No Matter the Size of Your Bus, From a Minivan to a Passenger Train, Job One is Getting the Right People on Board.

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Paul Mayer

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins creates a memorable and lasting metaphor by comparing a business to a bus and its leader to a bus driver. He emphasizes that it's critical to continuously ask “First Who, Then What?”

You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they are going - by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline - first the people, then the direction - no matter the circumstances.

In my forty-six years of business life, this lesson in leadership has always been the most enduring.

As I review the progress that we have made at the Chamber, the benchmarks have come from making those decisions as to who sits on the bus. When your bus is a minivan with only seven seats, those decisions are all-the-more critical. From making expedient decisions that filled an immediate need came the lesson of taking the time necessary to ensure that the person is a right fit. We go through an exhaustive process of looking at candidates through multiple filters before we bring someone on board. We do background checks, conduct personality assessments, and one-on-one interviews. With all of this work, the process is not without flaws. This necessitates the second part of the Jim Collins bus analogy: getting the wrong people off the bus. This is a painful process and makes the lesson that much more impactful. The courage it takes to maintain the right people on the bus is, in my opinion, the single most important role of a leader.

When you look at our team now you see the result of perfecting the process of getting the right people on the bus. We got very lucky twenty-five years ago when we found Karina at South Garland High School. She has provided the balance and steady hand that has kept us on course. Diane, the one we all count on to make our daily lives better. There is no task that we ask of her that does not get done. Jenna, the brains and iron will behind our communications and strategic planning. Without her we would not have attempted to apply for the U.S. Chamber’s Accreditation and subsequently have won the five-star rating. Liza, who puts organization and sparkle in all of our events. When you see us relax at our biggest showcases it is because we know that all I’s are dotted and all T’s are crossed and its going to be fabulous. Alex, exemplifies our tag line of “The Connecting Source.” From the first day he started with us he knew his job was to make people's business lives better. Andrea, lives and breathes the life of a small business person and takes their success personally. A business only has to make the decision to grow and she will not stop until that dream become a reality.

When you measure the success of the Chamber over the years you quickly realize our bus is actually more like a large passenger train. All of the people from our Board, to our active volunteers, to our members, our Partners at the City, Garland ISD, DCCCD, Richland College, Workforce Solutions of Greater Dallas, to hundreds of others along the way, give us the capability to solve any business issue that confronts us. Not a day goes by that one or more of these partners isn't coming into play in helping make the Chamber’s mission of growing the economy happen. There are a great number of the right people on our “bus” and we are grateful for them all.

We wish all of you great success in the coming year in filling your "bus." 

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