This past weekend I attended a retirement party with my lovely wife in Monterey. The retiree was a Senior Vice President who put in 34 years at an agricultural focused lender. I can’t thing of anything I’ve done for 34 years aside from breathing. My wife worked with him for many years and was part of the invite only guest list to share war stories and sing praises for the credit industry leadership veteran. Simply put, this was a retirement party attended by a bunch of bankers, creditors and appraisers.
I have gone to enough of events with this group to see familiar faces, remember a few names and share experiences from previous parties. There are a few regular attendees who I know I can count on for humorous banter or to exchange stories about similar interests. Fortunately, we have two young sons at home and when conversations come to a lull it’s always easy to find common ground by talking about the kids. And of course, I got the “don’t be a smart ass” conversation from my wife. OK, I’ll be a dumb ass.* I don’t know why after 7 years of marriage she still thinks I will embarrass her. All of you who are married know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
After the dinner plates were cleared and desserts served, the “roast” part of the evening started. Honestly, I was dreading this part of the evening for I KNEW it would be filled with several “inside baseball” references, “remember the time” recollections and a few tears as people said good-bye to an era managed by the leader. Stories and recollections would be shared that I was in no way connected to or even understood for I don’t come from the banking or credit world.
However, life has a strange way of providing unique opportunities and lessons to learn even in the most unsuspecting events. As I listened to the stories and comments, two major themes emerged that defined why this leader was so successful.
The first theme was this person’s ability to ask the right questions. A story was shared by a previous CEO to the company that involved a multi million-dollar loan. The loan was brought to the retiree’s desk for review and sign off. Without reading the entire document, the leader asked a few questions that immediately called to light a few red flags that had not been considered. “He had an uncanny ability to quickly ask the right questions that nobody had thought of,” one person shared.
The second theme was the great relationships this person had with many of the borrowers he was doing business with. Most, if not all, of these borrowers have been long time clients who regularly returned to do more business. As a result, this retiree was responsible for generating substantial amounts of revenue for the company. I later learned that this leader built friendships with these borrowers outside of the business environment through playing golf, attending games and even being part of family events. Simply put, he took the time to build friendships and it paid off on a personal and professional level.
Wow. I learned a lot about leadership that evening. It’s not about knowing everything…it’s about asking the right questions to help improve things. Secondly, genuinely get to know people. Relationships count. People matter. It’s a lot easier to do business with someone you know and trust.
* I’ve sprinkled many “Easter Eggs” through out my posts to make reading more fun. These eggs include cultural references from the ‘80s, ‘90s and present day. If you get the reference, send me a tweet (@ericdunstan) with the answer.