April 1

The Secret Ingredient

Have you ever seen the show called Undercover Boss? I watched it a few times and always loved to see how much the CEO learned about what it was like to be on the front lines of the company’s they ran. One of the more famous episodes, showed Joel Manby, then CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, the largest family-owned theme park corporation in the U.S., working in one of the parks. Based on the overwhelming response to that episode, he wrote a wonderful book called Love Works. Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders. Here’s a sampling of what the book is about:

“During the last seven years at HFE, we have grown operating profit more than 50% and have earned over a 14% 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.

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 leaving 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.“

Mr. Manby makes a great appeal for leaders to consider changing their focus from a heavy-handed management style to leadership and not just any kind of leadership, but some would call it servant leadership. However, he goes one step further; put the needs of the associate first and suggests that they should experience “love”. He equates love in the workplace as managers who are patient, kind, trustful, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, and dedicated.

Leadership is always about influence.

A leader must use influence and not power & control to lead associates to enroll, engage, and commit to changes. Leaders always lead people to do things better and be better versions of themselves. But if it is done in a coercive manner, it doesn’t work.

Leadership and management are two different but interconnected aspects of every manager’s job. Management is most about managing resources, executing to plan, control, and the day-to-day aspects of the operation. Leadership is about creating relationships and motivating people to become the best version of themselves.

People want a leader who cares about them, not someone who manages them as a resource! Great leaders demonstrate empathy and are genuinely concerned about their associates.

Mr. Manby has appropriately created a form of leadership that worked for him and he taught it to other leaders at his organization. Because he was an evangelist and believed in the attributes and he held people accountable to do it, the leadership focus to “love the people you work with” worked well for his organization.

Back to the question – does love work and is it an appropriate leadership act?

It is not a leadership ‘act’. It takes a lot of courage for a CEO to say that “the bottom line is best served when leaders lead with love.” I admire his courage and believe he is expressing a truth about leadership which is it must be authentically and genuinely about making team members the best version of themselves so that they can experience fulfillment and engagement in their work. Any organization that places the needs of their team members first will find that their team members will provide excellent service to the customer.

The Service Profit Chain was developed by Heskett & Sasser (Harvard Business School), Jones (eLanes), Lovemann (Harrah’s) & Schlesinger (Babson College). They found that profit is maximized if a chain of elements is ordered in this manner:

  • Create A Desired Culture that
  • Engages Employees who create
  • Innovative Quality Products & Services and
  • Optimize Systems / Processes that create
  • Customer Experiences of Delight and maximize
  • Growth / Profit

It seems to me the service profit chain always works. If leaders focus on the associates, a culture will emerge that engages employees at the highest level possible. If the leadership style is based on love and taking care of the employees, the culture has an exceptionally good chance of being a high-performing culture.

What is love?

Love is the foundation of great relationships and leadership is all about relationships. Everyone loves to be loved – it’s a universal need! Do extraordinary leaders intentionally love others – yes, every day! But it doesn’t have to be mushy or sweet or ‘nice’. Tough love is still love if done with a little compassion. I think love is an awesome leadership act, but you will never find it on a 360-degree assessment or being taught at a university, but you will find it at Herschend Family Entertainment.

One of the greatest things that a leader could hear is that people who worked for them felt loved! What would your associates say about you?


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