Building character Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Business success or failure often comes down to numbers. What’s our gross revenue? What’s our net profit? Are we in the black or red? But achieving big numbers doesn’t happen without a solid core of employees who realize the importance of character and personal growth.

Employees need to know their bosses care about them as people first and workers second, says Pat Riepma, athletic director and head football coach of Northwood University in Midland. Making a difference in employees’ lives, he says, will always reflect positively on the bottom line.

Smart Business spoke with Riepma about what strategies business leaders can take to foster personal growth among their employees.

How important is personal character in a business?

Personal character has to be the foundation in order for a business or team to be successful. A man’s character needs to be based on integrity. Integrity is not a sometime quality, but an all-the-time quality. Integrity is uncompromising, and it drives a leader to make choices and decisions that pave the way for his people to be successful.

What things might a business leader do to foster character and growth among employees?

It all begins with relationships with your people. Our players don’t care how much football we coaches know (X’s and O’s of the game) until they know that we care for them as people first, then as students, and finally as football players. This scenario would be the same in the business world as employees need to know their bosses care for them as people first and as workers second.

A leader can best foster personal character growth by giving time to his people, which is a great way to show that you care for them. A price tag cannot be put on the time you spend helping another person through a problem, or listening to their ideas, or encouraging them through a tough situation with a handwritten note followed up by a face-to-face, informal meeting.

A lesson I learned from my mother is no matter what profession we’re involved in, it’s a people business. It’s about making a positive impact on the people you come in contact with and making a difference in their lives.

What can business leaders learn from how sports are played to help them raise the level of what they do?

Great leaders understand that the most successful teams have members who play/work for each other and nobody cares who gets the credit. Great teams adopt the theme, ‘It’s not about me,’ and they get the attention off themselves. They understand the importance of loving the person next to them and realize that being a member of the team is more important than individual desires and wants. When this atmosphere is achieved, it allows an organization to achieve more as a team than what one individual could achieve on a solo mission.

How is a successful company like a successful sports team?

The formula is composed of what we discussed in the first three questions: character, servant leadership and teamwork. Uncompromising integrity has to be the foundation of the character of the team members. It starts at the top with leaders demonstrating this character and being examples for their people. It is not enough to talk about it, but rather we must model it, serve our people, and meet their needs. Finally, getting everybody to compete for a common goal that is most beneficial for the team and not for individual fame is most important.

Is it really all about winning or how you play the game?

We live in a competitive society. Winning is important, but the journey to reach the goal is more important. Winning will occur if a team or organization keeps a foundation of doing things right.

It starts with preparation. Proper preparation allows a team to taste success. It also includes team members acting with class and having integrity when making decisions and choices. A work ethic where everyone is willing to do the nonglamorous jobs behind the scenes is necessary.

There is no shortcut to building a successful company or team. When a team/company plays their heart out in a game or a project and gives everything they have, then you can live with the results. Even painful results allow participants the opportunity to handle adversity and show character. Victory allows us to display humility and the ability to handle success.

PAT RIEPMA is the athletic director and head football coach at Northwood University in Midland. Reach him at (989) 837-4385.