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
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
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
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.