The below article was written for the August issue of FLAME.
I am not sure there is a single principle more important than simply loving your people. I’ve always enjoyed reading books by John C. Maxwell, and in one of his books he had a statement from President Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
In 1985, I met a man named Ray Parlier. Ray and I were very involved in the South Carolina Junior Chamber (Jaycees) and later he would lead the state organization as President. He also became one of my political advisors when I was National President of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce.
While Ray was extremely successful in the Jaycees, his real impact was shaping the lives of kids at Furman University where he served as Athletic Director during the time when it claimed its only National Football Championship. Ray’s influence on me was profound, but his greatest lesson was to love your people. If you demonstrate how much you care about the people you lead, they will follow you anywhere. People always came first with Coach Parlier and he was a master at making you feel special.
He called until it was too late to talk on the phone. Then he would switch to addressing postcard after postcard thanking folks for the smallest things. Ray was a fierce competitor and he believed everyone had a place on the team. The quarterback who made the perfect fade pass was important but so was the trainer who conditioned the players. Ray gave out more plaques and incentives than anyone I ever met and sometimes it was the smallest tokens that people desired the most. It was not the size of the reward but the appreciation for the job well done. I am not sure I ever saw as many grown men hug each other as they did under the leadership of Coach. He made you feel good about yourself and your effort.
Someone recently asked me to what I attributed the success of the Lake Norman Chamber I lead here at Lake Norman. Location is a critical factor for any business, but it really benefits those who make their home at the lake. We have businesses that work their plan, take advantage of our networking events, and our outstanding personal growth and business programming. However, the thing that sets our chamber apart, which enables us to be the “Best of the Best”, is our appreciation of each other. You must show folks how much you care. It is the foundation of leadership.
I still remember a Saturday morning in Charleston, S.C. when I had just been elected President of the South Carolina Jaycees. Coach Ray Parlier put his arm around me and hugged me tight. He then looked deep in my eyes, with a wide smile across his face and reminded me, “Bill, love your people and they’ll love you back.”
As I look back on a life that has spanned six decades now, that may well have been the single best advice I ever received.