The greatest gift
I was still in high school when my father was fired from the San Francisco Examiner. My dad loved the newspaper business and his job working with the newsboys who sold papers on street corners.
I will never forget that afternoon. I came home from school to find my father in the kitchen, bent over the kitchen sink with his head in his hands. My heart went out to him -- I knew he must be devastated. But then Dad straightened up, grinned, and said: "Now we're going to have some fun!" Turned out, my sister was dying his grey hair brown so he'd look younger when he went looking for a new job.
Witnessing this kind of resilience at a young age had a profound impact on me. My father -- who went on to operate several new businesses before he died on the job in his 80s -- made the vagaries of change seem like a great adventure. Same goes for my mother, who took up country-western dancing and remarried as a 70-year-old widow.
I don't remember my parents ever sharing slogans or advice about "managing change," but I do remember exactly how they handled the sometimes frightening changes life dealt them.
As leaders, this is how the people around you learn about managing change -- by watching what you do and sensing how you feel, not by simply listening to what you say. Here are five examples of leaders who "walk the talk" in their organizations:
1. "Valuing diversity" is a stated goal for many organizations. But at Bayer Corporation, CEO Greg Babe's genuine commitment to a diverse workplace is well known, and the company has a track record of hiring disabled workers. For five years Babe has been the executive sponsor of Bayer's Diversity Advisory Council, and he currently serves as Chairman of the Pittsburgh Disability Employment Project for Freedom. As he recently wrote in an op-ed for the local Pittsburgh paper, "Business leaders must move beyond myths... It is imperative to adapt hiring procedures and work environments to be inclusive for all workers, including those with disabilities."
2. Research shows that only about 13 percent of family businesses survive into the third generation. But at Bassett Mechanical, a mechanical engineering company, Kim Basett-Heitzmann, helped secure her position as president and COO the hard way. She worked as an employee -- not an observer or a figurehead -- for 10 years, gaining on-the-job experience in almost every department before taking over the top spot in 2007.
3. It's one thing to proclaim that communication is paramount to openness and collaboration, and another to have a leader who makes that proclamation a reality. At Cisco Systems, John Chambers constantly relies on visual technology to communicate with global stakeholders. He holds quarterly TelePresence meeting with customers, press, and analysts from around the world and runs a vlog where "On My Mind" and "On Your Mind" sessions allow him to interact personally with employees around the world. In 2007, Chambers hosted the first virtual company meeting, which brought people face-to-face in both "real" and virtual formats -- and changed the way company meetings were conducted at Cisco.
4. The Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency, was founded with this simple but powerful philosophy: It pays to be nice. And its leaders, Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, are living proof that nice delivers! My favorite story from their best-selling book, The Power of Nice, happened when the agency was in tough competition for a certain client. KTG won the business, and the client explained why. The client had fully expected that agency employees would act nicely toward them; after all, they were the source of potential revenue. But what impressed them most was how genuinely nice everyone at KTG was to each other. The client knew that the agency wasn't going to be side-tracked by back-biting or office politics, but instead, would focus all of its energy on collaborating to come up with break-through creative ideas.
5. Some leaders walk the talk -- and others walk before they talk. This is the case with Paul Hogan who founded senior-care business Home Instead, Inc. Hogan spent 12 years caring for his own grandmother , an experience that convinced him of the need for non-medical care and elder companionship services to help seniors live independently at home. In 2008, Home Instead provided more than 40 million hours of care to seniors around the world. Hogan is now taking an public active role in advocating for the needs of seniors at both personal and policy levels. Hogan's book, "The Stages of Senior Care," guides readers through challenging care-related decisions. He has brought attention to aging-related issues at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, the Ambrosetti conference on Lake Como, and forums across the U.S.
So, in this season of presents and giving, I'd like to remind you that one of the greatest gifts you have to offer: Living out your values in a genuine, active way -- it may inspire others more than you know. Happy holidays!
Carol Kinsey Goman
December 22, 2009; 5:07 PM ET
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