In Case You’ve Forgotten, Here’s How Real Leadership Looks

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Nov 10, 2014

This holiday season, you’ve probably seen or read about all the retailers opening their doors as early as 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day. We have decided not to follow that trend. Instead, we believe family comes first and you should be at home celebrating with them on this special holiday. This means none of our stores will be open on Thanksgiving Day. In addition, none of our stores will be open before 7 am on Black Friday. ” Michael R. MacDonald, CEO, DSW Shoes

I came across this on Facebook the other day. It rang so true to me since my wife and a lot of her friends work in retail from the management end.

A visible expression of company culture

One of the great features of the Internet, for me, is to read through the comments of others and get a sense of other people’s concerns.

The comments read:

  • “I like this company even more! I’ll buy all my shoes and sneakers there from now on.”
  • “I’ll be shopping at DSW.”
  • “I wish other stores would follow their lead! Of course if we, as consumers, refused to shop on Thanksgiving the stores would quit opening on family holidays.”

I applaud and admire this statement from DSW’s CEO. He makes it plain what the culture is about within his company. There’s no need to read some plaque or a statement from their website about the values they aspire to.

He says “family is important to our company” and this is how we are going to treat it.

It takes courage

Lots of times when the flow is going one way, it takes a real leader to stand up and say, “No, we are going to be different; we are not going to go there.” If you Google “leadership,” this is what you should find for a real leader:

Follow your own compass and not the herd. Not afraid to make a commitment and to back up the company’s vision and mission by refusing to follow the stampede.

The pursuit of profits as a “be-all and end-all” is an in fated strategy, especially in this age and cultured environment. These companies that have been inching the “Black Friday” process up more and more are in the final pursuit of their fiscal goals. So the best way for them to compete, they think, is to open earlier than the next company.

I said years ago as this store opening trend moved forward is that it would be only a matter of time before they started opening on Thanksgiving Day. This year, Macy’s announced that, yes, we are going to open on Thanksgiving but not until 6 pm. I supposed they thought this was great since they figured that everyone would have eaten by then and was ready to get out and shop.

Hurry to eat, hurry to work

However, I’m sure that their workers were not overjoyed at the thought that they would have to eat early and then get mentally ready for the “Black Friday” madness on a national holiday.

I would suggest that all senior leaders to keep a plaque in their office or on their desk that can be seen as you look up. Read what your organization says about your people. You know, the part of the mission statement that says “people are our greatest asset.” Let that be your North Star as you sit in meeting or board rooms. Base your decisions on what comes out of the people filter.

Where is your North Star?

DSWThat is what DSW did in this photo (left). Their filter said that, no, this is not a good idea for our most important asset. This would not synch up with our thoughts about that asset.

Using this as a rule of thumb would make the decision-making process so much easier, and it would serve as a constant reminder that the culture you build has to be aligned with the foundations of the business.

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimer, the ultimate sign of luxury and wealth, decided that they had enough of the stories about their workers spending vacation time checking email. They decided to offer an employer generated email notice that is called Mail on Holiday.

Their employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.

The sender is notified by the “Mail on Holiday” assistant that the email has not been received and is invited to contact a nominated substitute instead. Employees can then return from their vacation to an empty inbox.

The board’s seal of approval

“Our employees should relax on holiday and not read work-related emails,” said Wilfried Porth, Daimer’s board member for human resources. “With ‘Mail on Holiday’ they start back after the holidays with a clean desk. There is no traffic jam in their inbox. That is an emotional relief.”

Yes, culture should be a board-level discussion, and this shows the effectiveness when it is. When it is a board level issue, it carries a lot more weight — the kind of weight that culture discussions SHOULD carry.

These type issues are not just HR issues, because they salsa how the importance of leadership and courage. This brought to mind a discussion once at a Starbucks quarterly earnings call when someone commented to CEO Howard Schultz that Starbucks earnings could be stronger if the company stopped offering health insurance to its part-time employees.

His reply? He talked about how his father got hurt when he was a child and the family had no insurance. It created a tremendous hardship on everyone because they did not have any other options to fall back on.

He summed it up by saying that,“if you feel that you can get a better return with your funds, you can invest them elsewhere.” That’s because, as far as Schultz was concerned, the cancel-insurance-for-part-timers-option was off the table.

Supplementing your mission and values

These are examples of what I often call REAL leadership. It is never built around a slogan or gimmick. Leadership is built on everyday actions that supplement your mission and values.

If your Missions and Values are true and meaningful, use that as your North Star and you will exhibit the type of leadership that attracts and engages your workforce.

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