Best Practice

Walk the Talk: Lead Your Team Members By Example

Would you ever ask your children to do something you wouldn’t do? Would you ask any of your employees to do something you would not be willing to do?

As we gain more responsibility by expanding our company’s staff or climbing the corporate ladder and taking on leadership roles directing teams, we often find ourselves in situations that make it very easy for us to delegate to our employees. We know what needs to be done and we manage the team accordingly. But the question is, would you be willing to do what you are asking your people to do?

Earlier this year, I was having an operation review in Montreal. The task at hand was the operational plan for Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, a holiday celebrated on June 24 in the Canadian province of Quebec. From an operations perspective, it’s a challenging day for UPS because it is not a nationwide holiday — only the province of Quebec observes it. To add to the matter, the holiday fell on a Sunday this year.

That meant some companies were not open the previous Friday, while other companies decided to observe the holiday on the following Monday. So to serve all our customers adequately, we had to make a tough decision, and it was to ask some of our drivers to work on Saturday, June 23. To properly serve the market, we needed 200 drivers. Since it was a scheduled day off for them, we asked some of our drivers to volunteer.

Once the operations team had made the decision to work on the Saturday before the holiday, I asked to address our drivers in person.

At UPS, we start our day with a brief three-minute pre-work communication meeting or PCM, where we review what the workload is expected to be that day, what should be improved, and what general announcements need to be made. To make the meeting more dynamic, fun and engaging, we use a “safety football.” The person conducting the meeting throws the football to someone, and that person must provide a safety tip.

So on June 8, I stood before our drivers in Quebec and thanked them for their safety and committed service to UPS — or, as we like to call it, “Big Brown.” I announced the decision to work on the Saturday prior to Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. I also clarified that we were looking for drivers to volunteer for this shift.

To end the meeting, I announced a slight change to the traditional throw of the “safety football.” I proposed that I would throw the ball to a group, and whoever caught it would have me as their delivery partner for the Saturday we were asking them to volunteer. They all giggled when I said I would “brown up,” meaning I would be in full uniform instead of a business suit, and would join them on their route. This came as news to members of my management team because I had not shared this twist with them. Surprise!

The driver who caught the ball was named Enzo. He looked a bit conflicted, and he finally said he already had something planned for Saturday and wouldn’t be able to work. I reaffirmed that there was no problem at all since we were just asking for volunteers, and that I would ride with someone else.

Later that afternoon, the center’s management team came to find me. Everyone looked so excited and was beaming with smiles — which of course got me intrigued. I was so happy when they showed me a message Enzo had sent stating that he had reorganized his Saturday and wanted to know if I would be still willing to drive with him. My response: “Absolutely!”

On that Saturday, I addressed 201 drivers at our morning PCM. I thanked them for volunteering and helping the company meet our customers’ needs and deliver the quality of service people expect from UPS. I also announced that I would once again change up the traditional “safety football” toss. I threw it without saying anything else, and this time a longtime driver named Anthony caught it.

The surprise I had in store for him was that Christoph, the UPS Canada president, who works directly for me, would be driving with him. When Christoph saw I was leading by example and willing to ‘brown up,’ roll up my sleeves and go out to work side by side with our volunteer drivers, he followed suit.

My day out delivering packages with Enzo was great! It reminded me of my beginnings at UPS more than 30 years ago, when driving was my day-to-day job. Enzo and I delivered 80 stops to very pleasant and satisfied customers. Our deliveries included air conditioning units, carpet rolls and multiple pairs of shoes.

It always makes me proud when we meet our customers’ expectations and see them happy about receiving their packages. But this time, the best part of my day was spending it with Enzo, a proud father of a 13-year-old son. He has been a driver for UPS for 20 years and is truly a UPSer!

After I boarded the plane back home on Sunday, I reflected on my delivery day with Enzo. I couldn’t erase the smile on my face, and that’s when I thought, never ask your employees for something you are not willing to do yourself. Lead by example and walk the talk.

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About the author

Romaine Seguin

Romaine Seguin is president of UPS Global Freight Forwarding, based in Atlanta. She can be reached at rseguin@ups.com.

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