Mackay: Authors know: Caring counts in leadership

As we enter the long hot summer of politics and read stories daily about corporate strategies, one common theme emerges: leadership. There is seldom agreement about what real leadership looks like or who is best to provide it.

Why? My theory is that too often, people in leadership positions fail to realize that every decision affects real people, not just the bottom line.

A couple of additions to your reading list might improve your leadership potential. "How We Lead Matters" is by my friend Marilyn Carlson Nelson.

When Marilyn became CEO of Carlson -- with brands like Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Radisson Hotels, Country Inn & Suites and TGI Friday's -- she admits she had doubts that she could fill the role her father had bestowed on her. Her book is a treasure trove of how she handled situations from Sunday school to meeting global leaders. Among the leadership lessons in the 70 stories are gems like these:

•On a trip to India, Marilyn asked a businesswoman how she addressed social issues in a country with such immense problems. The woman shared the story of Gandhi. His five possessions were "a cloth garment, a walking staff, a broken pair of eyeglasses, a pair of wooden sandals and a pocket watch. Yet he transformed the world with his commitment and compassion."

•"It's been said that the mark of a true leader is thinking well beyond his or her years, that is, establishing a leadership culture in an organization that becomes the organization's hallmark."

•"When you are making a difficult decision, ask yourself if the decision you're about to make would show integrity, leadership, caring. And if you make that particular decision, will you be giving up on something you should continue fighting for? ... Never forget that your role as a leader is to be a steward for future generations."

Marilyn continues as chairman of Carlson, and Carlson continues to prosper. See a connection here?

A new book, "Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders," also emphasizes the critical relationship between leadership and a passionate, motivated workforce.

Author Joel Manby is president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, the company with more than 10,000 employees that entertains more than 16 million guests at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., and 25 other properties across America.

Manby's experience on the television program "Undercover Boss" reinforced his confidence in HFE's workforce, but what followed was truly enlightening. He received thousands of responses from viewers who had watched the show, many from people who wished that their workplaces were more like what they had seen on TV -- "more respectful, cooperative, joyful and well, more loving."

Loving? How many of us can call our workplaces loving?

"The simple truth is this: There is a crisis of confidence in leadership. The level of dissatisfaction and even resentment present in the thousands of letters and email messages shocked me," Manby writes. "People felt as if they couldn't trust their leaders and bosses."

In a panel discussion by the Society of Human Resource Managers, he explained what sets his company apart. "We actually use love to define our leadership culture at HFE. Not love the emotion, but love the verb. We train our leaders to love each other, knowing that if they create enthusiasm with their employees, the employees will in turn create an enthusiastic guest experience. I think most organizations avoid discussions about how people should treat each other, and I think that's what is wrong with a lot of organizations. Why are we so afraid to talk about love?"

The seven principles sound basic enough: to be patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving and dedicated. However, that's where the simplicity ends. The examples and stories are both inspirational and challenging.

These two books define leadership in terms we aren't accustomed to -- but maybe they lead us to a better way to work.

Mackay's Moral: If how you lead matters, remember: Love works.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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