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3 Key Lessons in Leadership I learned from Trae Howell at Trustmark.

3 Key Lessons in Leadership I learned from Trae Howell at Trustmark.

by Alex Jarett


True Leadership is elusive for many, because it can’t be granted, it has to be earned. I had the pleasure of joining Trae Howell of Trustmark as he shared his story of how he used a customer centric approach to development, combined with an agile approach to help the company earn $1,000,000 in annual premiums (and growing) immediately. But that’s only part of the story. The real story, which Trae shared, was that he accomplished this goal in less than a year with a team who started off concerned about their future with the company and their careers. Prior to Trae taking the project, the mainframe team was told that a big part of the older technology was being sunset, and that meant there were going to be less jobs to go around after the transition.


As you could expect, that disheartened a number of the members of the team. THEN came the new project, which was originally going to be completed with the help of a consulting firm. When the consulting firm came back to the company with a time estimate too long to accomplish the goals of the new product, Trae recognized the opportunity for the company and took charge. The result was a success – but along the way, the group and I recognized a number of Leadership qualities that Trae exhibited to get this project done.


Here are the three keys to Leadership success that I learned from Trae’s talk:



  1. The first step toward leadership was belief. Trae believed in the team and the project – before anyone else on the team in the company believed in it! This belief spread and carried them thru completion. Trae actually started preparations for the project while he was also getting company buy-in. He pointed out most leaders would have waited. He was so confident in his team and the project, he did everything he could to get the project ready to start the moment he got approval. It worked – by the time he had buy in, he was already ready to get going with the right team with a clear preliminary design!


  1. The next step was to pick the right team and motivate them.

Trae said he was “real” with the team members from day one. He spent time with each one, sharing both his enthusiasm and helping to develop their individual career plans for the post mainframe stage. As a result of caring for each team member, he was able to recruit and energize a core group. He did mention that there were one or two team members who were clearly NOT behind the project. He made the right decision, in my opinion, to keep these people off the project and in a different part of the building! The team he did choose were excited about the project itself and they understood the opportunity to their career and the company.


  1. The final step was to create an environment where they could succeed, keep them motivated and get out of the way. Trae described the project methodology as “very agile.” This was key, he felt, as he had recruited team members from both the business and the IT/Coding team to work together. The business was behind the project because they knew the potential to the company of the new product. The IT team enjoyed being cast in the role of being part of the “elite” agile team. This was new for the company environment, so Trae made sure that his team was together, in their own space in the building and they were able to work in a less structured environment and pace than the traditional waterfall approach. As a result of these freedoms, Trae found members putting in more hours – one team member brought his laptop during vacation, while many team members worked late each evening. When everyone on the team was working like this – the project moved very quickly.


The result. Success for the team, the company and Trae. Not only did the project get done, the company was able to provide the new Insurance product to its customers, which resulted in the new revenue. Trae mentioned other significant benefits, one being that the perception of IT by the business changed as a result of the project.


Success for the team, the company and Trae. Thanks Trae, for sharing your story .


Congrats to Carrie Buchwald and the team at Lake Forest Graduate School who put on the Leadership roundtable. For more information about the roundtable, go here.


Congrats to Carrie Buchwald and the team at Lake Forest Graduate School for a successful Roundtable.

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Updated: January 27, 2016 — 8:07 pm

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