opportunity to bring them along the path to “BUYING-IN” to…”.

“STOP!  I do not want to hear any more about BUY-IN, enough!” interjected the normally soft-spoken CEO.  The cold chill started at the top of my head and poured through my body, in a flash, leaving me in a flushed and near panicked ball of nerves and sweating palms.   A thousand thoughts, a thousand doubts, a rewind of the last words spoken, and then sweet rescue.

“Let me clarify”.  He said softly, kindly, obviously noting my discomfort.  “I have a serious disdain for the concept of buy-in.  If, in fact, you succeed in getting anyone to buy-in to your process you have convinced them, maybe coerced them, as a salesman might, to your way of thought.  What we want, in our facility, is to BUILD-IN our teams and processes.  When someone assists in building something, a fence, a house or, in this case, a culture they will protect it with a fierce determination.  They will defend and continuously support, making all efforts to insure it does not fail and fall.  THAT will be our method, together”.

I have never forgotten and have, since that day, built processes and teams with build-in as the foundation, and yes, those teams have, to the individual, defended, supported and built success.  This seemingly small, semantical interjection would have been missed, the musing of a slightly overbearing autocrat, this transcendental, seminal moment to develop a quality of LEADERSHIP, real leadership, but I heard it for what it was.  This one significant transcendent moment, which stays with me to this day, and for that moment of cold impactful rebuke I am grateful and earnestly focused to live up to the standard he built-in, me.


James Standridge, Consultant RSA