Joel Manby, former chief executive of Saab North America, never will forget how dejected he felt when his former boss called him early one Easter morning and told him to catch the next plane to Sweden, where the next day he was berated in front of his peers for missing sales targets.
In the 20 years he worked in the automobile business, including 15 years as an executive for Saturn, Manby said he thought leadership was only about a company's bottom line.
But after serving the past dozen as president and chief executive of Atlanta-based Herschend Family Entertainment — which operates 26 theme parks including Silver Dollar City in Missouri and Dollywood in Tennessee — he said he now knows leadership also is about leading with love.
“I'm talking about the Greek's definition for unconditional love, or love as a verb; not a feeling,” said Manby, who spoke Friday at the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City, during a packed luncheon hosted by Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium with Strata Leadership LLC.
“Even if you dislike or are frustrated with people, or they're nonperformers, you can still treat them as you love them,” he said.
After the executive appeared on the “Undercover Boss” reality TV show on which he shared some of his unique approach to leadership, Manby authored the book “Love Works.”
The book's precepts are paraphrased virtues outlined in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13: unselfishness, kindness, truthfulness, dedication, trust, patience and forgiveness.
The seven behaviors, which incorporate speaking last when leading a meeting and empowering employees to make major decisions, are good behaviors regardless of employees' faiths, if any, he said.
There's no such thing as too much kindness, or encouragement, when it comes to leadership, said Manby, who suggested managers spend the first 15 minutes of their work days writing notes to their staff to encourage the behaviors they witnessed the previous day.
In the vein of truthfulness, the exec encourages others to plan for performance in three categories: the same as, more of, or less of.
The author donates all book royalties and any fees for related speaking engagements to Herschend's Share It Forward Foundation, which offers financial aid to its seasonal workers. Workers contribute to the foundation, and the company matches contributions dollar for dollar.
The foundation — which aims to be an example of his unselfish, or “think of yourself less,” principle — represents less than 1 percent of the company's cash outlays, Manby said. But with the employee loyalty it builds, the foundation, he said, has a far better return on investment than any new roller coaster ever has — or ever will.