Once upon a time about 18 years ago, my company was going through a very, very, difficult period. We were about to lay off 20% of the team. We were losing money. Personally, I was close to being clinically depressed. While she never admitted it, I am quite sure my wife Laura was about ready to get rid of me as well. Suffice to say, 1996 was not my best year. I really did think I was holding up pretty well. I made it into work everyday. Then I went straight to my office, shut my door, and effectively shut out my team. I either blew off our E-Team meetings, or I attended them but was disengaged. Then one day my TEC Chair, Jutta Parsons (one of best TEC Chairs of all time), came in for our 1-2-1. The first words out of her mouth were, "John, what the hell is the matter with you? You're destroying the culture in your own company. Don't you realize the CEO speaks through a megaphone?" (Jutta was never known for beating around the bush.) I said to Jutta, "What does that mean?"
Jutta said, "John, the minute you drive into the parking lot, you are ON-STAGE. People are watching your body language, the words you use, even how you walk. Right now, when things are down, 80% of your job is about showing up. And not just walking in and closing your door. But showing up with a positive attitude and a vision for the future. If you can't do that, you're better off staying home!" Talk about tough love. I made the decision that day: If I was going to show up for work, I was going to show up positive, upbeat, and thinking about the future.
People who know me, know I leave a fun, topical, outgoing voicemail message everyday. If you want to hear today's message, just call 262.389.8000. I started doing this the day after my meeting with Jutta. I change my message the first thing in the morning, and by recording an upbeat message, I start the day on a positive note both for me and for everyone who hears my voicemail.
I picked up a client for lunch recently. Paul was worried about a recent drop in sales -- not sure if it was temporary setback, or a much deeper issue. Paul got into my car and stared out the window as we drove out of his parking lot. Just before we pulled out, two of his production employees on a lunchtime walk waved at him. Paul just stared right through them. I said, "Paul, did you notice your two guys who waved at you?" He said, "Oh yeah, that's Pete and Jim. They spend their lunch hour walking around the plant. They are setting a good example." I said again, "Did you notice they waved at you?" He said, "I guess I didn't notice." I said, "Well, I guarantee they noticed you didn't acknowledge them!"
Jim Wessing is CEO of a manufacturing company called Kondex in Lomira, WI. Kondex has one of the best corporate cultures of any business I know. And it all starts with Jim. When Jim walks the floor, as he does often, he not only greets each Kondex Associate by name, but he knows their kids' names, and often their grandchildren's names too. Kondex encourages innovation, family, and fun! They have a highly engaged team. And I have never seen Jim have a down day.
I realize it isn't easy to be positive, grateful, and engaged every single day -- especially when things aren't going wel . But YOU'RE THE CEO. IT'S YOUR JOB. If you need somebody to talk to, join TEC, or get a dog, but don't bring your worries and your attitude to the office. And unless your spouse is a saint like my wife, you'll want to remember to be positive and grateful at home too.
Remember, you are the megaphone. Loud and clear!