The notion of having to incorporate love in business might sound almost ridiculous to some, but the results don’t lie. When you build a system and a culture founded on the principle of love, that culture is embraced by your employees and, in turn, your customers. Jesse Cole is joined by Steve Farber, a leadership keynote speaker, executive coach, and bestselling author. Jesse and Steve dive into the subject of incorporating and emphasizing love in business. Don’t miss out as this could be the principle that allows your business to skyrocket!
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Love Is Just Good Business With Steve Farber
I am fired up to bring on the man who is helping bring back love into business. He’s the Founder of Extreme Leadership Institute and the author of Love is Just Damn Good Business. The one and the only, Steve Farber. Welcome.
Jesse, it’s great to be here with you.
I am pumped. Obviously, we connected before. We’ve had a lot of fun sharing some stories going on your show. Now you get to be on the show and talk about how love is different. I want to make sure you’re mentally prepared, Steve.
I wasn’t able to sleep in anticipation of this event. I have no idea what’s going to happen, but I’m ready.
We’re going to start with a game, Steve. This is a game we do at our ballpark, it’s called Finish That Song Lyric. It’s fitting to your whole message. I’m going to play a song and when it stops, you’re going to finish that song lyric. Are you ready for this?
I think so.
Here we go. When it stops, finish it. Rock and roll.
What’s love got to do with it. What’s love but a second-hand emotion.
You nailed it. Steve, have you ever sung on a show before?
As a matter of fact, I have.
You could tell.
Thank you for hitting that note. We’ve got to start with a little Tina Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It, because I want you to open with answering that question a little bit and then we’re going to rock and roll into the show.
If by it, you mean life, then it’s obvious that love has everything to do with it. If by it you mean business, it’s the same answer. We’re not accustomed to using the word love and business in the same sentence. If you look at what the greatest leaders do, if you look at what the greatest businesses do, they’re clear that love is not fluffy. It’s not a sentiment. It’s not an abstraction. When done right in business, it’s a practice and a discipline, a way of connecting with people and creating a relationship that people won’t go anywhere else to do business and they want to work for you. They want to bring other people on board. You get the best people. You keep the best people. It gives you a fantastic competitive advantage. It’s got everything to do with it.We're not accustomed to love and business being in the same sentence. Click To Tweet
People are often afraid to talk about it. What’s your definition of love at work?
There are many different kinds of love and we use the word in many different ways. I prefer not to add yet another definition, and here’s why. It’s one of those things where we know it when we see it and we don’t only feel it as well. We use the word in a lot of different ways that on the surface means different things, but if you dig a little bit deeper, it’s the same experience. For example, I love pizza. I also love my wife. I love them differently, one I shouldn’t love and one I should, but it’s still love. There’s something there. There are different kinds of love. There’s the romantic love, erotic love, and friendly love. We lose the message if we get too caught up in the semantics of it. Instead, it’s an experiential thing. Your fans, they come to a Savannah Banana game. They love that experience. Those same people will drink their favorite drink and go, “I love this.” It’s a different experience, but the description of it and the connection with it is something we all recognize when we’re there. What we’re after is to create that experience and then we have to make sure that we’re tracking it in the right way.
You’re creating an experience. As we’re both in business circles, people are hesitant to talk about it. They feel uncomfortable. It was even a challenge for me until our people started saying it back to us and we started talking about it in a normal way. Where do you start? If we want to get a business and it’s not focused on a great product, how do you build love in your organization? It’s obvious that we can see it’s important. Where do you start here? What have you seen?
First of all, the first step is to make it obvious that it is important. To me, it’s obvious that it’s important. To you, it’s obvious that it’s important. The three love the Savannah Bananas. The first step is to set it as a standard. It’s not enough to use the words. That’s the easy part. We see companies do this all the time. They print the buttons or the banners and say, “We love our customers.” They make all their employees wear that button and they put the banners everywhere in the office or in their marketing materials, on TV. The question is, what should that look like in the way that we do business? That’s what gives us the opportunity to be creative and innovative. Posing that question sets a new standard and a new expectation. For example, if I say, “Let’s get together a team and brainstorm about how we’re going to improve customer service.” Everybody does, at least occasionally. I hope so. You’re going to get some good answers.
