For professional football fans, especially older ones, the names Johnny Unitas and Ray Berry bring back thrilling memories. They were the star players of the Baltimore Colts during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Both Unitas, the quarterback, and Berry, the receiver, are listed among the all-time greatest players in NFL history. Unitas set virtually every passing record in the NFL, most of which stood for decades. He is credited with inventing the end-of-game, two minute drill. Berry, with his outstanding hands and ability to run precise patterns, is said to have dropped only two passes and fumbled once in his entire professional career. One episode that should hit home with every CEO occurred during the final drive of a game with the Colts in possession of the ball and trailing their opponent. Unitas dropped back to pass and threw the ball to Berry. With the ball still in the air, Unitas turned and started to run to the sideline. Berry then caught the ball, scored a touchdown, and the Colts won the game. Later, in the locker room a reporter asked Unitas why he ran off the field before the play was completed. He said, “Berry was open, I threw the ball to him, why wait around?”
Just as Johnny Unitas had total confidence in Ray Berry, every CEO needs to have confidence in a few individuals. Those individuals can be anywhere in the organization, operating at any level. They are easy to find, and you know them already based upon their unblemished record of performance. They may be doing seemingly invisible tasks or never receive the notoriety of others, but they always seem to get the job done, while somehow overcoming any obstacles that are in their way.
There is a simple acid test that you have already used without realizing the true value of these individuals. It is characterized by asking an individual to do something, and then throwing away all your notes and not even asking them to get back to you when the task is completed. You simply know that the task will get done. The person will expect no credit and would even be surprised with a “thank you.” They would just assume that your request was part of their job.
If you are extremely fortunate, you will have a handful of individuals like this in your organization. If you have a world-class organization, this mode of operation can occur across the entire workforce. The highly successful Chick-fil-A franchise owners and their employees and Federal Express couriers are two examples of organizations that have the personnel instilled with the commitment of doing whatever it takes to satisfy the customer. Antidotal stories about their employees have become legend. Certainly there are many other organizations that also exhibit this “whatever it takes” attitude. The members of our armed forces who keep their commitments by risking and sacrificing their lives are examples without equal. In all of these cases, the individuals make the decision based on what they WANT to do, not what they HAVE to do. Their willingness and loyalty to the organization is only possible if the organization shows the same loyalty to them.
These superstar individuals are internally motivated. Their actions go well beyond following the “empowerment” rules and guidelines that they may have been given. They understand what the underlying objectives are and utilize their creativity to meet those goals. Their success is not based on “rolling over” others or flagrantly violating processes and procedures. They don’t do it “for credit.” Instead, they do it because they were asked to, and they know that it the right thing to do, or they have trust in the individual that has made the request.
Build an organization of Ray Berrys, and you can be the successful Johnny Unitas team leader.