The traditional transaction between a worker and an employer is: “You work and I’ll pay you.” Yet the wise leader understands that he or she can expand that transaction and not only make their firm a greater success but also change lives.
Let me tell you about a bakery owner I know. She realizes that employing people is an opportunity to elevate their lives. So, she pays them well, but she also invests in them. Every month she gathers everyone in her firm for an afternoon and brings in speakers. There are sessions on investing money. There are some on the best health practices. She’s asked me to speak twice about self-education and how people like Frederick Douglas, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and others lifted themselves by becoming a one-person university—by teaching themselves.
There is another friend of mine who owns a company that produces nothing that is interesting, trust me. He admits this. His firm is prosperous, though, so he makes a better deal with his employees. He schedules personal coaching days for his people. Now, we are talking about factory floor workers in his firm, and yet he schedules experts who help his people speak better or understand the colors they ought to wear or lose weight or use their money wisely. A newspaper article once said that his factory workers were the healthiest looking, happiest, and most forward thinking the reporter had ever seen.
I’m told that cigar factory workers in Cuba banded together starting in the 1860s and began hiring Lectors to read to them while they rolled and cut cigars. The workers did this initially, not the owners. These Lectors would read the newspapers, great literature, and books about the most current trends of thought. In fact, I’m told that popular cigars like the Monte Cristo and the Romeo and Juliet—Churchill’s favorite—were named as they were because the cigar factory workers were inspired by classic literature and named cigars in honor of the books that moved them. By the way, this Lector tradition continues in cigar factories to this day.
Now, tremendous social uplift occurred through all of this. People went on to earn degrees, start businesses, prosper, and generally live happier lives while making society better. Yet the leader also benefited in amazing ways. He or she created a culture of learning and uplift. This culture permeated the firm. It worked its way into every aspect of the work.
An example. The friend of mine who owns a firm that produces nothing interesting? Well, he walked into a janitorial staff meeting one day and found out that the foreman of that crew had been holding a “Five Minute Class” once a week. During this time, a member of the team would teach about something related to the work. One talk was about how the floor polishing machines really worked. One was about the chemicals they used. Another had to do with what caused back strain and how to prevent it.
Injuries decreased. Equipment lasted longer and worked better. People were more devoted to the firm. The buildings were certainly better maintained. And people took greater pride in what they did, did it better, and lived out a culture of learning in other areas of their lives.
What is your version of this? It really can be as simple as a staff book club or a YouTube lunch at which the team watches helpful videos together over a hamburger and fries. How can you create the kind of culture I’ve described above? This is part of the art of great leadership.