On the other hand, if the question is, “Team, let’s get together and talk about how we can better show our customers that we love them.” You got a different answer. What you’ve done is raised the bar and the expectations. It’s not about using the word. You have to appeal to common sense here. Oftentimes people will say to me, “Aren’t you afraid about people misunderstanding it? You get sexual harassment issues.” Not really, because that’s not love. That’s aggression. It’s a different thing. I hope it will be obvious. That’s one of the reasons people get squirmy about it. First of all, making it obvious to ourselves that this is the standard and then it’s about translating it into action, which in business means everything from the kind of people that we hire and the way that we hire them to our internal policies and procedures to our customer approach and our product or service. It’s all built around, is this going to contribute to an experience that people will love? We’re on the right track.
It’s a great starting point to say, “What can we do to love our customers more? What can we do to love our people more?” You start having those conversations. Often, Steve, it’s one person at a time. Howard Schultz said, “One cup, one customer, and one experience at a time.” A great example, you mentioned Rosella the Teller. I’m from Boston. I have a little tie in here. Rosella the Teller didn’t have a mindset of better customer service. It starts with love. Share a little bit about her because I love these examples.
As you know, I’m in the business of teaching leadership and I’ve been doing that for years. The biggest conclusion that I’ve come to in my decades of wandering about the planet and various businesses is that, if I could be presumptuous as to quote myself, love is damn good business. I’m a storyteller. I live to collect stories and share them. I was out in Boston in your old hometown a while back to speak at a meeting of the senior management team for what at the time was Sovereign Bank. That was a part of it some time there. This is an East Coast branch or East Coast chain bank. They don’t exist out here in California. I had never heard of them before. I did my homework ahead of time, as I always do. I spend some time on the phone with a couple of the senior executives to learn about the company, their values, their mission objectives for the meeting, and all that stuff that we do before we speak. I’d never been to a Sovereign bank.
I got off to Boston a day early and I took advantage of the extra day on the road to take care of some personal business, which meant I had to get a couple of documents notarized. I’m a stranger in town. I don’t know where to go to do that. I go to the concierge of the hotel. He said, “Sovereign Bank has a branch across the street from the hotel. I’m sure they have a notary over there.” I thought, “Cool. This is convenient.” Now I can get my personal business done and do a little reconnaissance work at the same time. It was a little ghost customer thing. I wasn’t wearing Groucho glasses but I was anonymous because nobody knows who I am.
I walked across the street and walked into this branch. There are two tellers sitting side by side. It’s a small branch. I walked up to teller number one and I told her I was looking for a notary. She pointed to teller number two, she said, “That would be Rosella, over here. She is our notary in residence. She’s also a teller and she’ll take care of you.” I said, “Thank you.” I stepped over to Rosella’s window and we started doing the usual notary stuff, signing and stamping and all that. She was lovely, but I didn’t tell her anything about who I was or what I was doing there. I didn’t tell her that the next day in that hotel across the street, all of the big bosses of the company will be gathered where I will have my way with them. I didn’t say anything to her about this. I didn’t say anything about my philosophy of leadership. I wasn’t quoting myself. It’s small talk. She was lovely.
After she stamped the last stamp, she asked me the question that I wouldn’t expect any notary to ask at the end. I asked her, “What do I owe you?” She said, “You don’t owe me anything. This is a service that we provide to our customers.” I said, “Rosella, I’m not a customer.” She said, “That’s okay. Maybe you will someday.” I thought, “That’s good.” I’m not telling her anything, not wanting to bias her answer in any way. I asked her a simple question. I said, “Rosella, how do you like working here at Sovereign Bank? Out of curiosity, what’s it like to work here?” Her face lit up and she said, “I love it.” She then started telling me about that other bank that she worked for and how terrible it was, “This place is great because it’s collaborative and people take care of each other.” She starts going on and on about her customers and about how wonderful they are and she has this great relationship with them. Sometimes they stop them to say hello, even when they have no business to do because that’s the relationship they had.
