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The Art Of Leadership

Produce a culture driven by inspiration and integrity

I was going through Customs while traveling to Toronto. There was a delay, so the Customs Officer decided to tell me a funny story. One day a man came through with his young son. The officer asked the man if he had anything to declare. The man said no with a suspicious look on his face. So the officer followed with, “Do you have any cigarettes to declare?” The man said no. “Any alcohol?” The man said no. “Camera, film, anything like that?” Again, the man said no. At that point, the man’s son shouted enthusiastically, “But he’s getting warmer, huh, Daddy!”

There is still nothing like honesty and integrity. Material handling equipment distributors live in a world that talks about image, image, image, but it is integrity, integrity, integrity that makes great leadership. Someone once said, “The best leaders manage not by the excellence of their credentials, but by the excellence of their character.”

In Stuart Crainer’s book The 75 Greatest Management Decisions Ever Made, he tells the story of Malden Mills, which is a perfect example of excellent character. In an age of diminishing loyalty and relentless downsizing, it stood for traditional corporate values. Loyal employees worked alongside trusting management. Customer retention and employee retention both registered a staggering 95 percent. The company, based in Lawrence, Massachusetts, had remained steadfastly-some said foolishly-loyal to its home base. Then, on December 11, 1995, a fire ripped through the company’s factories, leaving more than a dozen people hospitalized and the company, it seemed, in ruins.

Malden Mills chief Aaron Feuerstein, the grandson of the company’s founder, immediately announced that even with no production capacity and no immediate hope of producing anything, he would continue to pay the company’s 2,400 employees and pay their health insurance. It was estimated that paying employees for 90 days and their health care for 180 days cost Feuerstein $10 million. His decision appeared to be bad business at the time, even though it was highly moral.

In the end, Malden Mills was back to virtually full capacity within 90 days. A total of $15 million was invested in a new infrastructure. The committed and grateful workforce performed so well that productivity and quality shot up. Before the fire, 6 to 7 percent of the company’s production was “off- quality”; that number was reduced to 2 percent after the fire. Feuerstein said the company’s employees paid him back nearly tenfold. Feuerstein’s act was one of loyalty, honesty and morality. Old school thoughts are still relevant in today’s world.

Stages of Change
Modern day demands often cloud the most important issues in our lives. As we inevitably lose perspective, we tend to sabotage our success and compromise our passion. Too often we sit on life’s sidelines, benched by our own fears. Reaching dreams requires us to step away from our fears, embrace change and move toward our goals. All require excellence of character. Dr. Cynthia Scott has described four stages of change: denial, resistance, exploration and commitment.

Resistance to change is universal. For example, people believed for centuries that Aristotle was right when he said that heavier objects would fall to earth faster. Aristotle was regarded as the greatest thinker of all time, and surely he could not be wrong. All it would have taken was for one brave person to take two objects, one heavy and one light, and drop them from a great height to see which one landed first. But no one stepped forward until nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle’s death. In 1589, Galileo summoned learned professors to the base of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. He went to the top and pushed off two weights, one ten pounds and the other one pound. Both landed at the same time. But the power of belief in the conventional wisdom was so strong that the professors denied what they had seen. They continued to say Aristotle was right.

Change has always been about perspective-how we see ourselves, our friends, our family, our coworkers and the world around us. The Ohio State University did a study and found 50 reasons why people lose their jobs. The first 15 reasons had nothing to do with job skills or expertise. They all were about attitudes and the ability to get along with other people. Like it or not, leaders create atmosphere: helping employees hit the target, meet their goals and stay on line. People aren’t burned out on their jobs. They’re burned out on the atmosphere in which they work.

In the 1980s, I worked for a hunger agency called World Relief. I visited a hospital in Calcutta, India, which was run by an extraordinary leader, Mother Teresa. She was humble but had a powerful presence. The two most important requirements she demanded from her staff were a joyful attitude and a loving commitment to those they served.

Today’s leaders, including those in the material handling industry, need to produce an environment driven by inspiration, commitment, loyalty, integrity and joy-filled passion. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Sometimes your light goes out, and sometimes your light is blown into flame again by an encounter with another human being. Each of us owes the deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this inner light.”

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

John Cassis Meet the Author
John Cassis is president of The Cassis Group, located in Debary, Florida, and on the Web at www.johncassis.com.


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