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Love WorksSeven timeless principles for effective leaders
By Joel K. Manby
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Joel K. Manby
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA HARD DAY'S NIGHT
It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog. John Lennon and Paul McCartney
1.1 Is This What Life Is All About?
* * *
It was a cool June evening in 2000. I was sitting alone in a one-room apartment in northern California, more than three thousand miles from my wife and kids in Atlanta. My place was completely bare inside: no pictures, no personal items, not even a single fake plant to warm the joint up. It was just a place to sleep.
Outside, the steady sheets of rain pouring down were a perfect picture of my life. I was the brand-new leader of an Internet startup called GreenLight.com—and the dot-com bubble had just burst.
That night I had consumed enough wine to dull the sharp edge of the emotional pain and stress that were cutting into me. But what was I going to do, drink more and more each night? I had struggled with short seasons of depression before in my life, but this episode was getting the best of me. I didn't know if I could endure the pain anymore. I had no idea where to turn, and for every raindrop spattering against my window, I had a question running through my mind.
My career was like a high-speed treadmill. After graduating from Harvard Business School in 1985, my wife, Marki, and I moved ten times in fifteen years as I accepted new leadership positions of increasing responsibility and pressure. The constant moving put a tremendous strain on our home life and our four girls.
One of our moves was to the startup of Saturn Corporation, which went from zero to $5 billion in revenue in three years. That job required countless hours of single-minded focus. While at Saturn, I was promoted to CEO of Saab North America. The division was losing money, and my job was to change that. The countless late nights and constant travel continued as a result of the seemingly endless pressure to hit the numbers. And we did—my family sticking with me despite my constant absence, while my team and I helped return the company to the second best year in Saab's North American history.
Unfortunately, there was no such thing as a finish line. I never "made it" or earned a chance to spend more time at home with my family. In 1999, three years into my Saab assignment, Asia and South America were added to my responsibilities. So, just one year before the night I sat alone in that empty apartment in California, I spent more than 250 days on the road, mostly in Asia—and even when I was home, I consistently had 6:00 a.m. phone calls with Sweden and 11:00 p.m. phone calls with the Asian markets.
I was burning out, and so was Marki.
On September 13, 1999, I was in Australia for a Saab distributor meeting and called Marki to catch up. As she started to talk, her voice cracked. "This is the second year in a row you've been away on my birthday. When you're home, which isn't often ..."
I could tell she was struggling to speak.
"When you're home, you're not really home."
There was a long pause, and I could tell she was trying to gather herself. "This is not what I signed up for," she finally said. "I thought I could handle this, and I've tried. But this isn't working for our family. You're frustrated. You're not happy, and neither am I. The kids don't really know you. Something needs to change."
The moments of silence that followed seemed like eternity.
Marki was right. Something did need to change. Divorce wasn't an option for us, but I knew that if I left her "holding the rock" at home, our marriage would never be all that it was meant to be. I wanted a great marriage, and I wanted to be a good dad. So I asked my boss, the CEO of Saab worldwide, if I could return to "only" being CEO of North American operations, which would cut my travel in half.
Have you ever had a moment when a single conversation changes the course of your life irrevocably? It's almost as if time slows down so much that you can see the fork in the road. I was determined to make the right choice and the right choice was not the path that lead to year after year of missed birthdays and kids who were slowly becoming strangers.
I made the difficult choice to leave Saab for what I thought was a better lifestyle and a chance to get my family back on track. I decided to take the CEO position at GreenLight.com, the "car tab" at Amazon.com that let people buy a car with a few mouse clicks. I knew a startup would be tough, but I also knew there would be no international travel, and there was a large financial upside.
So I thought. Then the bubble burst, and it took me with it.
On my first week of work at GreenLight.com, the NASDAQ crashed and lost more than a third of its value. We weren't yet generating cash, and what was a three-year cash reserve quickly became a ninety-day cushion. In other words, as an organization, we suddenly had only ninety days to live, not the three years I thought we had when I took the job. At the end of my second week of work, I was laying off three-quarters of our team.
How's that for bad timing?
We took our Atlanta home off the market, delaying my family's relocation, since I would be working 24/7 trying to salvage GreenLight.com. I rented an apartment in California and traveled back to Atlanta only once or twice a month.
The path that I had thought would lead me back home to my family had instead led me to a bare, lonely apartment in California, with rain coming down outside and a sense of hopelessness descending inside. As I sat alone, finishing off my last glass of wine, the questions continued to beat against me:
My entire career I've been so driven ... for what?