I have this weird habit. When I’m hearing something that’s relevant to my work, and especially because I was giving a talk there, I was taking notes. This is a quote, one of the things she said to me was, “I love my customers and I get great pleasure from serving them. I’m happy.” She was explaining this wonderful dynamic, “I love them, which makes me want to take care of them. The better I take care of them, the more they appreciate it. The happier it makes me when our relationship gets better. They stop in to say hello.” I looked up at her, I said, “Rosella, would you mind if I quoted you on this?” She said, “Would you like me to notarize it?” I said, “Yes, that would be great.” She took out her business card, flipped it over, wrote the words, “I love my customers,” across the top, stamped it, and pushed it across the counter to me. I took a picture of it with my iPhone and stuck it in my PowerPoint slides. I showed that everywhere I go.
It’s one simple example, Jesse. In order to create an experience that your customers are going to love like hers do, they love her so much and they stop to say hi, you have to create an environment that people love working in, which she obviously does. There’s something about that place that inspires her to take that care of her customers. As a leader, I can’t create that environment that Rosella was going to love unless I have it myself first and I’m bringing that to the party. If I don’t love this place, my team, or my customers, how can I expect my employees to do that? It’s not about the sentiment and having that nice warm, toasty feeling. I’ve got to put it into practice in a way that people can experience it.
It starts with leadership. When we took our team to Disney, I asked everyone who was working there, people that were especially having fun. I go, “What do you like about working here?” The same answer was, “The people, the kids, people come in and serve them, having fun with them.” It’s important if you can see that as not a job, but the opportunity that you’re giving other people. She saw, “This guy walks in and he needs some help. I’m going to make his day.” It’s a simple concept. Steve, I love this from the frontline person, Rosella, but also from the leadership perspective. Elay Cohen of SalesHood, I’m inspired by some of the things they were doing. Can you share a little bit of that? That’s so great, from the onboarding, from the passion videos until the NPS and measuring love. I’d love to share a little bit of that because that’s what every company should be doing in this type of stuff.
SalesHood is a cool company. It’s a startup thing. To put it in context, the classic Net Promoter Score is you go to your customers and you say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to refer us to friends, family, colleagues, etc.?” The idea behind the Net Promoter Score is if you’re not getting 9 or 10, it’s a fail. You can’t say, “We got an eight. That’s not bad.” “You got a ten. That’s bad.” They do Net Promoter Score or some version of it. What makes Elay different is when he gets bad feedback from a customer, he writes to them. He will call or write to a customer who flames them. It’s something that I rarely hear people do. It takes guts to walk right into the fire and say, “I’m sorry we let you down. Can you tell me more about that?” He’s had many occasions where that’s turned the situation around and they got an opportunity to fix it. This isn’t about perfection. None of us is perfect.
You create a fan for life that way, a lot of times because you show that you care in a challenge. That’s huge, the NPS. Also with the people, they start with passion videos, which are interesting. Tell me about that a little bit.
What are you passionate about? They have people record that and talk about that. What happens in most places is you can work side by side with somebody for years and never know what makes them tick. You never know what lights them up, unless you happened to discover it. They go out of their way to find out what people’s passions are. People record videos of that and communicate and then it becomes part of their culture that way. What’s fascinating in the times where we’re in the middle of this Corona stuff, the deep irony that’s happening is that because we’re physically separated, we’re doing our own passion videos all day long via Zoom. We’re hanging out and talking with each other. I’ve been talking to a lot of people. I have back-to-back Zoom.
Tell people what you’re doing. I love what you’re doing with that.
When this whole thing started and we were all locked down at home, I thought, “This is a good opportunity to let people know that I’m here.” We’re all at home so I wanted to have a chance to connect with people because I have the opportunity. I sent my personal booking link to my email list and I said, “If you want to have a chat, book a call, no agenda.” I’m a coach and an advisor and all that. I’ve been doing that forever. Maybe I can offer some help. Maybe I can hang out and talk a little bit. I got people that read my books. They’re fans of my books. They have the opportunity to shoot the crap.
For the record, by the way, we did an interview series with our catcher. Interviewing players in the bathroom stalls and it was called shooting the crap. That’s a whole other thing. As soon as you brought that up, I thought back to our series.
What happened was I got back-to-back calls for weeks. I had a bunch of videos I had to shoot for a client. We had to reschedule a whole year’s worth of calls. It’s worth it because what’s happening is I’m talking to all these people and it’s wonderful. What I’m seeing going on here is that for the first time, a lot of these people who, in some cases, worked with their team for a long time, thought they knew everybody. They’re getting to know each other better. What’s happening is, you’re sitting in your living room and I’m sitting in my living. Your kids are walking by. Your pet is crawling over your head. Your spouse is walking through the shot. I’m getting to know you, “Show me your pet. Show me your kid. How’s Tyler doing?” It’s fantastic.
