One of the great joys I get from my work is the opportunity to connect and build relationships with some truly exceptional leaders and people. One of them is my friend, Bob Bennett, the guest writer of this piece. After seeing one of Bob’s talks two years ago, I knew this was a leader I had to connect with, and our conversations and emails since then have been inspiring, informative, and just plain fun. When you read the guest piece he’s written below, you’ll understand why.
* * * * *
I am blessed to have grandchildren, because they teach me something new every day – even things like leadership and business.
One week shy of their third birthday my wife and I took two of our grandchildren, May and Tucker, to Disney World. They are twins; May is an instigator and manipulator. Tucker is ‘all boy’ and extremely active but sensitive. Both have a quest for knowledge; they can talk with you all day about habitats, inertia, paleontologists, and, as Tucker calls it, ‘gestion,’ the art of turning the food one eats into energy.
We stayed at a cabin in the Wilderness Village. We spent four full days at the separate theme parks, going on every ride that did not have a height restriction.
While packing to leave after the ‘adventure,’ my wife and I wondered which were the kids’ favorite rides. The decision: Tucker – Toy Story; May – Ariel. So, as would any grandparent, we asked them.
The first surprise for us was the speed with which they answered the question. They both answered immediately: Tucker shouted, ‘The Magic Stairs,’ May screamed, ‘The School bus!’
After a few minutes, we realized the ’Magic Stairs’ was the escalator that led up to the ‘Land’ ride. And the school bus was the shuttle that took us between the cabin and the theme parks.
These answers were not what we expected, so we asked them, ‘What was your next favorite ride?’ Again, without any hesitation, May answered: ‘The playground’, and Tucker ‘The Magic bed.’ The playground, right next to the cabin, was identical to the one we go to in our home town. The ‘Magic bed’ was the Murphy bed in the cabin, which is identical to the Murphy bed in our condo, on which Tucker sleeps when he is there. We spent thousands of dollars for this!?
But after some thought we understood their answers: the Magic Stairs was a new adventure that was scary to a 3 year old. He had never seen it and did not understand it, but by riding it he accomplished something he did not know was possible – while holding our hand, safe in the knowledge we were there for him.
The School bus was where we sang songs and talked about all the fun we would have that day – it provided the anticipation/vision of what was to come, creating excitement for the adventure. The playground was the place we interacted: helping each other swing, come down the slide, bringing back memories of and bragging about their accomplishments and enjoying our time together.
The Magic bed was not only something out of the ordinary, it was a place to talk about what we did and what we learned – while providing comfort as we sat and slept on it together.
Understanding this helped me to realize those things that create a positive culture that embraced and encouraged continuous learning:
- Ride the school bus – instill a sense of anticipation; establish objectives and goals.
- Hold hands on the Magic Stairs – challenge and support; create a safe environment with no fear of failure.
- Play on the playground – lead by example; participate; help and appreciate each other; reward and recognize; make it fun.
- Sit on the Magic Bed – reinforce learning behaviors; encourage questions, especially ‘Why’ and ‘How’; coach and develop.
As leaders, don’t assume you know what your employees like/need without asking them. We should encourage ourselves and others to look at things through the eyes of a child, in awe, appreciative, wondering, and imagining what is next.
No one should ever stop learning; learning is a continuous journey, not a one-time event no matter how huge. Learning needs to be worked at.
The environment was set for my grandchildren prior to the trip: we read to them; we took them on ‘adventures’ in the park, to Nature/Science Centers/Museums; and we talked a lot – about whatever it was they wanted to know/learn.
It is not what we say to, do for or give people that will be remembered, it is how you make them feel, and that can only be done through the greatest gift of all – your time and interest.
As for the trip, we did give it one last try – even though we should have known better. ‘What was your next favorite?’ was answered the same by both – ‘The cabin!’ That should not have been a surprise; it was a place where we stayed, where we were with family, and that was associated with pleasant things.
The cabin, it was our place – somewhere that we shared, treasured and was a safe ‘port in a storm’ of new and exciting adventures
Our work environment, our culture, is the ‘cabin’ in which we all exist. We have all experienced it – the purchase and presentation of an expensive, large toy for our children that, when unwrapped, sits idle while they play with the box it came in.
Perhaps as leaders we need to spend time working on the ‘box’ we give our employees, remembering it is the little things we do daily for our family that make up our culture, our ‘box.’ Work on your cabin!
Bob Bennett was the Chief Learning Officer and Vice President of Human Resources at FedEx, where he played a key role in incorporating loyalty, an integral FedEx value, into employee measurement indices.
Although he recently retired after working for 35 years at FedEx, Bob is still keeping busy with writing a leadership book, continuing his work on the speaking circuit, as well as founding Achieve-LLC, a consultant company focused on helping organizations achieve company and individual success through a holistic approach to business. To learn more about Bob, visit his website Achieve-LLC.com or follow him on Twitter: @bob_achieve.