A Mere Four-year Old Boy Leads Them All

CPC Career Ethics

By Faith West.

A four year old boy went to visit his next door neighbour.  The elderly gentleman had just lost his wife in death and he was crying.  The mother watched as her little boy climbed onto the neighbour’s lap and sat there, silently, for several minutes.  When he returned to his mother, she asked him what he was doing.  “Helping him cry,” was the little boy’s answer.

This story has been attributed to the author and lecturer, Leo Buscaglia, who participated in a contest to find the most caring child.  This is the story of the winner.

What, you may well ask, has this story to do with leadership?  It illustrates the point that whether young or old, each of us has the power to impact the lives of those around us. We are all leaders and we have the choice as to when and how we lead. When we choose to lead in a wholesome, value-driven way, we create a positive ripple effect that spreads farther than we can imagine. This little boy most likely was too young to know the meaning of the word “value”. Nevertheless, he was motivated to action by his values. They were deeply embedded into his little heart, no doubt from the lessons and example of his mother. When the moment came, he chose to lead with love and empathy.  We don’t even know his name yet his story lives on to inspire.

If a mere boy can have such a profound effect by leading with his values what would happen if everyone followed his example? Is this wishful thinking? Is it practical to lead with values in our everyday lives? Is it practical to apply values to business? What happens when we do?

In a recent speech given at a breakfast meeting at the Halifax Delta, Bill Black, former CEO of Maritime Life, told the “pedestrian” story of Ted and Steve, illustrating the outcome when value meets business.  It goes this way:

Both men set out to enter the restaurant business.  Steve concentrated on finding the best location.  He was concerned with cost control. He got a long-term lease in a high traffic area and hired a couple of part-time students at minimum wage.  He negotiated a great deal with a food supplier.  Steve had issues with consistency of food and service was middling to bad but this was not a major concern. Customers were eager to have a taste of this new Tex-Mex food. He opened a second location and spent a lot of advertising dollars to get customers in the door.  Repeat business remained low.

On the other hand, Ted started out slowly, in a modest location.  He hired a couple of experienced waiters who treated his customers with dignity and respect. He took great care with his menu and made sure to prepare fresh food daily.  He wanted his customers to have the best experience possible. His business grew steadily by word of mouth.

Ted eventually bought a second location that had, not surprisingly, been vacated by a Tex-Mex restaurant that went out of business.  Steve was motivated by the desire to make a lot of money and he thought the food business was the way to do it.  Ted was motivated to make great food and deliver a great experience to his customers, and he hoped that he would make some money at it. Mr. Black concluded, “If money is your goal, it will not work. If you aim to make customers happy, the money will come.”

It is not a coincidence that this story was told at a meeting of The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs (CCEPA).  Mr. Black included it in a series of stories highlighting how ethical, value-based leadership results in a creative and productive environment. Mr. Black says this is one of the main reasons that Maritime Life was such a success. He says that the question posed to all in the organization was a simple one, “I wonder what we can do to make employees and customers feel better?”

Amazing how a four year old boy’s desire to make a contribution to his neighbour’s comfort, is the same desire that can lead to success in business.

It seems that the idea of value-driven or value-based leadership is catching on. In their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander invite readers to lead with their values, to become leaders playing the game of “contribution”.  They say when we consider ourselves a contribution it “produces a shift away from self-concern and engages us in a relationship with others that is in an arena for making a difference.  Rewards in the contribution game are of a deep and enduring kind, though less predictable than the trio money, fame, and power that accrue to the winner in the success game.”
Do you have a story of the practical application of values at home or at work? How have you been inspired by a leader? Contribute your inspiring story of leadership and let Faith West know if you would like her to write about it.  E-mail to: highergroundcoaching@ns.sympatico.ca.

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