Heroes, Villains and Terrorists
of the Business World

by Gregory P. Smith

In the opening scene of the movie Gladiator, Maximus rallies his soldiers with the words, “What we do in life echoes in eternity!” Well, the same is true in the workplace. Your employees will remember how they were treated during this highly emotional time.

Since Sept 11th, the business world has seen heroes, villains and terrorists. Fortunately, the heroes outnumber the bad guys by an overwhelming majority; nonetheless, the villains and terrorists have made their mark.

One person complained to me that he was fired because he failed to show up for work the day after the attack. The employee’s excuse? He was “depressed.” Who wasn’t depressed after the attack?

When terrorists dropped out of the skies and struck the World Trade Center, all those working in skyscrapers became vulnerable. In some of Atlanta’s skyscrapers, CEO’s were asked to evacuate their employees and send them home. One CEO in particular was handed the evacuation request by a facilities manager, the CEO tore it up and said, his people were not leaving work. However, an eye witness reported this villain returned to his office, packed up his stuff and was the first out the door, leaving his workforce behind. Let’s consider a more heroic form of leadership.

The Ivan Allen Furniture Company is a $75 million company with over 225 employees with eight branches spread out over the Southeast U.S. The heroic actions of their Chief Operating Officer prior to and during the to the recent crisis stand out in comparison to others. John Michael has been the COO for the past five years. Prior to taking the position at Ivan Allen, John worked at Steelcase, Inc.

It goes without saying that everyone was in shock on Sept 11th. While some bosses refused to let people leave work, it was the company's decision to immediately send everyone home. John realized that everyone needs to “grieve in their own way.” In the break room they placed a bulletin board for employees to write notes on how they felt. A couple days later staff members from the Atlanta office went across the street to a church for a special religious service. His actions and words had a major impact on the feelings and attitudes of his employees -- employees began to feel better, but many people had questions.

In the days after 09/11/01 employees and people all across this country began questioning themselves and wrestling about the significance of their job and its relative importance to life in general. The following Monday, Ivan Allen held a “Spirit Breakfast” where John spoke to employees and helped them understand an important aspect of their job they never considered before.

He explained that it was companies like theirs that represent the largest part this nation’s economy. In particular, it was their furniture and their individual actions that have helped to build a strong national economy. And by building a strong economy it has allowed all Americans to have freedom.

During the past couple of months, John has seen his job transitioning from that of a traditional COO to more that of a communication director. As he puts it, his job is to put out all those “emotional fires” that have crept up with all the scares that have popped up.

Executives and managers have a critical role to play in these uncertain times; indeed, how managers treat their employees today will continue to resonate tomorrow.

Gregory P. Smith is a retention expert and shows businesses how to build productive work environments that attract, keep and motivate their workforce. He is the author of the book, Here Today Here Tomorrow: How to Transform Your Organization from High-Turnover to High-Retention. He speaks at conferences, conducts management training and is the President of a management consulting firm called Chart Your Course International located in Conyers, Georgia. Phone him at 770-860-9464 or visit http://www.chartcourse.com .

Articles by Gregory P. Smith | More like this in Creative Leadership, Leading Change and The Leadership Imperative in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2001 by Gregory P. Smith. All rights reserved.

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