Kurt Treu Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Kurt Treu is a leader in flux — his leadership style is constantly evolving as he learns new things and talks to new people. That’s because Treu, regional chairman Northeast and Central Ohio for U.S. Bancorp, the parent company of U.S. Bank, knows that the best leader is one who continues to learn how to pilot an organization. So while Treu takes pride in the way he leads his 1,300 employees, he continues to study other leaders and read books on how to improve company culture. Always ready to hear new ideas for improving his leadership style, he is constantly adapting to his staff to produce better results at the country’s sixth-largest commercial bank. Smart Business spoke with Treu about why it’s your job to make employees understand how they help the company and how to create a winning environment.

Help employees by explaining their roles. The most important thing for people is to answer the question of why — ‘Why should I be great at what I do? Why does what I do matter?’ You have to answer that for people.

Help people understand why what they do matters, how it fits in to the bigger picture of the team. We need to trust people with that information. I think the old style of telling people, ‘Do this because I said so,’ doesn’t give people enough intellectual integrity. From the entry-level person to the most senior-level person, they need to be trusted with the ‘why’ to fully understand their role.

If you stop there, you have a piece of it, but the next step is making the emotional connection. You really help people to understand how they fit in to the bigger picture and how what they do truly does matter, not just to the company but hopefully to the customer they serve. When you do that, now you have the opportunity to inspire people, and it is the leader’s responsibility to provide that inspiration.

I believe that people want their lives to have meaning, and it would be a pretty shallow, empty career for most of us if we went in every day, putting in the hours that we do at our jobs, and not feel that there is some real, true meaning to that. To the extent that you can help answer that for people, it gives them meaning and makes them feel relevant every day.

Create a winning environment. A leader needs to create a winning environment. Nobody likes to be part of a losing team. The leaders create a new future and inspire people to be better than they would have been if that leader wouldn’t have been there.

We have a real coaching culture here, so there is an absolute requirement that all of our managers are not just meeting with staff annually but there is continuous coaching going on. And that can be formal and informal. In a lot of areas, we have weekly coaching sessions, and then something more in-depth on a monthly or quarterly basis.

If that’s done properly, it’s huge. Coaching isn’t always about, ‘Golly, are you hitting your goals, and how can I help you do that?’ Part of it has to be career development, personal development and professional development. Most people don’t leave their jobs because they don’t like what they’re doing, it’s because they are not feeling personally and professionally fulfilled. They don’t feel like they’re developing, or they don’t see an opportunity for the future.

Build up your community. We are made up of communities like Cleveland, Akron and Columbus, and people may know the name U.S. Bank, but they bank with people. So to the extent that we can tell the story of who we are and be out there in the community and supporting the things that are important to this community, that says a lot about our organization.

It’s leading by example, and it’s role modeling. Not only do we tell people that it would be a nice thing for you to be involved and be on board, we expect it.

From a selfish standpoint, the more we can make the community strong, the stronger we’ll be as an organization. So it’s the right thing to do, but it’s also a smart business thing to do.

Combine cultures for the best ideas. When there is an acquisition, you are acquiring a group of very proud people, and proud people are proud for a reason; they’re proud of what they are doing, they’re proud of what they’ve done.

First of all, you have to respect that. You can’t have so much ego that you think what you’re doing is right just because you’re the buyer.

You need to listen, and you need to take the best of both worlds, if you will. When it’s all said and done, you need to inspire people about what the new future is going to look like. You need people to be convinced that they can create that new future, and that they’re not going to be the victims of whatever happened to them, but instead, they are going to control that to create what tomorrow is going to look like. You have to help paint that picture for people to understand how they fit in to it.

Hire people who fit. The most important criteria for someone here is fit. In real estate, it’s location, location, location; here it’s fit, fit, fit. It’s all about cultural fit, so you have to test for that, you have to get a feel for that in the interview process.

My litmus test isn’t scientific, but if I’m in an interview and I find that I end up trying to sell the bank as opposed to the candidate selling themselves to me, then somewhere in there I’ve made the emotional connection that, that candidate fits. That’s a hard thing to put on an interview sheet, but you can ask them some behavioral questions that will help get to that.

It’s really trying to find out about that person, and what makes them tick, to see if their values match those of the organization.

HOW TO REACH: U.S. Bancorp, (800) 872-2657 or www.usbank.com