Lead from “Among” Not from “Above”

Stewart Emery (Success Built to Last) was over my house a few months ago.  At breakfast one morning he told me about an interview he did with a well-known billionaire in the computer industry.  The billionaire shared an intriguing story with Stewart about an experience he’d had when the senior executives of a company interested in purchasing his company visited his office to discuss the possible purchase.

Stewart Emery

 

At lunch, the billionaire told the senior executives of the company he was negotiating with that he was going to take them to the Executive Dining Room.  They followed him to the dining room which was very nice but not extravagant.  But that wasn’t the big surprise.  The surprise was that the dining room had a buffet line.  Moreover, the billionaire walked up to the buffet line, picked up a tray, and stood in line behind everyone else.  The executives looked around the room as it filled up and they realized that this room was not an “executive dining room” but was the company dining room.  The boss stood there in line with all the employees.  He spoke to everyone.   No one was afraid to talk to him.  In my opinion, he didn’t lead by being above them; he led by being among them.  Stewart told me that the billionaire said the management team was surprised by the fact that he and all the executives ate with all the employees.  One of them commented that this would have to change.  For the boss, it was a test.  This was not the kind of company that he wanted to sell his business to.  The negotiation ended that day.

Companies have a choice.  They can move toward exclusivity in their organizational culture or they can strive, commit, honor, and embrace inclusivity in their organizational culture.

Sometimes when people meet me, they say that they are surprised that I am approachable.   I find that interesting.  I think they feel this way because sometimes we, as leaders, act in a way that people perceive as unapproachable.  We act “better than” to other people.  I believe people should be surprised when a leader is unapproachable, not when they are approachable.  The problem is that we live in a world where success sometimes creates a sense of separation (with both the organizational leaders and others).  One of the key things to embrace in a successful company is the sense that the boss, the owner, the senior executive(s) are, in fact, approachable.

What are your thoughts on this matter?  Please feel free to share any relevant stories and experiences you may have.

The Profit Puzzle of Business

I recently had several business associates ask me about finding a good model for a business plan that they can use for their franchise.

Being able to market your business is, to a large extent, based on understanding your business.  Understanding your business begins by creating a plan.  One of the best models I’ve seen is one that I have used and recommended for years.  It’s called the “Profit Puzzle.”  It was developed by a good friend of mine – Don Osborne.

Below are the key categories (or puzzle pieces) that Don uses in his system.  If you need, or want, to produce a business plan for your business.  I recommend you check out www.ProfitPuzzle.com.  Just remember – once you have a structure for your plan – it requires that you commit a fair amount of time and effort to actually complete the plan (the plan doesn’t complete itself!).  You have to do the hard work to think about what goes into each part of the puzzle.

Check out Don’s  categories below.  They are very thorough.

Census Survivor

logo_censusYour first thought after reading the title of this blog might have been . . . “Census Survivor,” what’s there to survive?”  Well, for one medium-sized suburban district office of the 1980 census, not that much . . . unless you count six dog bites, three car accidents and 11 attempted assaults (two at knife point, four at gunpoint, two with a baseball bat and the rest merely by hand), as well as a census worker who fell down a flight of steps, another who had a door slammed on her hand and, of course, the census worker who fell in a hole in someone’s front yard.

These were but a few of the challenges I ran into when I was the field operations supervisor of the 1980 Census in Covina, Calif.

The battlefield of suburbia was not the greatest problem faced by enumerators. Maintaining their sanity in the face of adversity was the greatest challenge.

We had water ballons dropped on enumerators at a local university, we did a set of interviews at a nudist camp (OK, in all honesty, the Census taker in that situation didn’t mind it too much), we had enumerators being propositioned–a lot–and we even got informaton about residents from dog tags!

My favorite tactic was used by a woman who would go to particularly unwilling individuals and sing Happy Birthday To You to the unsuspecting person, who would say, “It’s not my birthday,” to which the enumerator would say, “Really? When is your birthday?” The resident would blurt out the date and the enumerator got some basic information.  Generally, the resident thought that was so clever, he or she would then cooperate.

I’d like to say that I miss this experience but . . . I don’t. It was trial by fire. That said, I am very glad I went through it. It gave me an opportunity as a young man of only 24 to manage and supervise a crew of more than 300 people. I hired (and fired) more people in six months than I did in the next 20 years of my career. It was an experience I will never forget and always be grateful for . . .  mostly. 

The majority of the census for 2010 is over. However, there are probably a few diehards out there who haven’t cooperated. If someone shows up at your house and starts singing “Happy Birthday” and it’s not your birthday–cut her some slack. It’s probably a census taker.

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