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Earlier this year, I had the great fortune to sit down with one of my long-time business partners, clients and friends, Michele Landess. We spoke about her experience with leading and managing teams in a large, complex financial services institution with challenging deadlines and a highly distributed workforce.  Now that Michele has retired (or “rewired” if you prefer), she was able to share many great insights and perspectives with the benefit of hindsight and introspection.

What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

Part 4: On Cultivating Loyalty

Q: Over the years, I’ve heard you talk a lot about partnerships and relationships, and how that’s helpful in cultivating loyalty with your staff. What does that look like in real life?

A: One of the things that I like to do – and it does take an investment in time, but it pays back in spades – is that I would meet with each of my direct reports every week, or as needed. Sometimes it was half an hour, sometimes it was longer, depending on what we needed to get done. And we’d talk about work, but I always tried to have something personal to talk about.  Whether they were going on a vacation, whether they were dealing with something personal in their lives that I needed to know about. So if they were having a bad time, I had that understanding of why they were acting a certain way, or when they needed time off, we could cover for them, etc. I think that having that blend between work and personal life, trying to know the whole person, was so valuable for both of us.  I would share what was going on in my life too.

I think having that relationship made it easier to talk about issues that were coming up. And knowing that I would always have their back if there was a problem. If we made a mistake, it was always about how we recover. I wouldn’t focus on the fact that they made a mistake, but would really look at how we were recovering, how would we move forward. I think that helped them: if they did make a mistake, it wasn’t like oh we can’t tell her, it was oh she’ll help me get through this. Which I would always do, because we needed to move forward.

Q: So in other words, the loyalty you cultivated was a natural byproduct of the trust that you developed by sharing some of yourself and giving them the space and the opportunity to share some of themselves

A: Right, right. And it was great.  We could really count on each other, so it worked very well.

Q:I had the great fortune of working directly with many of your directs on a regular basis, and you and I had our lovely one on ones. Of course we often met right after somebody else’s one on one with you, and it was always so energizing because everybody would say “ I just had my one on one with Michele, it was so great, and we talked about all these great things”.  And of course they didn’t share with me all the things you talked about, but I just felt like everybody always came away meetings with you feeling better about themselves and the work.

A: Right, right. You know, I worked for someone once, who, every time I got off the phone with them I always felt worse than I did before the call started.  I never wanted anybody I worked with to to feel like that, life is too short.

Q: It really is!

Come back tomorrow for our final installment, Part 5: On Embracing Retirement

Michele Landess recently retired from one of the nation’s largest financial services institutions as Senior Vice President in the Wealth Management Division. In her tenure, Michele lead several large initiatives including the industries largest ever bank trust integration and most recently running a program of large transformation initiatives for the bank. Michele has always been known as a great leader and business strategist who commands respect from everyone she comes into contact with and has encouraged and supported the leadership development of her team — all while managing huge initiatives in a large, complex, highly matrixed organization.