By: Clif Smart
One evening, a star high school football player in a large school was walking through the halls headed to his senior football banquet with his mom when he passed three younger students in the same hallway. They all enthusiastically greeted him with “Hi Joel,” which he barely acknowledged by a slight nod and kept walking.
When they turned the corner a few minutes later, Joel’s mom stuck her finger in his chest, for the first time, clearly angry, and said “Don’t ever do that again. Those kids looked up to you. You could have made their evening wonderful, yet you treated them like they didn’t exist. Every time you meet someone, you have a choice. You can treat that person with respect, acknowledge their importance and make their day better, or you can make their day worse. You just made their day a little worse.”
The Joel in this story is Joel Manby, the former CEO of Herschend Family Enterprises and the current CEO of Seaworld. He wrote a book titled “Love Works, Seven Timeless Principles of Effective Leaders,” which I highly recommend.
You may now be thinking — What do these love principles have to do with leadership? We want our children or our students to act out these characteristics, but they are not leadership traits. Sure, we want the star football player to be kind to younger players, acknowledge them, and act humbly, but is that what successful leaders do?
Have you worked for this kind of leader —the kind whose negativity drains the life out of a team? I have, and it’s awful. I didn’t want to follow that kind of boss. I just wanted out of the organization. In contrast, I have also worked for people who consistently live out the definition of love. I was willing to do anything for those folks. Manby and I have come to the same conclusion: Love works as a leadership style.
Let me end by saying a few words about what leading through love is not. It’s not weak or soft. There still needs to be accountability and there may still need to be admonishment, but it should be done privately, it should be done with patience, with respect and in a constructive manner. You may still have to terminate someone. If you ultimately have to do that, doing it in an honest and respectful way will often allow the employee to land on his feet somewhere else and reduce feelings of ill will.
This is the kind of culture we are building at Missouri State University. It involves hiring people whose leadership style is consistent with this and who truly want to lead with love toward our employees, and even more importantly, toward our students.
I meet with all our new employees quarterly and I leave them with a challenge:
“When you interact with someone, you will make their day better or worse. Make it better. Every time.”
Clif Smart is president of Missouri State University.
This article appeared in the November 4th, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here