For example, I have a guitar in the background. We’re seeing that thing. We’re seeing the physical environment. You say, “I didn’t know you play the guitar.” I was thirteen-years-old. We’re discovering our passions all the time. This is the thing, Jesse, that’s always been important. It’s always been true. We’re being forced to experience it. I hope that this one is going to stick afterward. Elay Cohen and SalesHood are good examples. They’ve been doing that for a long time.
It’s a great example of you and Elay. It’s not about you. It’s about the people. If you think about this from a Business Done Differently standpoint, most times someone joins a company and they get all the things that they need to do with the business. It’s not about them. You say, “We’re going to do a video about your passions, about you as a person.” That is a huge first step because it shows that we care about you as people, not just as an employee and what you can do for us. I wrote that down in my book report that I sent and it goes like, “We are going to start doing passion videos. We have interns starting videos. Let’s get to know them.” When they leave that day, they’re like, “They care.” I love that. I also love that Elay goes to the next step with SalesHood and he brought in a person to measure how much they love working there or their experiences. Tell me about that because that’s the next step.
Measurement is important in this as well. In a way, we’ve always been measuring this. For example, Gallup every year puts out its engagement report. Employee engagement has become an important and popular thing to measure. This has been going on for a long time. The idea is that the more engaged our employees are, the more productive they’ll be, and all that good stuff. If you look at the past years, we have spent somewhere around trillion dollars on leadership development, business-wide, across industries. If you look at where the needle has moved in terms of employee engagement, it hasn’t budged. We’re not necessarily measuring the right thing. We’re not putting our attention in the right place. The love piece is what’s been missing.
A highly engaged workforce is essentially saying, “I love working here.” Measuring people’s experience, “What is it like to work here,” is something that every company should do in their own way. You can’t let it become a left-brain exercise. It’s like, “We have the numbers. We’re doing employee opinion surveys and then we look at the results and we stuff it in a drawer. The next year we do another survey and then we look at the results and we stuff it in a drawer. The next year we do another survey and then we go, ‘Why aren’t people filling out the survey?’” You didn’t do anything with it.
This is not about love as a sentiment. It’s about looking for ways to measure and stay attuned to people’s experience of working there. You can hire people to come in and do that for you or you could do something simple. You can walk around every chance you get or Zoom around, whatever the context, and you ask people, “Tell me what your experience is like in working here,” especially if you’re the positional leader of the company. My point of view on leadership is that leadership has got nothing to do with your position or title. You can lead from any position. If you’re in a position of authority, if you are the boss or the owner or the manager, even though that doesn’t automatically make you a leader, the expectation that you’ll be a leader is automatically there. People want you to lead.
Once upon a time, the mayor of New York City was a guy named Ed Koch. Ed Koch was known for walking around the streets of New York and stopping random New Yorkers and asking the question, “How am I doing as your mayor?” If you ask a New Yorker how you’re doing, you’re going to get an honest answer. Take that approach, “Do you love working here?” “You don’t? What can we do to get you closer to that?” These are obvious questions that take a lot of guts to ask. You’re going to get an honest answer, hopefully.
There’s the four why test too. I did that with Lizzy, our Director of Merchandise. She’s been here since the beginning. I asked her, “What do you like about working here?” She’s like, “I don’t know, it’s fun.” I go, “Go further.” I kept asking, “Why?” Finally, she said, “It’s the people we’re around.” As a leader, if you want to make it a great experience, you also have to look at every single hire, every single person you bring into your company. Is that going to make it better for the people around you? Not, are they going to sell more? Are they going to bring in more revenue? That’s probably an important piece to that.