The harder I work and the higher I'm promoted, the worse life gets. Is there any hope of balancing my career goals with my family goals?
My self-esteem is tied up in the performance of the companies I run. Do I really want my emotional highs and lows to be based on quarterly profit reports? Is that what life is all about?
If this is what a career in the business world looks like, should I go into a different line of work one that can unite my skills and my values? But is it right to give up all the experience I've gained?
That night I felt the world closing in around me and I wanted out. In my darkest moments, I wanted out of life itself. I knew what that would do to my family, however, and I didn't want to be that selfish. But what other options did I have?
My cell phone rang. It was Jack Herschend, chairman of the board of Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation (HFE), one of the largest themed entertainment companies in the world. I had been on the board of HFE for three years and thought very highly of Jack and the company.
"Joel, how are you brother?"
I had no words, only tears, as the emotion poured out. Jack's acute empathy skills had a way of doing that to me. He was always quick to listen, and he cared deeply about people.
As quickly as I could, I gathered myself and explained the situation, revealing some cracks I'd kept hidden for years.
What he said next surprised me:
"Joel, the timing of this phone call may be fortuitous. I'm retiring as chairman next year, and all of us on the board would like you to be the next chairman of HFE. We feel the company needs your leadership strengths and style. Would you consider it?"
I was speechless.
"Joel, I know you're struggling with your family situation, and I think the values and culture of HFE are a perfect fit for you."
Culture? Values? My family? Talking about these things in the context of a prospective job was as unusual as it was welcome.
I was unable to speak. My eyes were again filling with tears, and my throat was closing up. Jack and his family had run HFE for more than four decades. He was asking me to take over a legacy that he and his brother, Peter, had built. Why me? Why now?
And his words were not only about him or the company—they were about my personal life as well. He was worried about my family? That night I was too shocked by his offer to understand the answer to my own question: what kind of leader was this?
As I would learn later, the answer was simple: a man who leads with love.
Leading with Love
My career had left me completely unprepared to meet men like Jack and Peter Herschend. All my life I had been living by the numbers because numbers were all my leaders seemed to care about. If I had any deeper principles, I needed to check them at the company door, because once I was at work, it was all about financial performance.
When I performed well, I was rewarded and respected. When I failed, I felt like I was kicked to the curb. It was that simple. Inside I longed for a better way— a way to unite who I was as a business leader with who I was as a person. I wanted to care about the people I worked with and for. I wanted to work somewhere that rejected the false dichotomy between profit and people or profit and principles. I wanted, in short, to be the same person all the time: at work, with my family, at my church, and when I was alone.
But I had been in business long enough to know that was a nearly impossible dream.
As it turned out, that call from Jack set in motion a chain of events that would provide answers to many of my questions. I didn't realize it at the time, but my experience at HFE would revolutionize the way I saw—and see—leadership.
This book was born from the conviction that leading with love is the best way to run an organization.
I understand that this is a controversial claim, but I also now understand—all the way to the core of who I am as a leader and a man—that it is true. Love isn't a feeling, but an action, an action by which leaders and entire organizations can experience almost unimaginable success and personal fulfillment.
The Bottom Line
Lest you think all this talk about love is an excuse to avoid the hard truths about leading an organization, let me set your mind at ease.
The bottom line is essential.
If we don't hit our financial goals, we cannot achieve the other objectives we have at HFE, like being a "great place to work for great people." However, we achieve profits by doing the right thing for customers and employees; profits are not an end in themselves. Profits are a product of doing the right thing—over and over again.
During the last seven years at HFE, we have grown operating profit more than 50 percent and have earned over a 14 percent annual return for our owners, clearly beating the large and small cap stock market performance during very difficult times. And we have done that while consciously leading with love. Two of our parks have earned the industry's highest honor for quality: the Applause Award.
Sacrificing values for profits is a flawed choice.
At the same time we've experienced financial success, we've also grown in love—and I mean that in a practical, bottom-line way. Our Share It Forward Foundation was established to help our employees who are in need. Employee donations are matched by company profits and the Herschend family adds an additional gift. We've grown from helping about sixty families per year to over seven hundred families per year in just five years—and that is for an employee-initiated giving program in the midst of difficult economic times!
The bottom line is this: we are more profitable than ever and enjoying leading with love more than ever. By actively using the seven principles of leading with love—to be patient, kind, trustful, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, and dedicated—we are ensuring our business is resilient and profitable and our employees motivated and loyal. We do this because it makes good business sense and it's the right thing to do.
What about you?
Have you ever wondered if it's possible to maximize profits and value relationships?
