In my last post, I wrote on the leadership challenge of turning vision into reality, or as some would say, bridging the strategy-execution gap. In this entry, I want to share briefly on how leaders can get what they say to line up with what they do. In other words, as leaders, how can we fix our misalignments so that everything we’re saying and doing is moving in the same direction?
True story: Mr. T.S. Wong, founder of one of the largest toy manufacturers in the world, Jetta, made a decision 38 years ago that he would focus his leadership efforts on aligning what his company said with what they did. None of his contemporaries in the People’s Republic of China in 1977 were thinking this way. “If they promised it,” Mr. Wong said, “They would do it.” He was determined that his company would not represent what they weren’t. If they said it, they would be it.
Since 2005, I’ve led executive training sessions at Jetta headquarters in Guangzhou alongside Mr. Wong for his executive team members. Whenever I’m with him, I’m struck afresh by his resemblance to Mr. Rogers, both in stature and personality. T.S. Wong is kindly, humble, respectful, authentic, and built of steel. He is gentleness and ferocity at the same time. And his company has become one of the leading Original Equipment Manufacturers in the world.
When Jetta started, Mr. Wong declared that they would stand on three core values: Integrity, Excellence, and Synergy. These values would be real—they’d live, they’d be verifiable in their business practices, they’d be measurable, and they’d serve as a benchmark in making tough calls. Mr. Wong considers himself the Chief Values Alignment Officer. In truth, he is now Chairman of the Board and his son, Kenneth, is CEO, but throughout the company’s history he has continuously asked the question, “Are we what we say we are?”
One of the largest and most reputable OEMs in the world, Jetta grew from its founding in 1977 to China’s leading toymaker. Mr. Wong’s focus on alignment is, without rival, the reason for the trust they’ve built with their workers, partners, suppliers, and customers worldwide. And the benefits of this discipline spill out from Jetta, bringing countless additional benefits to the world.
Here’s one example: Several years ago, government officials within the People’s Republic of China ordered a CEO from a large national manufacturer to spend time as an executive trainee of Mr. Wong. The CEO of a giant national corporation ordered to take lessons from Mr. Wong! Why? Because, although suicide is very commonplace within Chinese industry (many companies build their multi-level manufacturing facilities with nets above the ground floor to catch jumpers), this particular CEO had more suicides than the government could tolerate.
Try to grasp the enormity of what I just wrote—too many suicides! More suicides than the acceptable number! And why was this CEO ordered to spend time with Mr. Wong? So he could learn how to run a company where people don’t want to kill themselves. Mr. Wong’s reputation and influence have spilled out far beyond the boundary-lines of his own company.
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Aligning what we say with what we do is a leadership challenge common to us all. Stated more directly, we must learn how to translate, with discipline, the things that we declare, all the way out to the fingertips of our organizations—to where people work, where they impact quality, where they determine how excellent we’re actually going to be—to where the customer is touched and impacted. Doing so will not only impact our customers, it will also create a life-giving safety net of integrity, trust, and authenticity for the hearts and the lives of our people.
John Stahl-Wert is co-author of the best-selling book “The Serving Leader.” He serves as President of Newton Institute and Director of its Center for Serving Leadership. Learn more at www.centerforservingleadership.com.
Photo by Toni Kellar (Lily pad, Seneca Lake, Ohio)