It’s critical. Who you hire and how you hire them is the raw material that you have to work with. I bet this happens in your enterprise. I’d be shocked if it doesn’t. Let me make a guess. Your best recruiters are the people that work for you. If I love working here, I want other people to love working. I want other people to be here with me. For example, one of the case studies in the book is a company called Trailer Bridge. They’re in Jacksonville, Florida, a shipping and logistics company. It’s not a glamorous or sexy business. It’s a turnaround situation. I won’t go into all the details on it, although it is one of my favorite stories. In a nutshell, they’ve been around for years. They came out of bankruptcy. I’m not speaking out of school. They were a toxic and awful place. High turnover, they went bankrupt. Losing money hand over fist, obviously, that’s redundant. They burned through four CEOs in two years and four heads of HR in two years. You can imagine working there is like, “Here comes the next CEO. Keep your head down.” It was a miserable place.Employee engagement has become an important and popular thing to measure. Click To Tweet
Mitch Luciano, who was a Senior Manager at the time, was tapped by the board to take over as CEO. It’s like, “Mitch, it’s your turn. Good luck.” He said, “Okay. I’ll take it, but you have to let me do this my way.” That’s what he said to the board. These guys are VCs and private equity guys that were bottom-line oriented people. He was saying, although he didn’t use these words, “I’m a love guy. I’m going to make this place that people are going to love working and our customers are going to love doing business with.” It was radical because at the time, nothing could be further from the truth. They were a discount shipper. They shipped goods primarily from the mainland US to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. That’s their business. It was hard to fill these barges because the service was bad. They kept cutting their prices and that’s why they lost money.
Mitch understood that the way they’re going to turn this business around is to create an experience that their customers would love doing business with. He couldn’t do that unless he created a culture at Trailer Bridge that people loved working in. What that meant was he had to take the people that he had and show them that he meant this and to be clear of what he was trying to create. The first thing he said was, “I won’t take the title of CEO. I’ll take the responsibility, but I have to earn the title of CEO because the previous guys put a little baggage associated with that CEO title. I’ll be president. I’ll earn the CEO.” He got rid of all the name badges in the building. He said, “We’re 130 people, we should know each other’s names,” which meant that he had to learn everybody’s names. Little things like that, some are symbolic.
He was looking at the people. What he discovered was that he believed in the team, but there were people on that team that shouldn’t be there. There are people who resisted this whole new approach, “We’re going to get to know each other and build a community here.” He did his best to coach them and then he said, “Bye-bye.” There’s such a thing as tough love too. A lot of them weren’t suited for this new culture. They shouldn’t be there anyway. They’d be miserable anyhow. They did a number of things. They did everything from looking at their customer policies. My favorite example is, if you look at business in strictly a bottom-line sense, you don’t ask the question, “What should love look like here?” You end up with something like what they had. Their policy was they would not ship a barge unless it was at least 75% full. If it wasn’t at least 75% full, they would lose money on that shipment. You wouldn’t do that because we’re not in business to lose money.
Look at it from the customer perspective. I’m shipping a car to Puerto Rico and I tell my family it’s going to be there at a particular time and it never gets there. I call the company. “Where is my car?” We didn’t ship it because we couldn’t sell enough space. They asked the question, “If we love our customers, what would we do under those circumstances?” That was obvious, we sold no matter what because that’s what we said we would do. That’s what they started doing. Fast forward, they’re always at least 98%. If not, 100% full. The last year, 2019, was the most profitable in the history of the company. The two years preceding that, their revenues exceeded the previous 25 years of the company combined. They’d been voted number 1 and number 2 best place to work in the city of Jacksonville. The turnaround is insane.
Back to what we’re saying about the people, I don’t know if it was an unintended consequence but it’s an important consequence. They don’t spend any money on recruiters anymore because their employees are the best recruiters. They want other people to come to work with them there. They’ve trained their employees on how to recruit, how to interview. It’s a phenomenal thing. We stepped back and looked at it, it makes so much sense. It’s not obvious to a lot of people.
Our Fans’ First director should create these cards that say, “You are a rock star.” When we go out to restaurants or go on anywhere else, our team will give it to them and talk about teaming up with us during the summer because they are recruiters. We all have them in our pockets at all times. It’s something that’s going in the ROI of love, Steve. You have a whole chapter on that. Something you talked about before was policies. The policy is to police. We have zero policies. Policies do not equal love. If you have policies, you’re creating a policy because of someone doing something wrong and you’re not treating them like adults. You can have standards. We have a Fan’s First Standard of how we do things, but not policies. Do you have policies? I don’t know how you feel. I’m adamant about policies. If you ask our staff, we have none. What are your thoughts on it?
