by CIO Staff

Leadership and Management Lessons from a Friend

Apr 04, 20056 mins

One of the joys of writing a column is the response you get from readers. Many have written to say how much a column has helped them deal with an issue. Some sadly write to say they wished their manager could have read this before some disaster struck. Some disagree with a point or two, but that’s good because it keeps me on my toes, forcing me to re think about what I’ve written. All of us can learn, even columnists.


One of the best things that has come my way is a rekindling of a friendship with an old friend, David Sheehan. I send him my columns monthly. While we’ve known each other for nearly twenty years, I’ll bet we have not been in the same room more than a dozen times. David is a gentleman’s gentleman, in the global sense of being a man with vision, integrity and principle. He is executive vice president at Multi Image Group, a communications agency located in Boca Raton. Prior to this, he held senior-level positions in other agencies in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. He’s the only person I know who’s been nominated twice for an Academy Award; that occurred when he was chief of Paramount Pictures corporate communications.

David has been around the block and in those trips, he has gained insights from his work with everyone from the basement to the boardroom. Fortunately, David has shared many of those insights with me, often in response to something I send him. I’d like to share his insights because they represent a view of management and leadership from a man who “walks the talk.” So, David, this one’s for you.

Connect with your people. Every manager “knows” he should be listening to his people. It’s part of Leadership 101. David hit upon a novel way to do this and it happened by chance. He and his wife, Joni, have a “bi coastal marital status” (he lives in Florida, she in Las Vegas). To keep in touch, David would regularly send her cards and letters. To make certain he had available postage, he would always keep stamps in an open box on this desk. Well, David being David, he made the stamps available to everyone, provided they pay for what they took. Take a stamp, deposit 37 cents. The unintended consequence was that people came by for stamps, but they stayed to chat and discuss company issues. David never collected from the box, but his secretary once totaled it – over $1,000 was in the till. But the free advice was priceless. E-mail has since replaced a need for stamps, but not the box; it’s still open.

Learn from others. All good teachers are good listeners. And David has been listening to people for decades. Better yet, he remembers. Here are two stories that resonated with me.

An executive of a billion dollar company was leading a values based culture change. The formal presentation of the new values — iterations of time honored standards like honesty, integrity and commitment — occurred at a meeting of senior leadership. The CEO made his intentions clear: Managers who could not abide by the values were invited to “pack up and go home immediately.” As David recalls, “The stern abruptness and clarity of the message seemed to get through almost instantly… The attentiveness in that room that day, and for the next three days, was absolutely electrifying.”

The other story is about a CEO who wanted to communicate a commitment message at a gathering for employees and spouses. Prior to the meeting, David noticed that the fellow was taping something to the bottoms of some of the chairs. But being occupied with last-minute details, David paid him no mind. Once the meeting began, the CEO welcomed the audience and invited people to look under their seats. Neatly taped to 50 of the chairs was a thousand dollar bill. The CEO announced what he had done, and, as David recalls, there were “screams of delight and enthusiastic exclamations of ’Yes!!!’” from those who had found the bills. Of course, the room was in shambles. When order was restored, the CEO delivered this message: He wanted his people committed to fulfilling their objectives with the same kind of enthusiasm they had shown in “wrecking this room for a thousand dollars.” If they did, everyone would be amply rewarded. Bottom line: The CEO got the commitment he was seeking.

Turn failure into opportunity. Salespeople are always getting knocked around. Only the young ones take it to heart. Throughout his long career, David has demonstrated time and again how to turn something sour into a sweet deal.

One of my favorite examples is this one. His company had produced meetings for a company for several years in a row. The last meeting had gone well, but there were some glitches. Apparently the CEO was irritated, and members of David’s agency were terrified they would lose the account. Not David. He met with the CEO, listened to his complaints, acknowledged the miscues and then made amends in the form of a contract for the next five years. David negotiated a good deal and the CEO trusted him to deliver for two reasons. One, he had owned up to the problem, and two, he and his company had demonstrated good service for years.

Take care of yourself. Awhile back, David underwent major surgery. In preparation, he began lifting weights to build up his chest muscles. A day or so after surgery, he was back lifting dumbbells to speed muscle recovery. David swears it accelerated his healing time and he feels more vigorous than ever. His commitment sent me to the weight room, where I’ve been lifting (lightly) for a decade.

Share the Wisdom

There are many more gems from David, but the purpose of a column is to cast bright light on a topic for just a moment. However, lessons that emerge from friendships may last a lifetime, and so that’s why I wanted to devote space to a man who has taught me something about what it means to live by your principles.

David would be the first to tell you that he’s no saint, but who is? Besides, the best stories come from folks who have walked on both sides of the street and know the difference. What David demonstrates to me is leadership of a most personal kind, the giving of self to others, be it advice, examples or even a story.