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JetBlue Chairman Joel Peterson: “Why we need a movement to learn how to listen without an agenda”

…Learning how to listen without an agenda. Our society today is polarized because we don’t listen to each other or respect others’ viewpoints. We’re led by those seeking power and any advantage they can get by going on offense. People must learn how to compromise in ways that allow both sides to win. I write […]

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…Learning how to listen without an agenda. Our society today is polarized because we don’t listen to each other or respect others’ viewpoints. We’re led by those seeking power and any advantage they can get by going on offense. People must learn how to compromise in ways that allow both sides to win. I write in detail about win/win negotiations in my book. All great relationships, in business, in marriage, or anywhere in life, rely on compromise, on letting the other “guy” win, too. And such relationships are rooted in respect.


I had the distinct pleasure to interview Joel Peterson. Joel is the Chairman of JetBlue Airways and Founding Partner of Peterson Partners, an investment management firm. He was previously the CEO of Trammell Crow Company. Since 1992 he has been on the faculty at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, where he was awarded the 2005 Distinguished Teaching Award and the 2016 Robert K. Jaedicke Silver Apple Award. He is the author of THE 10 LAWS OF TRUST: Building the Bonds That Make a Business Great (Expanded Edition; HarperCollins Leadership; September 17, 2019).


Thank you so much for doing this with us Joel! Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I’m a teacher, entrepreneur, author, husband, father and grandfather.

I began my career in commercial real estate and became the managing partner of Trammell Crow which, at the time, was the world’s largest private real estate development firm.

For the past 27 years I have been an Adjunct Professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. A quarter century ago, I founded an investment firm, Peterson Partners, to help great entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you in your career?

Well, at 45 years old, I started over. My time at Trammell Crow had wrapped up with some unfortunate pyrotechnics, and I had to figure out what to do next. I began a career teaching courses at Stanford’s Graduate School of business in Real Estate Finance, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Managerial Skills.

I was nearly 50 when I founded Peterson Partners, where we’ve been lucky to be partners with some great leaders and the companies they founded, including Bonobos, Allbirds, JetBlue and Asurion.

Okay, lets jump to the core of the interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers.” What are your thoughts on the best way to retain talent today?

We all want to feel we’re respected members of a winning team doing something meaningful. If any of these elements is missing, our commitment declines, we consider leaving, or we’re just unhappy. This gets to the thesis of The 10 Laws of Trust. The best way to retain talent is to create a culture of trust and transparency where people feel empowered to reach their potential while, at the same time, working together toward shared goals that typically include growth, profits and respect for others — customers, teammates, investors, suppliers and communities.

The thesis of this book is that one can measure the trust level within one’s organization. One can be intentional about building a high-trust organization and can either repair a broken trust or move on without becoming cynical or overly cautious. But it starts with understanding the nature of trust and building upon it — one conversation at a time, one on-time, on-budget project at a time — as the foundation for a great career, a great business and great relationships with others.

How do you synchronize large teams to work together?

It starts with having a shared goal — one developed by the team, not imposed from on high. If you can decide what winning is, you’re halfway there. Then it’s a question of coming up with a strategy, assigning tasks and measuring the right keys to success, recognizing and rewarding people along the way. Naturally, this means you must communicate lavishly — bad news as well as good news to effectively build trust. And you must delegate. Leaders at the top of an organization should be making only the close calls, those of a 51–49 nature. Those who find themselves making easy decisions on a daily basis, failing to delegate and reserving every decision are sowing the seeds of low trust. This will make it impossible for a team to work without politics, recrimination and friction.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees thrive?

Be transparent. Create headlines. Repeat them. Measure them. Celebrate their achievement. In a word, communicate more and better. Don’t run the company by rumor or gossip. Trust your team and empower them one assignment at a time as you build trust.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Learning how to listen without an agenda. Our society today is polarized because we don’t listen to each other or respect others’ viewpoints. We’re led by those seeking power and any advantage they can get by going on offense.

People must learn how to compromise in ways that allow both sides to win. I write in detail about win/win negotiations in my book. All great relationships, in business, in marriage, or anywhere in life, rely on compromise, on letting the other “guy” win, too. And such relationships are rooted in respect.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life lesson quote?” Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Oliver Wendell Holmes said: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Many people in our world of social media, fake news, quick turnarounds settle for “near-side” simplicity. It’s only when you’ve worked your way through the complexity to find simplicity on the far side of complexity does one have a goal that others can implement. The paradox is that simplicity only yields to a study of the complex. But it’s a long road to get there — and there are no shortcuts.

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