Early in his career, John Allison knew he possessed strong math and analytical skills. But the young banker wanted to do more than crunch numbers, so he developed as a leader.
Within months of taking a job at BB&T, a regional bank, Allison started increasing his secretary’s workload. One day, he dumped a pile of projects on her desk and she said, “I’m not doing this.”
Allison feared he’d drive her to quit. So he invested in her training, involved her in decisions and helped her derive purpose from her job. He took the approach that by making her more successful, he’d gain success, too.
Allison also increased his self-awareness. After enrolling in a training program that identified how one’s emotional beliefs block sound decision-making, he realized that he harbored a sense that no matter how well he performed at work, he wasn’t good enough. So he spurred himself to do better while learning to listen without getting defensive.
As Allison climbed the corporate ladder—he became BB&T’s CEO in 1989 and served in that role for nearly 20 years—he learned to communicate more effectively with colleagues. He concluded that people have filters that can distort what they hear, and these filters often stem from childhood. He sought to remove filters so that he could listen more accurately and think more rationally.
He controlled his ambition by adopting a “Put me in, coach” attitude. Under his, BB&T grew from $4.5 billion in assets to over $152 billion and became the 10th biggest U.S.-based bank.
He says, “People ask me: When I went to the bank did I want to be CEO? Did I want to make a lot of money? The answer is I love being CEO and I love making a lot of money. But these outcomes were never objectives of mine. My objective was to do whatever I did better than anybody had ever done it, and to enjoy it while I was doing it, and to see the connection between what I was doing and the rest of the organization.”
— Adapted from “Interview With John Allison,” Stephen Hicks.
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