A couple of months ago, I highlighted Pete Luongo‘s book, 10 Truths About Leadership, on this blog. Full of simple, practical lessons, I recommend the book for anyone in a leadership or management position. I recently had the opportunity to ask Pete some questions about his background and the 10 Truths for our “In the Spotlight” interview series. Following is part one of the interview transcript:
TSG: You retired from The Berry Company in 2003. Did you have in mind that you would write a book when you stepped down?
Pete Luongo: It was probably the last thing that I thought I would ever do. Not even on the radar screen. When l retired I had a full plate with accepting a teaching position at the University of Dayton, teaching strategy in our MBA program along with serving as United Way Campaign chairman and accepting two positions on boards. And speaking was about seventh on my list of priorities. But as the requests for me to share The Leadership Pledge with organizations increased, l kept hearing that I needed to write a book so that we could get the message to a much broader audience. A good friend, Marty Grunder, who had written a book, kept insisting that I do the same and he introduced me to his publisher and I guess the rest is history. Richard Hunt came to hear me speak and encouraged me to write a book and I spent the next 10 months writing and we published September of 2007. As I look back on the experience it was one of the most meaningful things that I ever accomplished. Not only has the reception been overwhelming but more important it allowed me reflect in a much deeper way about the influences in my life including growing up without a father, my faith, the many setbacks in my professional life and most importantly those special people who took time to care about me. It is a story that I believe needs to be told – especially in a time when greed and self-indulgency have put a strangle hold on not only our business climate but our society.
TSG: You admit that the lessons in your book – these 10 truths about leadership – are relatively simple. Yet there’s no question that collectively, we as leaders desperately need to hear the message. Why is it that something so basic is so often overlooked?
Pete Luongo: The focus on winning is the short answer, and it gets in the way and clouds our judgment as leaders, coaches, teachers, peers, employees, volunteers, parents, and friends. We all tend to over-manage relationships when outcomes are in doubt and absent a code of conduct we seek short-term solutions which are not sustainable and impact long-term relationships with customers, employees and investors. We learned that The Leadership Pledge was that code of conduct – that set of mores – that provided us with the discipline to define roles and responsibilities and gave us a very simple approach, not easy, to execution. In working with so many different organizations including college athletic programs I can honestly tell you that there is no lacking of strategic plans, vision and mission statements, etc. The problem is execution! And when you do not have a track to run on, we become so vulnerable to short-term solutions and eventually the train wrecks that we are seeing today.
The solution was the five steps that make up The Leadership Pledge: people, support, expectations, feedback, and accountability. lt became quite clear that recruiting folks that had a high probability of being successful, giving them the tools to do their job, making certain there was a clear understanding of expectations, and providing honest and meaningful feedback defined the roles and responsibilities of all managers at Berry from the president to the first level manager. It was then and only then we could ask our people to accept accountability and responsibility for their performance. It’s simple, it’s just not easy.
TSG: One thing I love about the book is your vulnerability and your admission of mistakes – you didn’t just come off the starting line as a brilliant, perfect leader. What was the real “ah-ha” moment that led you to shift your focus and practice the kind of leadership you write about here?
Pete Luongo: I’m convinced that all of us have to go through that one epiphany in life that brings a new level of understanding to what we already know and helps us rebalance our priorities. Mine was the moment I realized that the only time we realize our dreams is when we help other people realize theirs. l had been on a very fast track in my career and had really never faced or confronted failure. My passion for winning – success, if you will – became such an obsession that it almost destroyed me and everyone else around me! And sadly in many instances it was the people that l cared about the most. It was then that l began the journey looking for a better way. If you’ve read the Celestine Prophecy I’m sure you’ll agree that the most compelling message is that there are no coincidences in life. I’m convinced that people come in and our lives and whether or not we pay attention has huge implications on our lives. It was during this difficult period that l was exposed to Vince Flowers and Charley Hughes who shared with me the behavior-driven philosophy which is at the core of our model. It was Vince and Charley that convinced me that l had to learn to accept myself before I could ever accept others. That was the “ah-ha” moment, and no longer being held hostage by the need to please others allowed me to free up my instincts and devote myself to making a difference in other people’s lives.
TSG: You achieved some tremendous success at The Berry Company. What are you most proud of?
