The Dependables

I’ve got a not quite 2-year-old four-legged companion named Bobby. He’s a mix of Cocker Spaniel and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel so he’s pretty small (about 18 lbs.) and extremely cute if I must say so myself! He’s very sweet tempered and shy around humans he doesn’t know, but he’s very social with other dogs and loves to go to day care (or camp as we call it) when work or travel schedules dictate.  Small, shy and cute as he is, he’s also pretty darned athletic and one tough little dude to boot. So tough in fact that my wife and I jokingly refer to Bobby every once in a while, as “Spaniel L. Jackson!”

He showed his toughness this past week as we were going through the now infamous Polar Vortex 2019, with actual temperatures dropping to -27° and wind chills beyond -50°!! (as I write this Thursday afternoon, we finally broke the spell and got all the way up to zero for the first time in over 48 hours!). We were super careful with him, put him in a dog coat and balloon-like foot pad protectors to protect against freezer burn and ice-melt chemicals. He didn’t love “suiting up” like this, but once we were outside, he was happy as a clam. No complaining—no pulling back towards the house—and I think he was a bit disappointed with me a few times that we didn’t stay out longer. He just acted like “no big deal—been there, done that” even though he’d never dealt with weather like this before. He’s dependable and trustworthy. Time for a walk? No problem—you can depend on Bobby—he’s ready to go.

Super Bowl winning New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was interviewed recently and spoke of his keys to leadership, and one of the 5 he considered most important was leaning on those he called “The Dependables.” These aren’t the flashy stars, the freak athletes who have more talent than their peers and make tons of spectacular plays. Those stars are the “bright shiny objects” that coaches and fans are often drawn to or wish to have on their roster. But those stars don’t shine on every play, and that inconsistency of result is something Belichick doesn’t love. When it’s crunch time, the pressure is high, and the outcome of each play carries extra importance, he wants his most dependable players on the field. He wants the players who know their roles, know where they fit in the scheme, and that have a history of doing the expected under pressure. And love him or hate him, you can’t really argue with his line of thought. His team is playing in the Super Bowl for the 9th time since 2001—no other team has played in more than 3 during the same stretch. (Update—as I’m editing before final publication on the Monday following the Super Bowl, we now know the Patriots won and one of Belichicks’ dependables—small and not particularly fast Wide Receiver Julian Edelman—was the game’s Most Valuable Player!)

The value of “The Dependables” simply can’t be overstated. We want that kind of regularity and dependability from our friends, family, pets, appliances, airlines, weather reports, etc., and from our work teammates as well. But as leaders are we recognizing and rewarding this “dependable” behavior, or do we save the praise, raises, and promotions for the flashy stars in the organization? If only the stars or the folks that make the occasional big play (i.e., the big sale, the big splash of green on the KPI board, the heroic all-night maintenance fix, etc.)  are being recognized and rewarded then the value of those you can depend on in the clutch gets diminished. And those in your company or organization who you can depend on to deliver the expected results in the expected time while upholding the company values are absolutely critical to your long-term success. Bill Belichick wants those players on the field for the most important play of the game. I want my dog Bobby with me when it’s time to go out in -27° weather.

Your task is to insure both you and the organization are recognizing and rewarding this dependable behavior. Public mentions at company town halls, quick shout-outs on department conference calls, personal thanks at the next Board of Directors meeting, or maybe even just a simple thank you note from the CEO or Division VP would be a good start. Creating awards for consistent excellent long-term performance in safety, attendance, quality defects ratings, customer retention, overtime hours, etc., recognize attributes that often are taken for granted. And you and the team should look for opportunities to tie compensation incentives to some of these dependability attributes as well just to double-down on this positive reinforcement.

Model, hire, train, reward, and recognize this dependable behavior inside your company, and make this part of your daily and weekly management routine. You’ll get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees as a result, and your team will have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.  Don’t just say it—lead by doing it.

Photo: J. Carbine

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