Robert Martichenko is founder and CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group. He is a frequent conference speaker, a poet and author of several business books and a novel. For this series about the crossover wisdom between work and life we talked about how his creative side and his professional life have come together, leading by example and how problem solving can build respect.
All In: Bring Your Whole Self to Work and Life
I believe I was touched by the muses. My novel Drift and Hum poured out of me. It’s 193,000 words and I never once stared at the screen and asked, “Now, what am I going to write today?” The only reason it took so long to write was because of my slow typing.
If you read my novel, there are two story lines. One is about the boys growing up and the other one is about Sam at 50 years old. It is a book of fiction, but a lot of it is fairly autobiographical.
When I decided that I would self-publish it, I was worried about LeanCor. I have a brand. I’m known as a lean thinker and business owner in the supply chain industry, which is fairly conservative. If I negatively impacted the company somehow, that would be very bad.
I was going to use a pseudonym; I came up with “Hunter Karmack.” Then some friends asked me, “What are you doing? Be proud of the different depths that you have as a person.” I’m a business owner. I write business books, I wrote the novel and I also write poetry. And I have a degree in mathematics.
“I can bring more joy to myself, and maybe help others, if I give people my whole being.”
My friends and family convinced me that I am what I am, to be proud of that, and not try to segregate things. They gave me the nerve to put my name on the novel. It started getting some good reviews on Amazon, then I started the Drift and Hum website. We kept it on the QT and were strategic about keeping everything separate. But I was slowly gaining nerve, pushing the boundary a little bit at a time.
Today, we’re bringing them together. We send out a link to my Drift and Hum podcast in the LeanCor newsletter. I have a keynote speech for our industry in which I mention my novel. I connect being a good leader to the importance of having time to reflect. My novel is the ultimate example of doing the most rigorous reflection that I could possibly do.
Now I’m all in. I’ve decided that I can bring more joy to myself, and maybe help others, if I give people my whole being. Robert the lean guy, Robert the supply chain guy, Robert the thinker. The risk of offending a customer is very low. For my own happiness and to give back to people I just need to be who I am.
Practicing What You Preach Is Not Easy
When we started building LeanCor I said it was going to be a lean company or we were going to die trying. [DD: Lean is a business management system championed by Japanese manufacturers and now used by companies around the world to get better every day through leadership practices, respect for people and process improvement.] That’s one of the most difficult challenges we’ve had: The sincere drive to be a lean company internally, and not just for show.
It’s hard. It’s like the old saying about the cobbler’s kids not having shoes. You’re busy growing a company. When you only have so many hours in the day, what comes first? Taking care of customers, or building your internal culture? But we try to practice what we preach. A lot of what we preach is around lean leadership, to use inquiry and advocacy in a balanced way, to be Socratic in our methods.
Others have told me – my uncle and mentor in particular – that this is easy for me because I’m curious and inquisitive by nature. I’m the guy who, if you sit beside me on an airplane, and you’re interested in talking, after two hours we’ll still be having a great conversation. I find people interesting. We all have crazy stories. We’ve all lived through some crazy things. I believe, if you want to make the world a better place, be interested in other people.
Respect Is a Two-Way Street
We have six values at LeanCor. Respect is the first one. The other five are safety, drive, integrity, teamwork, and accountability. All of these are driven by respect. If we live that one value, then we will live the other values.
I’ve learned over time that our most successful customer engagements are those relationships that are built on respect. Showing each other respect is much different from having a business relationship that’s based on mutual self-interest. Our customer relationships built on respect for one another’s knowledge, goals and principles, are definitely the most successful.
When we throw out powerful words it’s important to align around what they mean. What does respect mean? What respect means to me is that I want you to be physically safe from harm, and emotionally safe from harm. To show respect means listening to people, to respect their biases and opinions because we all have our views of the world based on our upbringing, and our cultural, travel, educational and life experiences. Even when we don’t see things the same way, it’s important to recognize that and have a conversation to try to understand why we each see things the way we do.
We build relationships through interaction and spending time together, through having multiple conversations. We have to understand the voice of our customer, to understand what we need to do for them so that they see value in our relationship. That requires asking good questions and listening. Once we understand what their vision is we have to execute in such a way that they get both what they want and what they need based on our expertise.
Mutual respect really shows when things don’t go so well. Processes fall apart. Every day isn’t perfect. You really know if there’s mutual respect in a customer relationship when there’s a failure of some kind. How do you both respond? Do you respond by pointing fingers at each other or as a team that problem solves together, uncovering the causes of the failure and putting together a solution so that it never happens again.
It’s the same in our personal lives as well. When there are problems it shows whether a relationship is truly based on respect, and how strong that relationship is. The more problem solving you do with a person, or with a customer, the more valuable the relationship is because you take pride in what you’ve gone through together.
Crossover Wisdom is a series of articles about the leadership theories, practices, and experiences that have had a positive impact on our lives beyond work. Follow me on LinkedIn or sign up here to receive updates when we post new interviews.
I am an independent leadership and management writer, editor, researcher and journalist. For the past ten-plus years (wow, has it been that long already?) I have helped business leaders and companies tell powerful stories.
Sign up to receive updates when we post new interviews.