It’s brilliant. Some of it is semantics, but you’re right. What happens in a lot of companies? There are certain industries where you need policies because they could be regulated.
Healthcare and financial.
The problem is that in an industry that’s more processed or policy-oriented because they have to comply with X, Y, or Z. That mentality produces a mindset that says, “Because this policy is in place, we need policies for everything.” Once it becomes a policy, it is a universal natural law that can never be violated. It’s the policy mindset that’s the problem.
That’s the status quo.
Let’s make a distinction. This is something we have to do, for example, food safety regulations. I love your terminology. Everything else we have a standard to live up to and how we do that and go beyond that, that’s an open gate. Give it your best shot.
We’re ready to get into some more games and some fun, but I need to dive in a little more on ROI of love because there are a few great examples. You talk about Bryon Stephens’ return on Ponderosa. You’re talking about the American Greetings. There are some other examples that you talk about. Which one do you think you’ve learned the most on the ROI of love from another story from your book that we can put into play?
First of all, the way that I approach ROI is not in the traditional sense. The classic definition of ROI is the Return On Investment. What I’m suggesting is that operationalizing love in the way that you do business is an investment. There will be a bottom-line return. What will happen to feed your soul is not return on investment, although they will happen, but reciprocity of your investment. In other words, the framework is, “Doing what you love in the service of people who love what you do.” If you’re doing what you love, that’s where your fire comes from. You’re using that to serve people to give great value to people. The natural result will be that they will reciprocate. They’ll love you in return.
In business, what that looks like oftentimes is everything from spending more money, word-of-mouth, forgiveness factor when things go wrong, all those things that we’re looking for anyway. I will tell you that Bryon Stephens is one of the most dramatic examples that I’ve seen of this for a couple of reasons. He discovered this approach of love and business before he was even consciously aware of it. I’ll tell you the story in a nutshell. Bryon Stephens is a legend in the branding world. He came out of young brands. They own a lot of fast food franchises and so forth. Have you ever seen this thing where you see a Taco Bell and a Pizza Hut at the same roof?
That was Bryon’s original brainchild. He’s had a great career. He’s always been passionate about the food business. When he was a young man in his hometown in Gary, Indiana, he got hired by the local Howard Johnson’s as a dishwasher. He started out as a dishwasher and people there loved him because he was energetic and friendly, and he did a great job. He was given a management position and then he was recruited by Ponderosa Steakhouse. He was still in his twenties but he’s got a lot of fire. He’s an ambitious young punk at this time. He wanted his own restaurant. He wanted his own store. They kept saying, “You’re too young. You need more experience.” Finally, they said, “We’ll give you your own store.” They gave him the Ponderosa store in 319 in Gary, Indiana. The reason they gave him that store is because it was the worst store in the chain. They said, “Let’s see what you could do smart ass.” He takes the job. He goes in and he looks around and he sees people wearing dirty uniforms, people showing up to work late. The place was dinging. People weren’t doing their paperwork.
Think about this, you started out. You were 23 when you run your first team. You’re obviously not cut from the same cloth as most young aspiring leaders. Most would walk into a situation like that and drop the hammer, “Start showing up on time or you’re fired. Do your paperwork or you’re fired. Clean your uniform or you’re fired.” That’s not what he did. He said, “Team, they tell us that we’re the worst in the chain. Every Ponderosa store has the same menu, layout, and the same system. When they’re telling us that this store is the worst of the chain, what are they saying? We’re the worst people. I don’t believe that’s true.” He set a goal to go from worst to first within two years.
He has a way with words. He’s an inspiring guy. He rallied the troops. He set out an objective measurement. “Ponderosa is already measuring performance in the stores. By their measurement, we will be first.” He did something profound. He asked the question, “Why?” Why are people showing up late? Why are people’s uniforms dirty? Here’s what he found, it was a financially challenged area. A lot of the people there didn’t have their own cars, which meant they had to take public transportation. In Indiana, they have this thing called winter, which means that it snows, which means that you have to take a bus or you’ve got to walk to work through the snow. Any time of year, if the bus is late or you’re late, you’ve got to walk. That’s why people were showing up late. What do you think he did? He got in his car and he picked them up. Think about what happens when your boss picks you up at your home and drives you to work. You’ve got this transit time. They get to know each other. He picked them up. Not only was it symbolic, but he got people there to work and you got to know people better.
