Peter Dunn | Crain's Indianapolis

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Peter Dunn

Background:  

Activate Healthcare provides holistic and proactive primary care services to members of various organizations including governments, schools, manufacturing and distribution organizations, transportation and Taft-Hartley organizations. They have served more than 100,000 patients and saved their partner organizations more than $26 million.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the power of the team.

Years ago, I was a brand manager overseeing my first P&L of a business and a team. We were charged with creating a business plan for the product now known as Lunchables.

I had a lot of good ideas and during our initial team meetings, I spent a lot of my energy focused on making sure my good ideas ended up in the plan. Many or all of my ideas ended up in the plan and I was feeling pretty good.

Upon reflection though, two elements just weren’t sitting right. The energy of the team was low, and the plan was OK, but not great.

I had to learn to release the reins and let my teams’ gifts come to bear.

The Lesson:

It wasn’t until my then boss, friend, partner and mentor Bob Drane took me aside. He encouraged me to think of another way to lead my team. He shed light on the fact that my role was not to ensure my ideas are brought to life, but to create an environment where members of my team can find their creative outlet.

I went back to my team and told them I wanted to take a fresh look. I was humble and said I wanted to try it a different way. I let them speak first and ensured it was their ideas that drove the plan.

The result was dramatically better. The team was energized, and the plan was excellent. That next year, with our new plan, Oscar Mayer sold more packages of Lunchables than Oscar Mayer sold packages of hot dogs.

That changed everything I thought about what a leader’s role should be.

I took that to my next employer Borden Foods. I shared this type of leadership style with the general managers and brand managers. We led a better turnaround and changed the culture of the former top down management style. We took profits from $18 million annually to over $65 million.

I could not have taught managers how to lead had I not made that first mistake myself. I had to learn to release the reins and let my teams’ gifts come to bear.

Now as I co-lead Activate Healthcare and am in more of a supporting role (with a great partner), I have such an appreciation for the lesson I learned. We’ve grown this company from the ground up. None of this would have been possible without learning to appreciate the talents of others.

 

Pictured is Peter Dunn. | Photo courtesy of Activate Healthcare.