Last week, I attended an international amusement-park convention in Orlando. During a break I browsed the books for sale and one title caught my attention: “Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders,” by Joel Manby.
Maybe it was the word “love” on a business book that drew me in. Maybe it was the fact – as I quickly learned as I skimmed the book jacket – that Manby, like me, runs a theme park (in his case, 26 theme parks in nine states, all owned or operated by Herschend Family Entertainment, the largest family-owned theme-park corporation in the United States). Or maybe it was the jacket blurb from Joe Kennedy, CEO of the successful Internet radio service, Pandora, which just happens to be headquartered in Oakland.
The Oakland connection clinched the deal.
I’m not usually a fan of books about business secrets, although I know there are many good ones out there, but on the flight home I read “Love Works” cover to cover. I was hooked. Not long after I landed, I called Kennedy. I didn’t know him, but I did know about Pandora and I knew that the San Francisco Business Times had recently given Kennedy its “Most Admired CEO” award.
From “Love Works” I’d learned that Joel Manby grew up poor in Michigan. He went on to work for GM, earn an MBA at Harvard, was a part of the start-up team for the Saturn auto brand, served as CEO of Saab in North America and ultimately became CEO of a tech start-up. In other words, he was a business rock star.
Kennedy urged me to watch the episode of “Undercover Boss” from 2010 that centered on Manby. If you’re not familiar with this reality show, it features CEO's in disguise, working side-by-side with front-line employees who have no idea they’re training their own boss.
More than 18 million viewers made the Manby episode the highest-rated program on CBS that week and the second-most-popular show on any network. Afterward, Herschend Family Entertainment’s phone lines and website hits went crazy. Some callers wanted to work for the company. Others urged Manby to speak and write about the principles that guide his leadership. Manby got the message - and began writing “Love Works.”
There’s nothing particularly magical about the seven principles Manby shares in “Love Works.” In fact, you already know them: be patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving and dedicated. That’s it. But putting them into practice? Harder than you’d think.
Here’s something to think about: All of Manby’s employees, including those in leadership positions, are given a kindness rating as part of their annual review, which measures enthusiasm, passion and encouragement. When was the last time you were rated by your boss using these benchmarks? How might your workplace be different if you had? How would it feel if you could be the same authentic person at home and at work?
Here’s something else: Herschend Family Entertainment runs a foundation called “Share It Forward,” which helps employees and their immediate families improve their lives. While he was taping “Undercover Boss,” Manby discovered that 60 percent of the employees he was working with received some form of support. All royalties from the sale of “Love Works” goes to the foundation.
Children’s Fairyland and Herschend Family Entertainment were born in the same year, 1950. HFE is now a multi-dollar company with 10,000 employees. Fairyland’s a lot smaller in scale: about 15 full-time employees, with a payroll that rises to 50 or so during our summer season. We’re too small for a TV network to ask me to put on a disguise and go undercover, but we’re not too small to aim for big things. Or to start thinking about what love’s got to do with it.