In 2015, Under Armour, which started in a basement in 1996, became the second largest sportswear brand in the United States, trailing only Nike. Founder and CEO Kevin Plank really does see his company as a team, always referring to “teammates,” and never “employees.” In the mid-1990s he was a walk-on who became a special teams football captain at the University of Maryland and who, during a heatwave, became profoundly disillusioned with the sweaty cotton undershirt he had to wear.
Under Armour was built to address the need for athletic wear that enhances comfort and performance.
So he invented a better one that wicks moisture away from the body and keeps players cool. The first ones were sold out of the basement of his grandmother’s house near Washington, DC, but today Under Armour has a presence on five continents and recently got into the tech side of fitness by purchasing a handful of fitness app developers.
Plank also is known for his whiteboards, which abound in Under Armour Headquarters in Baltimore, and on which he writes leadership maxims for the team. “Perfection is the enemy of innovation,” says one, and Plank invites innovation from every team member. What’s more, he’s committed to everyone having a voice in how Under Armour is run and what it does. In a recent interview, Plank went into detail about three fundamental statements he relies on to run the company. Here’s what they are and what they mean.
“This Is What I Heard”
Reflecting someone’s words, the process of active listening, acknowledges not only that you heard what your conversational partner said, but also that you cared enough to take it in and process it into your own version of their statement. By itself, it’s a powerful way of connecting to another person, but Plank takes the concept of active listening a couple of steps further.
“This Is What I Think”
After you reflect someone’s words or ideas back to them, and then present your considered opinion of what they said, you not only dignify their ideas with a response, but also demonstrate that you have given them thought. Even if you don’t agree with their ideas, the fact that you listened and are willing to discuss them candidly is enormously meaningful and good for team cohesion.
“This Is What We’re Going to Do”
You’re essentially telling a teammate, “This is what I think of your ideas or opinions and why, and here is what we’re going to do.” This breaks through the tendency for people to either not listen, or keep repeating themselves because they feel they aren’t being listened to. Furthermore, when someone comprehends you genuinely understand them, they become more open to your viewpoints.
Show that you’re listening and that you have a plan for someone’s idea and you
strengthen ties while encouraging alternative (and potentially revolutionary) viewpoints.
Everyone Has a Voice
Kevin Plank has built a sportswear empire based on teamwork and teammates knowing they have a voice in the future of the company. He’s open to great ideas no matter who has them. “I don’t have to be right. I just want to win,” he tells his team. And whoever’s patch of fertile imagination incubates ideas, it’s up to the entire team to bring the good ones to fruition.
Translating Thoughts into Actions
Of course, assuring everyone that they have a voice and a say in the future of the team isn’t everything. It’s necessary, but not sufficient for team success. At some point, some of those ideas must be translated into action, or people will wonder why they bother developing and sharing their ideas. Saying, essentially, “This is what we’re going to do,” and then following through keeps ideas from dying as they germinate and encourages teammates to continue sharing and innovating.
Perhaps because of his background in college football, or because he runs a sportswear brand, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has a coach-like reputation. He’s intense, forward-looking, and is someone his team doesn’t want to disappoint – not out of fear, but out of respect. And he makes it clear he didn’t build a rapidly-growing sportswear competitor to the Nike colossus without a team and their contributions to innovation, improvements, and sticking to the company’s commitment to products that enhance performance. If you are ready to take your own team from good to exceptional, Teams of Distinction invites you to learn how to increase your team’s performance so your entire organization can reap the rewards.