Monday, March 12, 2012

Joel Manby: Human-Based Leader Extraordinaire

I first "met" Joel Manby when I watched him on Undercover Boss. There will always be sceptics in this world who ask questions like "Didn't Manby's co-stars think it was odd that a television camera was documenting someone's first day at a unglamorous job?" or comments to that effect. I met Joel in person in Michigan where we were both speakers at Catalyst University. I can tell you, what you see (or saw on the show) is what you get. He is a caring, interested, interesting person and a Human-Based Leader to the core.
I was honored to continue the conversation with Joel as there was so much more I wanted to know and share with my readers.

Listen in:

D.K.    Looking over the span of your career to this point in time, was there a moment, an occasion or experience when you realized you were exactly where you dreamed of being?

J.M.    There was not a specific moment or experience. But I do know that in past jobs, I felt as if something was missing. I have now been at Herschend Family Entertainment (HFE) nearly 15 years. I've been courted by other companies for bigger jobs with more pay, and have never felt a calling to go elsewhere. That tells me I am where I'm supposed to be. So many people search for something external to help them feel fulfilled. I realized that fulfillment has to come from within. Human beings to a great extent might be hard-wired to measuring success based on output. I believe wherever your values system comes from, you'd better be in alignment with it.

D.K.    Was there something tangible about how you made the decisions on your career path that gave you the absolute certainty you shouldn't be doing anything else? With a business background and years in the automotive industry, transitioning to themed parks and the family entertainment world is quite the shift.

J.M.    For many years, I was caught up in WHAT I was doing; the level of responsibility, and the output of the job. Over time, I became more concerned with HOW I was doing it. Quality output” was the price of entry anywhere I worked, but I was more interested in the higher calling of leading people the right way such as caring about HOW they are treated. I had a glimpse of what it meant to combine a firm set of behavioral values with a firm set of performance principles in my stint at Saturn. At 27, I was fresh out of business school. Saturn was my first leadership position. They cared deeply about people and profits. In many ways, I have been searching ever since for that balance of caring about people and profits like we had a Saturn. I found it here at HFE. At HFE we call it Leading with Love.

D.K. I recently read the manifesto The Four-Letter Word That Makes You and Your Work Irresistible by Mark Sanborn where he says " LOVE is a four-letter word in the business world. It makes us uncomfortable. It seems inappropriate or even taboo", a perspective shared by many business leaders. Joel not only has the courage to embrace it in the business world but shares it and lives it with all those around him. The conversation continues....

J.M.    Love is a four letter word in business for at least two reasons. First, some think leading with love will hurt profits. I think the opposite is true and HFE has returned over 14%/year to investors for a 10 year period, even through the recession so that argument doesn’t work for me. Second, many think leading with love is SOFT. It is not. Leading with love is hard because you have to care about how your decisions impact others.

D.K.  Where did your desire to Lead with Love come from?

J.M.  My desire to Lead with Love is based on my faith. It took me a long time to get here. I moved 10 times the first 15 years of marriage, struggled with working too long, and traveling too much, which hurt my family. It was a wake-up call. I needed to remember that loving others included those at home as well. I needed to have relationship time at home too, and figured out a way to balance home and work. My family and I came up with their key points of what made them feel loved, and I work very hard to stick to those desires. 

At HFE, I learned that love works not only at home, but in the rough and tumble for profit business world. We have a huge responsibility at HFE. Not only is our motto "Creating Memories Worth Repeating" but we have a responsibility for the safety and well-being of all who walk through the gates of our facilities. We also care for our people. There is pain everywhere. So many of our people are struggling with something, so we "Share it Forward" with an internal foundation that uses funds to help employees in need. We have programs for just about everything to support our people from Catastrophic relief, Single Parent Support, Marriage Counseling, to Financial Help (Debt Relief). We have helped nearly 10% of our workforce with some kind of aid this year.

We grow our people and have a philosophy to promote from within as much as possible. If we create supportive relationships in our work environment, an environment that's grounded, centered and emotionally healthy, we'll all succeed which will also support great guest experiences.

I continuously remind myself to find your own “true north”. I ask myself "How do YOU want to behave and what kind of environment do you want to be in? What kind of people do you want to work with?" Life, both personal and professional, is about relationships. I focus on that. I've seen so much in my 30+ years in business; great leaders and horrible leaders, companies with horrendous cultures and companies with caring cultures. I never stopped believing there could be a better way. If you feel discontented and want more from your work, there is something stirring. Intuition is a powerful wake-up call. You need to figure out what you have to do to live in congruence with your core values. If you can't, you might just have to get out and go elsewhere if the organization isn't aligned with your values.

Key areas I focus on are:

  • To listen better,
  • To ask better questions which tests my thinking as a leader,
  • To be willing to change my mind more, and
  • To hire and keep better people
The fact is, we are ALL going to "cheat" at something every day. What I mean by that is we're always going to have to choose one thing over another. The important factor to remember is there are always consequences to our choices and actions. Figure out what they might be and choose accordingly. For instance, in leaving the auto industry, I had to accept working with less prestigious brands in a less prestigious industry, but I would never go back. If you stick to being home for dinner except in an emergency at work; it COULD cost you something (for eg. a lost sale, accolades, promotion) but what is more important?

D.K.    I consider Human-Based Leaders™ those who have a passion for what they do and compassion for those they do it with. Both are evident in your episode of Undercover Boss. Can you tell me more about how you demonstrate and promote HB leadership within your organization? Do you acknowledge it and reward it in some way?

J.M.    We have developed a set of values we expect all our employees to adhere to. All leaders complete Servant Leadership training to make sure they understand HOW to lead and follow the values.

We continually discuss the need to manage the tension between our three shareholder objectives which are profit and growth, a great place to work for great people, and servant leadership. We discuss the 2X2 matrix and how people’s salary raises are dependent upon achieving both “do” and “be” goals.

D.K.    Why would the next generation of leaders want to follow you? What about you will inspire them?

J.M.    We have a clear Vision and Mission. We have a clear definition of success. They will know if they are winning or losing. We care equally about the “do” goals and the “be” goals. We are family oriented. We care deeply about quality. If 'it' is not remarkable, we look to change it. We have FUN....this is the FUN business.

D.K.    What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to them?

J.M.    Do what you love to do, it is the only way you can do excellent work.

Joel's book Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles For Effective Leaders will be released end of May, 2012. Click here to pre-order and learn more about this extraordinary Human-Based Leader.

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