Great leaders know their people

Back 15 years ago, I got to meet Johnny Morris, the man who founded Bass Pro Shops. I was involved in a showing of a property that Johnny Morris owned. The buyer and I met Johnny at the headquarters of Bass Pro Shops.

Over the years, I have met many folks that lead companies. As you would expect, some are arrogant, loud, boisterous, and then there are those that lead with a quietness that is captivating. The latter was how Johnny Morris was.

We met at the headquarters of Bass Pro Shops, and he took us on a tour through the various departments of the company. As we were going through the call center, I was taken back by how he handled himself and spoke to his employees. The call center had probably 100 people in cubicles in this large room, which was about the size of a football field. As we were walking through, I saw people get up from their desks and come out to meet Johnny. Then, I saw the most amazing leadership quality I had ever seen: Johnny called each of them by name and asked about their family members by name. Johnny knew who was sick, who had just gotten a new job, and who had issues in their life. It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen to see this man be so involved with his employees.

Then, we were all meeting in the big conference room and everyone is seated around the conference room table with Johnny. As often happens, people started the “do you know so and so?” “how long have you been with the company?” and yada yada yada. After about 15 minutes, Johnny still hadn’t said a word and so he began to speak. The table got instantly quiet when he started talking. I am not exaggerating, but we literally had to scoot our chairs up close to the table and lean in so we could hear what he was saying because he was speaking so softly.

I saw what happened in the call center and then saw what happen in the conference room, and I came away with a tremendous respect for Johnny and his leadership style. He didn’t wear a five thousand dollar suit, alligator shoes, and slick his hair back with gel. No, he was just a great leader that didn’t need to hide behind all that stuff to be heard and to make an impact on his business.

For many years, I have thought about his leadership style and have come to believe he had it right. Bill Marriott is much the same way, very quiet and greatly loved by his employees. In both examples of leadership, the men genuinely cared about their employees and spoke to them by name and focused on them when they were talking. Both men believed deeply that if you take care of your people, they will take care of you. KT

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