We all know managers and executives should not ask their people to do anything that they would not be willing to do themselves.
But how often is this mantra actually followed?
While we don’t always know the answer to this question, it is always inspiring to hear stories starring leaders who exemplify the leadership commandment to practice what they preach. Today, I share just such a story about my uncle, Hyrum W. Smith.
A Legendary Leader
Hyrum W. Smith is the co-founder of FranklinCovey Company, and an originator of the Franklin Day Planner. At age 40, Smith took a huge risk – including securing a loan against the mortgage of his home – to start his company with a few colleagues back in 1983.
Within a few short years, the Franklin Institute had become very successful, eventually evolving into FranklinQuest, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1992. Smith instantly became a mega-millionaire driving V-12 Mercedes-Benz cars and flying on his own corporate jet.
After years of hard work and sacrifice, he had truly become a “big shot.” He also became a best-selling author of several books, including: The 10 Natural Laws of Effective Time and Life Management (1994) and What Matters Most: The Power of Living Your Values (2000).
Five years after going public, FranklinQuest merged with Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s (of 7 Habits fame) Covey Leadership Center to form FranklinCovey Company, one of the top training companies in the World.
Learning a Legacy
Six years later as a recent college graduate in 2004, I got a job working as a retail salesman in a FranklinCovey store in Atlanta, Georgia. The manager of my store had previously met my uncle at a FranklinCovey company conference, and related the following story about him:
CEOs Can Unload Boxes Too
The manager of my store and some of her colleagues were working to set up a table to sell Hyrum’s books. As they worked, Hyrum – the co-CEO of the entire company – walked by. To my manager’s surprise, he immediately jumped in and started helping them unload boxes and set up the table.
As she shared this story, she expressed surprise, and related to me: “I didn’t think CEOs unloaded boxes.”
His actions left an impression on her, and in-turn, on me as well. The story underscored the great truth that no matter how high your position is, you are never too good, too wise, too experienced, or too high in the organization to lend a helping hand, even if the task involves seemingly menial labor.
Speaking Without a Sound
Hyrum – a world-renowned public speaker – taught a vital lesson that day without having to give a speech. His lesson was perhaps best iterated by the poet Edgar A. Guest, who wrote:
I’d rather see a sermon
Than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me
Than merely tell the way….
For I might misunderstand you
And the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding
How you act and how you live.
My manager came away from that conference inspired to work harder at her position and treat her subordinates with more respect, and all because of a simple act of a thoughtful executive.
Quick Questions for You:
What sermons are your actions teaching those around you at work and home?
And what are the results of those sermons?
Leadership in Practice
I have a doctorate in educational leadership and have spent nearly three decades studying the science and art of leadership, self-leadership, and personal development. I have noticed, however, that amidst all the books, articles, courses, and speeches I have heard and studied over the years, none of these pedagogical tools can match the educational power and eloquence of actual examples of real leaders who practice what they preach.
To quote again the poet Guest:
“The best of all the preachers are [of those] who live their creeds. For to see good [character, integrity, compassion, courage, hard work, diligence, discipline, persistence, consistence, determination, patience, justice, and mercy] put in action is what everybody needs.”
Communicating Through Actions
Are you a manager, leader, or executive in your company?
- If so, what have you done lately to communicate through your actions that you support your subordinates, or that you are not too “high and mighty” to join them in the trenches when necessary?
- When was the last time you intentionally took the time to listen to and visit with someone closer to the bottom of the hierarchical totem pole?
- When you did, were you sincere in your efforts, or were you just “checking a box” you knew must be checked for the sake of appearances?
A consistent pattern I have observed among the greatest leaders is their fundamental recognition that everyone has equal existential worth. As a result, the way they treat the CEO or other “big shots” does not differ qualitatively from their treatment of an entry-level new hire or custodian.
I invite you to join the ranks of these truly great leaders by consciously recognizing and consistently affirming the tremendous worth of every member of your organization. The culture of sincerity, compassion, and existential equality that will develop from your regular efforts to do so will, over time, richly endow your organization with greater unity and productivity.
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