I first met James Autry in 1995. I had already savored and re-savored his book: ‘Love and Profit: The Art of Caring Leadership’ [A book I continue to re-visit and re-savor today]. When James Autry was the President/CEO of a large corporation he was truly a servant-first, leader. Here is one story about him: One of the first things he did almost every morning was to sit and hand- write notes to different employees.
When he retired a number of ‘retirement receptions’ were held in his honor. There was, too often to suit him, a ‘reception line;’ as I recall he did not want to be the ‘center of attention.’ The ‘line’ provided the employees an opportunity to shake his hand and say a few words to him.
A number of folks at each of these receptions brought with them the little hand-written note that they had received from him; some of these notes were 10 or 15 years old. One woman held up her note and told him that his note had re-energized her and her passion for her work was reignited; she had been considering leaving the company and because of his personal note she decided to stay and recommit herself to her work.
In his book, James Autry notes that he was once asked, ‘What do leaders do?’ His response was a poem. I offer this poem to all leaders (by role or by situation). The poem answers the question: ‘What do leaders do?’
Sometimes you just connect,
no big thing maybe
but something beyond the usual business stuff.
It comes and goes quickly
so you have to pay attention,
a change in the eyes
when you ask about the family,
a pain flickering behind the statistics
about a boy and a girl in school,
or about seeing them every other Sunday.
An older guy talks about his bride,
a little affectation after twenty-five years.
A hot-eyed achiever laughs before you want
Someone tells about his wife’s job
or why she quit working to stay home.
An old joker needs another laugh on the way
A woman says she spends a lot of her salary
on an au pair
and a good one is hard to find
but worth it because there’s nothing more
important than the baby.
In every office
you hear the threads
of love and joy and fear and guilt,
the cries for celebration and reassurance,
and somehow you know that connecting those
is what you are supposed to do
and business takes care of itself. –James Autry