Why were people’s uniforms dirty? They didn’t have washers and dryers. One solution might be throwing roll quarters on everybody and say, “Go to the laundry and wash your clothes,” which would have been lovely. That’s not what he did. He had a washer and dryer. He collected their clothes and he washed them himself. When was the last time you had a boss that did your laundry? Why were people getting latched in their paperwork? A lot of people on his team had trouble reading and writing. He set up the safe zone in the break area where he and the other managers would tutor their employees. Help them get better at reading and writing. It also became a place where people can come and talk about their challenges in their lives and the things they’re struggling with. There was a lot of struggle. He started going to their family functions. He went to weddings. He went to funerals. He got to know their families. All of this adds up, of course, because the place turned around and they did go from worst to first in one year, not two. From there, he went on to be one of the youngest regional managers.
When I met him he was the president of Marco’s Pizza, which at the time was one of the fastest-growing food franchises on the planet. He’s a dear friend of mine and part of our Extreme Leadership community. He has a consulting company advising new franchises. He created a culture along the way. Here’s the thing, it’s all about, what does love look like? It would have been one thing for him to come in and say, “I believe in you. I love you. Let’s do this together,” and leave it at that. Take it from there to wash your clothes, pick you up, be your confidant, take care of your family, that’s a whole different ball game. That’s what love looks like. This is what it looked like for him. Early on in his career, it was an instinctual thing. As he got more experience, he said, “It’s because I love them. I love business. I love the game. I love the people that play the game.”
You can’t just say it, you’ve got to do it. That’s powerful. When I finished your book, Steve, I was thinking. Remember back in the day, I don’t know if you ever did these, when you’re in elementary school, you write a love letter to someone. I didn’t get many of those but I probably tried to write some back in the day. If you reverse engineer that and if individual people on your team are going to write you a love letter for everything that you did for them and serve them, what would it say? It wouldn’t be just what you said to them, it would be those acts of service and those things that they’ll never forget. I started thinking, “What would we say if we would write a love letter to our fans?” This concept of love letters, I started thinking. It’s all one person at a time. That was inspiring. Thank you for sharing that. I’ve got to meet Bryon guy. He sounds like a legend.
You guys would have a blast.
It would be a lot of fun.
We’ll all get together and take a field trip to Savannah.
Let’s do it. That would be a lot of fun. Let’s finish with some games here. I want to go into your love, Steve. These are the things that you love. A business that you absolutely love?
The practicality, I’ll give you that one.
Honestly, I don’t know a thing about their culture. This has been the greatest mass technology rollout in human history. Within a few weeks, we have people using this technology that never even turned on the computer before. They’re doing something right.Do what you love in the service of people who love what you do. Click To Tweet
An entrepreneur that you love?
It’s going to sound like such a stock answer, but I do love what Steve Jobs did. One of the reasons I love it is because his leadership style is not an example of what I’ve seen great leaders do. I love him because he creates a perspective. People say, “Jobs had this horrible ego. He treated people terribly and all that.” There was one reason he could do that because he was Steve Jobs. He was brilliant. If you think that you’re going to achieve success by emulating his style, you’re dead in the water. If you have that luxury of having that level of genius, have at it. Otherwise, it’s the love that’s going to bring you there, not that level of genius. It’s a little bit of a left-handed compliment, I suppose.
Something you love about your morning ritual?
My morning ritual is shifting. The most productive day is when my morning ritual includes breathing and meditating first. Ironically, I’ve been busy these days that I get up, I drink my coffee and I have my morning ritual in the early afternoon.
What a morning ritual. That is business done differently. A restaurant you love?
I live in Little Italy in San Diego. There are many restaurants here and they’re all closed, of course. There’s a little restaurant right on the corner here called the King and Queen Cantina, which is a fusion Mexican place. It’s in Little Italy, that’s one of the things I love about it.
What do you love about it?
Their approach to Mexican food is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The flavors are amazing. The combinations are creative. They’re half a block from my place.
A book that you love?
I have read The Lord of the Rings trilogy probably a dozen times in my lifetime, all three books.
That’s a little crazy.
I’ve read the last one, The Return of the King, more than that. I have to say, if I look back over the course of my life, that’s got to be the one. Simply from the amount of time and imagination invested in it.
