Growing up, I watched a movie called Down and Out in Beverly Hills. In one scene, the drunken character played by Nick Nolte fell into the pool of the wealthy character played by Richard Dreyfus. Dreyfus’ character, in a state of absolute panic, was running around yelling “Call 9-1-1!’, all while carrying the portable phone in his hand. It was a classic scene of a man unable to handle pressure while everyone else around him keeps their cool, not realizing he had all the tools he needed for success right in his hands. At the time, I found the scene to be funny. Little did I know it would prove to be a valuable business lesson.
Corporate Events Unlimited is about to embark on a new chapter in our history. For over two months, we have been planning a major acquisition that involves integration of clients, equipment, services and systems. Today marks Day Two of the new chapter, and I can’t help but walk around thinking of the Mike Tyson quote above. The space I calculated for the equipment is shrinking fast, the client integration is approaching faster than anticipated and the extra staff we hoped to have has taken a bit longer than we care for. I’ve never fought the former champ, nor would I want to, but I can relate to the gentleman laying on the canvas in the photo. Briefly, in a blinding moment of clarity, I reflected back on the day I answered the call from the other company, and dreamed of having been at lunch instead! But, I noticed a funny thing as I was sprawled on the mat today, hearing a phantom ref count me out. It wasn’t a dominant, unbeatable figure standing above me. It was a group of highly dedicated individuals that I call my team offering me a hand up.
My old mentor taught me the phrase, “Hire well and get out of their way!” He didn’t invent it, but I took it to heart when I was just starting in my career. But I’ve also learned that’s not the end of the statement. Even the best people need a reason to be connected to the mission of the Organization. They need to feel valued, appreciated and an important part of the success. They need to know that you have their back, and will be in the trenches with them when needed. Most of all, they need to know you have a plan, or at least are doing your best to follow a plan even when it goes off the rails. If you create a culture of inclusion, one that gives your team autonomy and respect, they will pay it back by being the people who answer the 9-1-1 call. My goal, as the leader, is to create a vision and then give my team the autonomy to follow that vision by using their talents to their fullest. Am I successful in creating that vision? You would have to ask my team – most days, I feel I am not at all. Most days, it feels like I’m creating the chaos rather than leading folks thru it. It can be a sinking feeling, but leadership is pressing on and trying to be better than the day before.
Even though I may not be certain of my leadership, there is no questioning my team is carrying me through. In the midst of my anxiety attack, I stopped and looked around the room. My warehouse team was sweating and tired, but determined, and they gave me the usual, “We’ll get it done” refrain that I’ve come to respect. My Event Production Manager did her best to offer encouraging words, taking meeting after meeting to fill positions and putting out all the fires of the day while I was tied up. I had Account Executives stepping in to help other Account Executives get up to speed on our events. It was beautiful – and it stopped the panic attack at least for the moment. Lest you think this is normal, I assure you their are Organizations in which the rank and file would relish in the panic attack of their superior as payback for all those times they were not given the respect and autonomy they deserve.
Hire well and get out of their way, but remember to say “thank you”, “good job”, and “I respect each and every one of you more than you can imagine.” Thinking of throwing an appreciation party? By all means, give us a call. But may I suggest first you start here, with simple gestures, handwritten notes or even a public blog, to show your employees they are the best thing to ever happen to you. The very best thing, and more than you deserve most days. Do that, and the time will come when they will help you off the mat.