Carefrontation — The Ultimate Leadership Trait

post by Mark Hopkins:

The best leadership tip I ever
received came from a pastor’s sermon during a non-denominational service in
Yosemite Valley Chapel.  Maybe it was the
message or maybe it was that I had 5 hours to think about it as I hiked up Half
Dome later that morning, but 25 years later I can still recall it clearly.  The reverend’s message was that if you find
yourself in a position where you have the opportunity to help another person
recognize their own limiting behavior, and make a change for the better, that
you are obligated to help them.  He went
on to explain that this kind of feedback was confrontational and would only be
accepted and processed by the recipient if it was delivered in an extremely
caring fashion.  In fact he had coined a
name for the process when it was done correctly.  He called it carefrontation. 
The pastor was clearly providing
guidance to parishioners on how to help others confront tough problems, but to
me it sounded a lot like a leadership strategy.
As a new project manager at Hewlett Packard I found that I interacted
with a lot of brilliant people, many of who had been conditioned by higher
learning institutions to compete rather than collaborate.  It was clear that we would get a lot more
done if we could move the culture toward a higher level of trust and
cooperation and away from the zero sum game to which they were accustomed. HP
had a great training program for new managers, but I decided to add carefrontation to my management style and had great results
almost immediately.  When team members
began to understand that I really cared about them and would always act in
their best interest, we started building a level of trust that changed the way
we worked. And it was contagious.  Team
members started cooperating and collaborating at a level that got them, and me,
Over the years I have witnessed
the powerful changes that occur when team members care about each other and
truly have each other’s backs.  Trust
based organizations:
Execute faster: Stephen Covey
calls it “The Speed of Trust”.  A
trust-based organization spends less time on formal communication and more time
getting the job done.  Speed =
Innovate more: Employees who know
the boss has their back think outside the box without fear of failure or
Produce higher quality work:  Happy people simply care more and do better
work because of it.
Attract Customers:  If you think customers can’t feel the company
culture, think again. They sense a trust based organization intuitively and
want to be associated with it.
Have lower turnover:  After working within a culture of
carefrontation it’s almost impossible to go back — and they don’t.
The need for these kinds of
organizational attributes has never been higher.  Here in Denver, DaVita Healthcare Partners
has demonstrated how this philosophy can pay big dividends in the increasingly
scrutinized world of healthcare service providers.  DaVita operates more than 1,800 dialysis
centers and employs over 40,000 people domestically.  In spite of their size, or perhaps because of
it, they have gone to great lengths to communicate a carefrontation mentality
that you can see woven through their core values document.  Here’s an excerpt: “
We are trusted because we are trustworthy… We
genuinely care for and support, not only those to whom we provide care, but
those with whom we work shoulder-to-shoulder.”
The company has used this foundation to achieve an incredible 11
straight years of improved clinical outcomes and financial results.
Regardless of the markets we
serve, every one of us knows that our organization’s providence rests squarely
on our ability to make the changes demanded by the fast moving target of
customer satisfaction.  Creating a
company culture where people genuinely care about each other is the best way I
know of for a team to confront the challenges it faces and confidently drive
improvement in the value chain as well as in itself.
Mark Hopkins earned engineering
degrees from Cornell and Stanford and then spent the next twenty-five years
deciphering the factors that make some people prosperous, successful and happy
After building a leadership career with companies like Hewlett Packard and
Emerson Electric, Hopkins founded Peak Industries, a medical device contract
manufacturer, which he grew to $75 million and later sold to Delphi. He then
founded Crescendo Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and Catalyst, a
private foundation supporting Colorado-based nonprofits and micro-lending in
the developing world.  He is the author
Shortcut to Prosperity: 10 Entrepreneurial Habits
and a Roadmap For An Exceptional Career.