Richard DiBiase Alcatraz-SF Swim

Swimmers jump in the water at the 2019 Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim in San Francisco, California on Saturday, Aug. 10.

Part Two of Richard DiBiase’s story is here! In this part, Richard discusses leadership traits he was reminded of while swimming from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco at the 2019 Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim in August.

It’s amazing how much cross benefit there can be between different areas of our lives. For example, a passion outside of the office can energize your time in the office, and experiences away from work can lead to greater insight at work.

Last year I set an ambitious goal to swim from Alcatraz Island to San Francisco. I recently completed the swim, and many wanted to hear about the experience. I documented it in the link below but I also I realized and identified four things that the journey and experience reminded me about leadership and business.

Do Big Things — All my race swims have been part of a triathlon, never a swim alone. This year I wanted to add something different to my race schedule. So, I went big with a swim from Alcatraz. The planning, preparation, execution, experience were all great and were all important but, having completed the swim will always be the big thing that I will forever have.

At work, we decided to do a big thing and transform a traditional cash transaction business to a subscription business. There are lots of important reasons to do this that start with the customers and end with having a healthy thriving business where 60-70% of the revenue comes from annuities. This is easier for a startup but tough if you are $6.4 billion publicly traded company. Mike Hayford and the executive team at NCR Corporation had the courage to believe in the vision and the leadership to communicate and execute on the strategy. This has transformed the way we do business in North America and is being accelerated across other industries and regions around the globe. This big thing is going to make a 135 year old company relevant for the next 30 years and beyond.

Find Early Support For The Idea — Doing big things is a journey that takes time and help from others. When I first entertained the idea to swim from Alcatraz I shared the thought with my wife Melanie. Her response was “let’s sign up”. I told my parents and they said, “we will be there”. I mentioned my interest to Patti Philpot, a friend from work, and she said she would also do the swim. The support really mattered. Patti is an accomplished open water swimmer and gave my lots great coaching. My parents and my sister’s family bought nonrefundable airline tickets, I was committed. And at home, if I did not swim that morning my wife would ask me in the evening what my workout was that day. If I was traveling she would ask me if I found a place to swim. This was her supportive and subtle way of holding me accountable.

Moving our business model to a subscription business would certainly need the early support across the NCR executive leadership team and our board of directors. But, when it’s time to execute in a large business each leader needs to find those in their own organization that understand the strategy, believe in it, can successfully apply it, and will bring others along.

Within my organization I had some very willing and capable leaders and individual contributors that blazed the trail for others to follow. It started with the vision, communication, implementation and then celebrating the wins and progress along the way. When they saw others being successful, more and more individuals began to believe in the strategy. As we built a critical mass of individual successes it became clear that individuals who struggled, struggled with the strategy and not because of the strategy. Today this subscription model is how we sell to every new customer and it’s in our DNA. It started with finding early support for the idea and now we have fundamentally changed our business.

Know Who You Can Trust — Preparing for the swim took a lot of training but I had a friend and coach that builds my training plans. David Brannon is a successful triathlete, certified Ironman coach and a physician. I have been training and racing with David for years and each week he puts together my daily workouts designed so my performance is peaking at each race. Every morning I look at my TrainingPeaks app and blindly do whatever he has planned. I trust David. I am sure David is tired of my joke but I like to say, “I just follow the doctor’s prescription”.

At work I have found leaders I know I can trust. I trust them with information that cannot be shared, I trust them to understand the big picture, I trust them to give honest feedback, I trust them that they are caring for customers and their team, and I trust them to execute our vision and strategies to the best of their ability. Because I have people I can trust, we collaborate better so ideas and plans are developed in a conference room instead of in a vacuum. Because I have people I can trust, I can stay focused on my area of responsibility because I know my leaders are more worried about their parts of the business than I am. It has taken time to find the individuals and build the trust, but now we can do so much more together.

And Sometimes, You Just Have To Laugh — 900 swimmers loaded onto two ferries. No spectators or other riders were allowed on the ships. It was a 15 minute ride to Alcatraz Island where they then opened the loading doors and everyone jumped into the bay. But, moments into the voyage the captain came over the speaker with the same safety announcement he does 100 times a week. “Thank you for using the Blue & Gold ferries. We don’t expect that they will be needed but, life jackets are located under the benches on each deck.” If there was a problem, I think everyone on board would just jump into the water and swim back to San Francisco, just like we did. It was a good laugh for everyone on the ship including the captain.

At work, these kinds of laughs within the team help to bind everyone together. Outsiders can’t have the same perspective that is enjoyed from the inside. And it’s that common perspective that comes only from being on the “inside” together. It’s a very good thing that can be used to make teams stronger.

Things at the office can affect things outside the office and of course, things outside the office can affect things at the office. Sometimes it is said like it is a bad thing, but it does not have to be. The aspiration we all have is to maintain a healthy balance between work and home while leveraging the good in each so that it crosses over to benefit the other.

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