Last week I had the privilege of hearing Robert Earley, CEO of John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, speak to a group of leaders. Every time I’ve heard him speak, he sets the room on fire; and this was no exception. He’s an incredibly dynamic speaker, and I suspect that he is an equally impressive leader. He stated that he only has 3 rules for employees at JPS:
(1) Own it (2) Seek joy, and (3) Don’t be a jerk.
Sounds simple enough, right? Far from it! He’s using those simple principles to communicate his vision and to transform the culture at JPS. One way he’s doing that is to repeat his message over and over and over.
I’ve heard him speak several times, and he doesn’t just say the same thing each time, but guess what? He’s shared his simple 3 rules every time. Every single time. That, in itself, is a powerful leadership lesson.
Leaders are notorious for having “37 Point Vision Statements” or “454 Core Values” that they want people to live by. Come on! That works for Special Agent Gibbs on the hit television show NCIS (Rule #21), but that’s about the only place. The old adage, “Keep it Simple…” also means, “Keep it Short!”
When it comes to my car being inspected at the auto shop, I want 83 things on the checklist. It’s comforting to know they’ve checked it over that thoroughly. But when it comes to being able to articulate the real core of my organization’s mission, it’s not empowering to have a document that rivals War and Peace—it’s bewildering!
The one rule that caught my attention was the first one: Own It. He used the metaphor of comparing the way people treat a rental car versus the way they treat their own car. It reminded me of something that I read years ago in Max Depree’s book Leadership Jazz. DePree submitted that one of the things that employees ask themselves about their company is simply, “Can I own this place?” Of course, he wasn’t talking about stockholder options. He was talking about whether or not the organization has the kind of culture that inspires people to do their best and to be proud—really proud that they work there.
What occurs to me is that we forget that there is an important connection between “Own it” and “Just 3 (Not 33) Rules”. A lot of leadership is about communication, and when a leader can simplify and summarize what we are all about into a concise and memorable metaphor, sentence, or phrase, it says something important. It says, “I can own this place.”