Is the dissonance between the values you hold at home and the values you adopt at work slowly wearing you down?
Do you ever wonder if your work might change the world for the better?
Have you ever wished that work could just—work?
I have wished all of these things, and my experience at HFE has taught me that they can each become a reality—no matter where you work or what your job title is. All it takes is a desire to do the right thing and a lot of hard work.
Some people think leadership is only about the bottom line. What I have learned is that "only" is the wrong word in that sentence. Leadership is about the bottom line and ...
and loving the people you work with.
and making your community a better place.
and feeling a sense of satisfaction at the end of every day.
and leading employees who can't imagine working anywhere
These things aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, the opposite is true: the bottom line is best served when leaders lead with love. That's the counterintuitive journey I would like to lead you on in the chapters that follow.
If you have read this far, I know you're hungry for something beyond business as usual, so let's get started—and transform the way we lead.
Chapter TwoTHE JEDI MASTERS
Do or do not. There is no try. Yoda
In Star Wars, aspiring Jedi knights must be trained by a Jedi master. The Jedi master is always wiser and more experienced, so he or she is able to train the young Jedi in the proper way. Jedi masters have a strong understanding of a source of energy called the Force—and they always strive to use the Force for good.
Every organization has its Jedi masters. At Herschend Family Entertainment, ours are Jack and Peter Herschend. Yet all organizations, big or small, lose their Jedi masters and go through other difficult leadership transitions. When Jack and Peter retired, the culture was strong, but it wasn't defined and was at high risk of becoming diluted as we continued to grow with new properties.
We needed to define our culture to teach others how to lead with love as Jack and Peter had taught by example.
2.1 Keeping a Common Tale from Being a Common Tale
* * *
It was at Herschend Family Entertainment's November 2006 board meeting that it finally happened. Jack and Peter Herschend had been on HFE's board since 1960, and this would be their last meeting. Forty-six years is a long time to sit on one board, but for HFE, it was all too brief. From that day forward, Jack and Peter would no longer sit at the table with us, no longer offer their vote, no longer share their voice and vision.
It was a big moment, and some of the board members and family tried to talk Jack and Peter out of it. The brothers had, along with their parents and wives, transformed a guided tour at a single cave in Branson, Missouri, into an enterprise entertaining over sixteen million customers a year and employing over ten thousand employees in twenty-six properties across the United States. They would climb any mountain for their employees, and the employees knew it too which was why HFE had such a powerful sense of corporate unity and enthusiasm. Jack and Peter embodied a rags to selfless riches story, and their generosity was a beacon that attracted and kept the absolute finest employees.
There were tears in the room and plenty of mixed emotions. But Jack and Peter have tremendous wisdom and humility. They knew that what mattered was creating an organization built to last, an organization that would stand the test of time. Jack's departing words confirmed what all of us already knew.
Small in stature with thick gray hair and a strong handshake, Jack stood up slowly, feeling the effects of several hip replacements that stemmed from personally testing one too many of the attractions he helped create. Jack's hands were worn from years of working in the parks, hand-pouring cement steps into the cave, and personally planting thousands of trees throughout Missouri as a dedication to the environment. Jack's every deed and word seemed to have a specific purpose.
"I appreciate the calls for Pete and me to stay on the board, but we will not. As you are aware, Pete and I have carefully constructed a ten-year transition. A plan that took me from CEO to chair, chair to voting board member, voting board member to nonvoting board member, and then off the board. Pete is following a similar path. This plan is critical so that the company can transition smoothly while Pete and I are still healthy."
The room was silent; we could have heard a pin drop.
He continued: "It's a common tale for a family business to lose its way after the godfathers leave, which is why Pete and I feel strongly about this. We both understand that in order to keep this special company special, we need to let a new team of leaders and an independent board carry on, out from under our shadow. We want to remain family owned forever, and we want it to feel like a family, but we also want to be led by the best team possible. With this in mind, it's important that the board and the leadership never lose sight of the three main Herschend family objectives: a specified growth in profit so it is 'a great long-term investment,' to be a 'great place to work for great people,' and to 'lead with love.'" Jack cleared his throat and sipped a glass of water before continuing: "We understand that sometimes tension can exist between these objectives, but that is a tension that needs to be managed. It's not okay to achieve profit growth and destroy our culture as a 'great place to work for great people.' It is also not okay to focus on being a 'great place to work' without achieving our financial objectives. This is a tension to embrace, not eliminate. I have great faith in this board and in this leadership team. The time is right."
With that he sat down.
Excerpted from Love Works by Joel K. Manby Copyright © 2012 by Joel K. Manby. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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