I am sure that most of you have heard the adage, “if it bleeds, it leads” to describe our penchant for being attracted to bad news. In fact, our hunger for drama, public shaming, mayhem and misery has become a money-making machine.
And, this is certainly true in our industry – sad stories abound about families where the ties of kinship and love, once cherished, are no longer strong enough to fend off the lure of power, wealth, recognition and desire. In fact, I was prepared to write such a story just today. Until I received this email from Pam Hayes in Miami, Oklahoma, in which she describes a recent conversation with a senior employee who was impressed with the way Pam and her family, the company owners, stepped in to assist an employee with financial problems who had no groceries:
Then she went on to say that is why she stays. Knowing that this company and the ownership does so much for the employees. And not only the owners, but when someone is in trouble the employees step up as well. She said, ‘Pam, knowing the kind of environment you have wanted to build, it is here. You and Brett have touched so many lives and helped so many of us. We have had lots of family issues this year and this company has been behind each situation.
Wow … I have been humbled. And for the first time, it is not about making whips, but about serving and helping the people. Lisë, it has been years since I first told you what I want to ‘DO’ for our employees. I am not sure I am doing enough and it is so not about me, but what we stand for as a company.
This isn’t a story about bleeding, but it IS a story about leading… and, in my experience these stories far outnumber the mayhem. I think about Merv Blank in upstate NY, a pugnacious 80-year-old businessman with a tough approach to business and a huge heart who is adored by his employees – so much so that even today, as he is planning to make way for his leadership team to take over, his key people beg him to stay. He leads by example, caring for customers and employees alike – never missing an opportunity to be both cheeky and compassionate at the same time.
I think about Don Buethorn, founder of a wonderful company in Bellingham, WA, that makes orthotics for children, allowing many to walk for the first time. In my entire career I have never met a group of people so unwaveringly committed to a heartfelt mission, even though this mission, at the time, had never been written down or shared in any way other than through Don’s own unwavering dedication to his values.
I think about Deena McCullough, President of Northern Insuring in Plattsburgh, NY, who overcame incredible personal tragedy and turned her experiences into a leadership philosophy that encourages honesty, open communication, a dedication to personal development and remarkable follow-through.
I think about Norman Wong, from Brooklyn, who is so dedicated to his employees and his company that he requested help to develop a 100-year cultural development plan – to help him to build the kind of sustainable company that would become a second home for all who work there.
And then, there is Mike M., from San Francisco, who asked for help to put an estate plan in place that might protect his small company and his very young family, should anything happen to him. As fate would have it, just 2 years after finalizing these plans, Mike died unexpectedly, but his love, dedication and foresight meant that those who had been relying on him were protected.
In looking back through my files, I see that I have hundreds of these wonderful stories – and all of them bring back magical memories of gallant men and women who constantly make a difference in the lives of those around them.