Thoughts on Building A Company With Heart

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I was a bit surprised when one of my colleagues said they were “dreading asking me for a half day off” a few weeks ago.

“What’s the big deal, we’ll survive the few hours right?”

Like most initial reactions, when you reflect with a little time that passes, you can relate a bit better.  There’s a lesson in that alone for all of us e-mailers!

A quick story of the past before going into the role of a leader…..

I often reflect on my fantastic 8+ years at Monogram Foods which I certainly consider PIVOTAL in my life, for a couple of reasons.

  • I started at the age of 31.  Enough experience and boundless energy to make a difference, but maybe too young (never thought I’d say that) to put relevance on anything big picture related.
  • My first child Hope was  18 months old, also a turning point in my life.  Becoming a parent is big for ANYONE.  Hope was born with Down Syndrome (DS), we wouldn’t change a thing about her.

The fact that Hope DOES have DS, meant I was opened up to a new world, a world where I needed to understand communities that may need a little extra help.

My wife and I divide and conquer very well.  She focused on direct care of Hope (school system, therapies/medical, etc) and I focused on the outside world (local community, fundraising, businesses, government to a degree).  We of course came together at the big points in both worlds.

What happened with me?

  • I joined the local Memphis Down Syndrome Affiliate as a board member.  Our goal was to improve/empower the lives of people with DS and their families.  Lots of ways to do this, and all can’t be done at once, and all of it requires time and money.

Back to motivation in business…..

  • We needed a place for board meetings.  I went to my boss and asked if he wouldn’t mind if I use my company’s conference room.  I kind of felt like my colleague asking me for a half day off.  I wouldn’t call it dread, but there was certainly “butterfilies.”

My boss’s reaction?  “ABSOLUTELY!  Make sure everyone helps themselves to the soft drinks too.”

While I wasn’t surprised at his support (as solid a person as they come), I WAS elated that the reaction was an “open arms” invitation to the organization.

It sent a message:  “What’s important to you, is important to us.”

That continued.

  • I asked if we could donate hot dogs to annual awareness/fundraising walk.  They sent a crew to cook them.  And we invited the entire company, and they showed up in droves.
  • They donated.  And if you’ve ever asked people for donations, you know how difficult that is.
  • When I went to DC for a couple of days to lobby in support of the community?  They were waiting at the coffee pot wanting the run down of the experience.  Taking precedent over SEC Football reviews is big.
  • The list goes on….

This wasn’t just my boss/President of the company.  It was my team members on the exec team (I considered them like “brothers”).  The team I was honored to lead.  The plants.  High and wide.

In short, MY journey with Hope and the DS community became their journey too.

I wasn’t the only lucky one.  People’s life journies/stories became part of the culture.

Fast Forward to Today, where we work to create something great beyond Monogram….

The lessons and stories I tell as I build a company elicit a common reaction:

  • “Well you WERE a VP you know!” as if to say “rank has its privelages.”

Fair response, if you believe that leadership level determines HEART.  I do not believe that.

Another learning lesson:I WAS a VP (and a confident one at that!).  I had butterflies, anxiety with trying to merge my personal and business worlds.  I was a hard core (still am) player 100% dedicated and loyal.  And I had anxiety coming forward to ask for a little rope and if I can bring my company into the fold.

If I had that reaction, chances are EVERYONE struggles with asking their boss for rope (flexibility).  If they struggle with the easy stuff, how would they feel with the big stuff?

Heart should not discriminate.  Heart is the most powerful motivator on the planet.

Developing a company with HEART does not happen overnight, and it does not happen with one big stroke of the pen.  

Taking care of the butterflies is a critical first step.  Caring about your team’s life beyond today’s To-Do List is where the real diamonds are.

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