Sunday, October 1st, 2017
I was at an extended family gathering over the week-end to celebrate the 80th birthday of my brother-in-law. Folded in with family were some of his former work colleagues. There were about twenty-five people. After food and gifts people began to settle into one room, perched here and there.
We had all laughingly agreed not to talk politics to keep the atmosphere light and celebratory. We did other than a few asides but the atmosphere had shifted and come more intimate. The slipperly slope was right there before us. And one gentleman said, “You know what? Let’s talk about good leaders.”
And so it started. Dramatic stories and small moments of leaders that were symbolically powerful and spread quickly through the organization.
The first story was dramatic. The CEO had his team in Thailand for a retreat. He arrived two days late and saw the team returning from a river trip accompanied by, well, prostitutes. He fired his team the next day regardless of hardship or other inconvenience from doing so. Became famous for the example and the standard was set immediately.
Another was of a CEO of a power company. He ate lunch every day that he was in the office with the custodial group in their work room. He liked stepping out of the pressures of his role and enjoyed their knowledge and history of the company. Every. Day. It said, “I’m not too big for my britches and all work matters.”
Still another story was about the will power of a CEO who had committed to climb a famous mountain on a certain day. He had sprained his ankle the week before. He honored his commitment and cimbed the mountain, albeit slowly and was admired for his will power and commitment and his refusal to see a barrier as permanent.
There was the very simple story of a CEO whose team was deep into the quagmire of an acquisition and the agonizing decisions and risk that were involved. There was no agreement. He stopped the meeting and said, ” I’ve been wating to see this movie. Let’s go. All of this can wait. Movie and popcorn on me.” The person telling the story didn’t remember the name of the movie but DID remember the impact on the team and on the organization as the story was spread. The message was about perspective and being a little outrageous and spontaneous when things are tough.
It was a lovely moment as the leisurely conversation circled the room with quiet musing in-between the words. The themes were about taking immediate and dramatic action in a moral situation or about doing something kind that showed humanity and compassion to one individual and about the top leader being a real person willing to show it. And these moments rang out across the company almost through osmosis. They couldn’t have been orchestrated. Don’t plan a high impact moment. Be a high impact person as you lead the daily life of your company.