I received an email into which was pasted an article written by Fred Smith. He is the person who had the vision and the fortitude to begin Federal Express (today’s FedEx) in 1973.
I don’t know what your perception of life in the military is, and I admit that I do not have such experience. I’m positive that my ‘knowledge’ of what that life entails, and what military leadership is like, comes from having seen too many unrealistic movies. When I think of leadership in the military I envision a LOT of yelling … generally loud voices … commands to do this or that. In general, it’s a life aimed at achieving serious missions with little or no time for the warm fuzzies. I certainly would never have argued that my perception was right. However, two things have historically allowed it to remain as correct in my mind … at least partially. First, as I said … I have no actual personal experience to have allowed me to see otherwise. That’s big. Second, I have spent time in my work as a leadership coach witnessing leaders who act like they, too, have seen only movies and do their best to carry out the ‘tough-leader’ image.
So what did Mr. Smith have to say that was eye-opening? Well, he does run a VERY successful company that today employs almost 300,000 people … in some 220+ countries and realizes annual revenues of $38 Billion. And he believes that …“…much of our success reflects what I learned as a Marine. The basic principles of leading people are the bedrock of the Corps. I can still recite them from memory, and they are firmly embedded in the FedEx culture. We teach them daily in our own Leadership Institute, which turns out the thousands of managers needed to run our operating companies. What I learned in the Marines has stuck with me all these years.” “I’ve also incorporated Marine Corps tenets into FedEx. If you were to drop in on one of our management training seminars, you’d recognize from your military days what’s being taught. We tell our executives that the key to their success is to rely on their first-level managers (FedEx’s counterparts of NCOs); to set an example themselves; and to praise in public when someone has done a good job. All these are standard operating procedure in the Marines. But they’re a rarity in the industrial world.” FedEx employees wear pins of recognition when they do particularly well in a certain task. When they make a happy customer they are handed a monetary reward.
So much for the ‘reality’ attributed to the message that I got from watching military movies throughout the years. And then, of course … they’re a just movies. And in today’s business environment there are still some who would undoubtedly benefit from eating and digesting the leadership lessons taught and learned in the military … job performance expectations, celebrations of achievement and public praise of success. They seem to be working well at FedEx. Do you know someone who could use the restaurant that serves similar food?