Larry Spears: What are some basic facts regarding U.S. Cellular?
Karen Jones: US Cellular is a wireless telecommunications company founded in 1983. It is publicly held and has approximately 9,000 Associates [employees]. Our company mission is "To provide the highest level of customer satisfaction, which will generate profitable growth for our shareholders and superior rewards for our Associates. We will achieve this through a Dynamic Organization based on standards of excellence." The US Cellular Dynamic organization Business Model is foundationally built on the principles of Servant-Leadership. The business model depicts our core belief that [servant] leadership effectiveness leads to Associate employee satisfaction, which yields customer satisfaction, which delivers exceptional business results.
LS: I had the pleasure of visiting U.S. Cellular around 2002, where I met with Gus Gustafson, Larry Fidelus, and others as the servant-leadership initiative at U.S. Cellular was being developed. Please describe the basic element of servant-leadership training at U.S. Cellular, how many people have gone through it, and any other insights you might like to share.
KJ: The U.S. Cellular® Servant-Leadership Workshop was developed by the dedicated efforts of Dr. Tom Griffin, Dr. James (Gus) Gustafson, and Dr. Larry Fidelus. Additional consultation was also received from the Greenleaf Center and Wilson Learning Corporation. The U.S. Cellular® Servant Leadership Workshop's initial pilot was launched in 2002. The class was subsequently evolved and a second pilot was launched in 2004. Our Servant Leadership Workshop reflects a robust environment of learning. We take Associates to a peaceful, off-site retreat-like atmosphere. We place each participant into a small “cohort group” for the most reflective exercises to create a safe environment for introspection and transparency. The final souvenir for a U.S. Cellular® Associate, having experienced the Servant-Leadership Workshop, is their personal “Legacy Tree” and a copy of their personally authored “Retirement Speech”. The Legacy Tree is a visual personification of one’s aspiration for being a Servant-Leader at U.S. Cellular®. Associate’s proudly display their Legacy Tree within their work environment or office. Construction of one’s “Retirement Speech” is a future-forward introspective exercise that challenges the participant to create the life legacy they wish to have at the “end of the road”. Leaders are required to share their retirement speech with the members of the team they lead upon return from the Servant-Leadership Workshop experience.
LS: Tell us a bit about yourself; how you came to U.S. Cellular; your role there, etc.
KJ: My journey to U.S. Cellular® was literally driven by a desire to experience Servant-Leadership first hand. I am an 18 year Organization Development practitioner, and have worked for other Fortune 500 companies, yet never experienced the authentic leadership principles I had taught on behalf of the executives I served and supported. I had heard of Dr. Tom Griffin, and the excellent work in progress at U.S. Cellular®. Though gainfully employed at another Fortune 500 company, I made hopeful efforts and was accepted into their regionally renowned Leadership and Organization Development Team. I now consult with leaders of various organizational levels to deliver a stellar set of leadership development experiences, and to help them design successful business strategies through the lens of our Dynamic Organization Business Model.
LS: You and I first became acquainted last year when you were a student in one of the online graduate courses in Servant-Leadership that I teach for Gonzaga University. I know that servant-leadership means a lot to you. If you would, please share some of your thoughts regarding servant-leadership and its impact at U.S. Cellular.
KJ: My experience of Servant-Leadership at U.S. Cellular® is career unprecedented. I have been with the company for 2 ½ years and have, for the first time, experienced the leadership authenticity I was looking for. No longer are my leadership lessons incongruent with the actions of the executives I serve and support. Servant-Leadership is REAL and thrives here at U.S. Cellular®.
--Larry Spears [Friday, January 8, 2010]