Pete Luongo: That’s a tough one to answer. We faced some very difficult times when the company’s survival was at risk. Being part of that turnaround as executive vice president/COO and president/ CEO has to rank at the very top in terms of accomplishments. Those can be measured in terms of contract acquisition and capturing 95% of the business that changed hands in that 9 year period. Growing the independent line of business from 75 million to 450 million while enjoying employee satisfaction levels that ranked us at the very top of all corporate America – 98% of 2800 employees said they were proud to work for the company – and achieving net income objectives each of those years were measurable success stories. But, what I’m most proud of is perpetuating a legacy of a company that enjoyed success in whatever metrics you choose to measure while creating an environment where employees felt valued, respected, and part of something special.
TSG: One of the light bulb moments for me, when reading the book, was when you wrote that motivation is a personal responsibility. Traditional thinking is that a good leader has to motivate his or her people. You came to a different conclusion. Talk about that.
Pete Luongo: It’s one the great debates today in leadership and coaching circles and I’ll have no part of it. Personal motivation has to come from within. Accept my definition that your level of motivation is in direct proportion to the pleasure you receive from whatever you do. It really goes back to the hiring process and whether or not we’ve put ourselves in the best position to maximize our god-given talent. For each of us, finding our sweet spot or our strength zone as my friend John Maxwell describes has everything to do with our ability to be motivated. It’s about finding our purpose in life and approaching it with passion. Motivation simply provides the energy. As l so often tell the college coaches that I work with “you can make them more than they are but you can’t make them something they are not.” We can provide the environment, the stimulus but motivation has to come from within. It’s the inspiration that we as leaders are accountable for and that is simply caring about our people. We all have deep within us the need to be cared for and loved. And when we become more human as leaders and express our love and appreciation for individuals we become the leader that people respect, admire, and respond to. It’s a difficult step for most of us because we are afraid it exposes our vulnerability. I would argue that it exposes our uniqueness as both leaders and human beings. Any time we influenced anyone in any aspect of our lives l can assure you we did it with our heart, not with our head.
TSG: #1 on your Leadership Pledge is “Recruit, Hire and Retain.” Recruiting is practically a science in itself, it seems. What is the key to success in that arena?
Pete Luongo: Making it the HIGHEST priority in your organization. It has been a real shock to me since I’ve retired and have had the privilege of working with so many different organizations to see the lack of attention paid to the hiring process in both time and resources by senior leadership. It is NOT an HR function. It belongs to everyone starting at the top. And while there are there is no question there is a “science” to it and there are plenty of consultants our there teaching those techniques it all becomes meaningless unless it starts at the top. When it’s important to the boss it becomes important to everyone else in the organization.
TSG: A hot topic these days is employee engagement, and you write about that. What advice do you have for a leader – whether it’s a department manager or a corporate CEO – seeking to create an environment that fosters employee engagement?
Pete Luongo: l believe it is vastly underestimated and overlooked. While much has been written about employee engagement, how many organizations truly practice it? Far too many decisions continue to be made in corner offices and boardrooms without the advice, counsel, and input from the people that count the most – those employees that are touching the customer every day. We introduced the Upside-Down Pyramid back in the early 80’s when we began our journey to help our employees understand Truth #3: “Effective Leaders Manage Support Systems, Effective Employees Manage Themselves.” It begs the question, how can I ask to do your job unless I give you the tools to do it? As leaders it tests our listening skills as well as our willingness to engage our employees in finding the answers.
To be continued…
Come back for part two of the interview transcript on Thursday, August 28, where Pete answers questions about confronting poor performance, standards of excellence, hiring the right employees, and his perspective on what leaders are doing better today than yesterday, and the greatest challenges leaders must overcome to achieve greater success in the future.
Peter A. Luongo retired as President and CEO of The Berry Company in August 2003. His career at The Berry Company spanned more than 33 years. During his last nine years with the company, Peter was instrumental in guiding Berry through a period of record sales growth, numerous contract acquisitions and the perpetuation of the nearly 100-year-old company as an industry leader and “a great place to work.” Since retirement, Peter has dedicated himself to sharing this unique approach with audiences all over the world. His powerful message transcends business transformation, emerging technology, product innovation, corporate vision statements and strategic imperatives.