What Has This 100-Year-Old Business Done to Ensure Its Longevity? Its CEO Follows These 7 Leadership Principles. USAA president and CEO Wayne Peacock breaks it down.
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Celebrating 100 years as a company is an honor reserved for only a handful of organizations and businesses in our high-turnover economy. One company did just that in June of this year. What has USAA — one of America's leading financial services companies, which offers insurance, banking, investment and retirement solutions to its more than 13 million members — done right to establish its longevity?
I went straight to the source for the latest episode of my Leadership Lessons series by speaking to Wayne Peacock, USAA's president and CEO. He took on the role just three weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out and faced a unique set of challenges as he transitioned into the top role.
Peacock has served in nearly a dozen different roles in the 30 years he's been with USAA, including contact centers, information technology, shared services, strategy, marketing and communications, security and corporate real estate. His track record and in-depth understanding of USAA's inner workings made him the ideal candidate to step into the most prominent leadership role in the organization.
Peacock has learned a lot about business and was eager to share his most important lessons for young entrepreneurs and business leaders — and how they can implement the same strategies to future-proof their businesses.
1. Leadership must be purpose-driven
According to Peacock, purpose-driven leadership is an essential asset for any company that wants to stand the test of time. This mindset begins with leaders being true to themselves about their purpose, identifying what they want to do and what impact they want to make. By making purpose your leadership priority, you avoid getting caught up in the small decisions and instead direct your organization toward your long-term goals. Peacock believes that reflection plays a core role in purpose-driven leadership. "The more you reflect, the easier it is to determine what you should be doing today," he says.
2. Be flexible
After 30 years of working for USAA, Peacock knows all too well that life has a powerful way of disrupting our plans. Look for organizations with leaders who "have a dominant strategy while they remain prepared to adapt to emergency strategies," he says. Leading with purpose also means keeping your eyes on the end goal and structuring your day-to-day strategy in an adaptable way.
3. Success is about getting stuff done and bringing team members along
Although results-driven leadership is vital, Peacock doesn't believe it should come to the detriment of a team's members. He says that every organization has some team members who focus more on the social aspect of the workplace than "getting stuff done." In contrast, others are productive powerhouses who meet their efficiency goals at the sacrifice of having interpersonal relationships with others around the office.
According to Peacock, a company wants employees who embody a healthy balance of these two traits — employees who are productive while simultaneously bringing a sense of connection and camaraderie to the organization. These workers further the organization's statistical goals while helping cultivate teamwork and connection in the workplace.
4. Always be a student of the game
According to Peacock, one of the best traits for leaders today is to "always be a student of the game." He says that continuous learning — regardless of a person's field — is key to getting ahead and establishing an organization that will stand the test of time. Ask questions. Always be on the lookout for a chance to learn something new. According to Peacock, curiosity is an essential trait for successful organization leaders and entrepreneurs.
5. Create an inclusive environment for your team to win
We go to work every day — shouldn't it be a place where we feel accepted and valued? Peacock believes companies should prioritize creating a safe work environment where their employees feel secure enough to bring their best selves. He says that when people feel respected for who they are, they are more likely to put in their best performance while in the workplace.
Creating a system where team members feel they can reach their potential plays a major role in this aspect of USAA, as the company encourages each person to do their best work through positive reinforcement and a genuine appreciation for their unique value as an individual and a member of the organization. Peacock adds that opportunities for career growth, particularly for those right out of high school and college, are vitally important for employees' mindsets.
6. Bring your company's mission to life
Communicate your company's mission in a way that resonates with your employees. The more they understand your organization's goals and the reasoning behind their work, the more committed they will feel in the workplace. According to Peacock, "bringing your company's mission to life" is an essential priority if you want productive, dedicated team members. It's not uncommon for everyone to feel a little detached from their organization's goals when they do not feel tangible to employees as individuals.
Peacock strives to make USAA's priorities and mission clear to all team members to make it personal to them. To curb feelings of just working "for a paycheck," organizational goals should matter to each employee. As they see themselves and their team members inch closer to achieving their goals, they'll feel more motivated to work diligently and bring their best to the workplace.
7. Be nice
Peacock's final tip is a simple one — be nice! He says that doing things well doesn't have to come at the cost of treating others without dignity and grace. Presenting a kind, empathetic and understanding temperament can help establish feelings of safety and security for team members, driving them to be their best and open about any concerns they have at work.
Although Wayne Peacock found his success in the insurance industry, his lessons on leadership are valuable to others in all fields. His success shows us that achievement is not just the result of one strategy or action, but many. For more from my hour-long talk with Peacock, watch the full webinar here. The growing collection of episodes from our Leadership Lessons series gives readers access to the best practices of successful CEOs from more than 30 brands, including Heineken, Foot Locker, Headspace, Zoom, Chipotle, Warby Parker and ZipRecruiter, to name a few.