In today’s BBTL book entry, Chet opens with a quote by Maya Angelou.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Chet goes on to write, “Your words matter, leader. The way you choose them matters more. The emotion, tone, and body language leave more of a mark than you think. Everything, and I mean everything, rises and falls on leadership. People don’t forget your presence, leader.”
Reading that, there was no question where I was going with my “and” today.
November 1, 1996. Phone rings at 1:00 AM. My father’s voice calmly says, “Pute, sorry to wake you. There’s a fire at the plant. Probably better come on up.”
By the time I arrived, all 65,000 square feet of the production area was soaking wet. And gone. The offices and warehouses, about three times that area, were basically untouched — smoke and water damage only. The third shift team leaders had done their duty. They’d gotten the team out safely and the fire doors closed.
25 years later, scenes of that morning play like a slide show in my memory.
I vividly recall sitting in a van with my dad and several others, as we began the process of contacting the other teammates, customers and vendors. Just as quickly, we began to lay out a plan for shifting production to our only other facility in Indiana and engaging our competitors to fill the balance of our customer’s orders until we were back in operation (a total of 17 snack manufactures around the country filled our orders over the next 8 months).
Easily the most memorable scene took place just before sunrise that morning. By then, every Wyandot teammate had arrived, all wearing the same look of worry and disbelief. Everyone gathered in warehouse 1 and I remember thinking what an ocean of people it was, seeing all three shifts gathered together. And then there was my dad, second generation leader of a business his parents started 60 years earlier, standing on a raised forklift, telling everyone, “We’ll be back.”
To say my father was a levelheaded guy would be a gross understatement. I never heard or saw the man lose it over anything (I’m sure I exasperated him often, but he never really “let me have it“ the way I probably deserved). That unflappable demeanor never mattered more than that morning.
As he addressed a warehouse full of fearful faces, he began to share the plan for how we would rebuild. As he had overseen much of the Company’s expansion in the past few decades, he knew how long construction took and was able to give the team an approximate date they could expect to return to work. As he spoke, I could sense the feelings of panic and desperation beginning to lift. Then he told them they would all remain Wyandot employees, receiving paychecks at half their current rate, even if they chose to find work elsewhere while we rebuilt. Suddenly, people began to stand a little straighter, some started to smile. Fear had left the building. Then my father told them there would be bonuses for all those who chose to return full-time. Applause.
As it turned out, my dad‘s estimated timeline was nearly spot on. Almost 8 months to the day after the fire, I had the honor of pushing the button on the first packaging machine in a small ceremony celebrating our come back. The honor fell to me, because my father was undergoing cancer treatment, having been diagnosed with leukemia just three months following the fire. He would pass another three months later.
Being just 57 years old, the head of a family business, and a volunteer leader of countless organizations in a small town, my father’s calling hours were long and lively. Literally hundreds and hundreds of lifelong friends and associates (he’d never moved from his hometown) shared story after story after story of my dad and the role he’d played in their lives. My dad had a hell of a sense of humor and could be quite a cut up, so most of the stories were as entertaining as they were touching. But the melody line of each was “how your father made me feel.” From one of his grade school teachers to the kid (now 65 year old man) who delivered the paper to my grandparents‘ home, every one of them told stories of how he expressed his appreciation for them. And it was the Wyandot teammates who said it best — “When your dad stood up there talking to us last year and promising we’d all have jobs again, he made us feel like we mattered.”
Whether you lead an organization of hundreds or even thousands of people, or you simply lead a relationship with one other, the gift of appreciation, of making someone feel like they matter, is perhaps the greatest gift you can give.
“People will never forget how you made them feel.