My father, Melvin Hardy, was a charismatic guy. He was the first barber in Granger, Indiana, drove a school bus, and served as a Harris Township volunteer fireman for many years. As a result, he knew everyone in the community and was often referred to as “The Mayor of Granger.” He was well loved not just because he was outgoing, but because he cared. And that was his leadership secret.
He eventually left the barber business and became the operational manager for Goldblatz’s Department store. After five or so years, when I was about 15, Goldblatz decided to open a 50,000 square foot home furnishings showroom next door in a vacant building. My father was hoping to run the new store, but instead the leadership hired a salesman who was excellent at selling carpet, but had no experience in management. My father, on the other hand, was well respected by his employees, especially the stock boys who were about as low as you could be on the career food chain. I know, because I worked as one during my high school years.
The new store was about a week from opening and conflict between the carpet salesman and the employees became very thick. The more pressure he experienced, the more he yelled and threatened his employees. The stock boys from my father’s store were hired in their off-time to help do the physical labor of setting the furnishings up – carpet laying, walls, furniture placement, etc.. Three days before the grand opening, they and the other employees had enough abuse and they no longer cared whether the store was ready to open its doors or not. Very little was getting done and it was clear that opening day was going to be a disaster.
The carpet salesman was fired, and they asked my father if he thought he could get the store ready in 48 hours. He decided to give it a try, and 48 hours later the store opened, fully furnished. The stock boys and other employees worked 48 hours straight without stopping because they respected my father. The only thing he promised them was that when it was all over, and the store was open, he would make sure they had the best party of their life. And he held true to his promise.
When I asked him how he did it when the other guy couldn’t, he smiled and said “Because I treat employees like they are important and they matter. And I worked right along with them to let them know that I was willing to get dirty too.” And it struck me that the real reason he was successful was because he motivated people by respecting them. He didn’t use threats or fear. He simply cared about those he led, and those he led followed. When he passed away at the age of 44 from a heart condition, more than 1,000 people attended his funeral. Almost all of them had a moving story about something my father had done for them that showed he cared. And that experience convinced me that the true litmus test of our abilities as leaders will be the stories that others tell about us when we are gone. Do you know what kinds of stories others will tell about you?