What do you love about that?
The ability that he had to create an entire world, it’s what got me reading when I was a kid. The first time I read it, I was in middle school, maybe 6th or 7th grade. I’m so absorbed in it that the rest of the world has disappeared. I got the experience of this is what great writing is. The words on the page disappear and you’re absorbed in the story. That was my first visceral experience.
Last love here, TV show?
The Good Place.
Why do you love it?
Ted Danson and Kristen Bell absolutely inspired comedy. The writing is creative and hilarious. The execution of the acting is fantastic. The whole premise is insane. I have to say, it’s one of my favorites.
Going through that, what’s interesting to me is asking why. You’ve got the Zoom with the timing, the execution. You’ve got Steve Jobs because of the brilliance. You’ve got the food because of the mix of the food and how it all comes together, the flavors. You’ve got The Lord of the Rings because it’s the experience, you get absorbed in it. Same thing with the TV show, because of the comedy and the way it’s written. It’s interesting because it’s all about the experience. Everything that you mentioned is because of the experience that it provides.
By the way, Steve Jobs’ brilliance was that he took technology and made it an experience.
Last few rapid-fire question time. If you want better answers in business, you’ve got to ask better questions. What’s one of the best questions you’re asking?
Why do you love your work and how do you show it?
How would you answer that?
They have an opportunity to have an impact on people’s lives. I have an opportunity to contribute to the shift of what it means to go to work. For a long time for most people, work has been something that you do so you can earn money to live your life and evenings and weekends. I want to contribute to an experience that work is meaningful, fun, and joyful for people. What it looks like for me is teaching, connecting with people, being genuine, keeping my ego out of the way, and giving people various experiences through writing, speaking, a conversation where they can see more of their own full potential as leaders from whatever position they’re at.
I would cue Huey Lewis, Power of Love, to finish that up. Steve, if someone is leaving this conversation, what is a win that they could do to bring love back to their workplace? What’s an advice that they could say, “Love is important. I’m going to go today and start getting it going.”
It gets back to another one of those important questions that I’ve been asking lately, and it’s come up several times in our conversation here, Jesse. First, by sitting down and contemplating and then by trying to answer the question, “What should love look like in the way I do business?” A variation on the theme, “How can I better show my customers, my employees, my colleagues, my team, that I love them?” If you want something tangible, action-oriented, it gets back to what you were saying before. That love note thing, I call that a professional love note. Pick somebody on your team, pick a customer, it doesn’t matter who it is, and sit down, get a little notecard and write a personal handwritten note of thanks or appreciation for that person and send it to them. See what it does for you and see what it does for them.
It’s game-changing. Steve, this was awesome as always. I get up early rocking and rolling here. I appreciate you. When I first read your book, I immediately started saying, “What else can we do?” The great point and what we kept coming back to is the questions you ask yourself. I’ve learned so much from you.
It means a lot coming from you. I wish you had been on my radar screen earlier because you’d be a case study in that book, no question about it. The creativity that you bring to bear on answering that question, what should love look like? By the way, love has a lot of ways to say it. What should fun look like? What should enjoyment look like? You used the word explicitly, which obviously I’m a big fan of. Thanks for being such a great inspiration to all of us.
I appreciate it. This is great, finishing with a thank you to me. It’s great stuff. We’ll talk soon.
- Extreme Leadership Institute
- Love is Just Damn Good Business
- Trailer Bridge
- Bryon Stephens
- King and Queen Cantina
- The Lord of the Rings
- The Return of the King
About Steve Farber
Steve Farber is the president of Extreme Leadership, Incorporated, and the founder of The Extreme Leadership Institute, organizations devoted to the cultivation and development of Extreme Leaders in the business community, non-profits and education. His third book, Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson In Leadership, was a Wall Street Journal® and USA Today® bestseller. His second book, The Radical Edge: Stoke Your Business, Amp Your Life, and Change the World, was hailed as “a playbook for harnessing the power of the human spirit.” And his first book, The Radical Leap: A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership, is already considered a classic in the leadership field. It received Fast Company magazine’s Readers’ Choice Award and was recently named one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time. Farber’s much-anticipated new book, Love Is Just Damn Good Business, was listed by Book Authority as one of the top Business Strategy books for 2020.
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