Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Lessons along the way – #1 “Love your people”

This is part one in a ten part series of lessons I have learned along the way.  Here is a lesson I learned from Coach…

Bill Russell and Coach Ray Parlier

I’m 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.” During my lifetime I have been president of roughly a dozen different organizations including several civic organizations and two chambers of commerce. Leading a non-profit, charity, or civic club is different than leading a business given your employees are paid and in the non-profit world, the motivation is largely personal incentive. That said, there are also striking similarities. In the outstanding business book by Jim Collins Built to Last, the biggest takeaway from the book is that a company or business must be base on a set of strong core values and those values must be practiced daily.

In 1985, I met a man named Ray Parlier. Ray and I were very involved in the South Carolina 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 Junior Chamber, 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.

Coach Ray and I review a list of state caucuses I am to speak at during my national election in Portland.

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 wasn’t the size of the reward but the appreciation for the job well done. I’m not sure I ever saw as many 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 what I attributed the success of the Chamber, Sure the location of our businesses itself, located in the lake region, contributes to our success. We have businesses that work their plan, take advantage of our networking events, and our outstanding 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 have to show folks how much you care. It’s the basis of leadership.

Ray & I while the votes are counted for SC Jaycee State President - 1990

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, hugging me tight, looking me square in the eyes, a smile across his face, he said, “Bill, love your people and they’ll love you back.” That may well have been the single best business advice I ever received.


March 14, 2011 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , , | Leave a comment

You are the Message

What exactly does “You are the message mean?”  Actually how we say something is just as important as the words we speak.  The hand gestures we use, the tone and pitch of the words, our eyes, smile, humor, all say volumes whether spoken or not. Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA determined that listeners were influenced by non-verbal facial expressions and body language 55% of the time.  Our voice – its pitch, tone, and variation accounted for 38% with the words we actually speak making up the remaining 7%. We’ve all judged speakers on whether they sounded hollow or sincere.  Did the speech come from the heart or did it sound contrived or rehearsed?  The words themselves are meaningless unless your audience believes you own them.

In 1991, I was the president of the South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees), the largest young people’s civic organization in the state.  It was a one year elected position and my responsibility was to get our members motivated to exceed the goals and objectives they set for the year. While our Jaycee Chapters were in the business of raising money for a variety of charitable causes from MDA to St. Jude’s, perhaps no cause was more dear than our own state philanthropy – Jaycee Camp Hope for kids with mental disabilities.

Gene Martin accepting a Presidential Award of Honor

We had four state meetings during the year – four opportunities to fire up the troops.  I remember sitting down with one of my political advisors at the last meeting of the year.  He asked if I knew what I would say to them as they prepared to finish out the year as strong as possible. I handed him a speech about volunteerism, patriotism, and assisting the families of soldiers who were fighting in the Gulf War.  My advisor, Gene Martin, read the speech, handed it back, and told me, “Bill, that’s a great speech.  Really good stuff.  But is that what you really want to say to them?”  I admitted sheepishly, “No.  I want to tell them to go get more young people involved.  Recruit more people into the organization.  Membership is people and we’re in the people business.  The more people you have, the more money you can raise.”  Gene looked at me, removed his glasses, and said in his slow South Carolina accent, “Then go tell ‘em.  You were elected to lead.  They’ll follow you.  Just go tell ‘em what they need to do.  Bill, if you don’t do it, exactly who do you think will.”

1990 - 1991 South Carolina Jaycees - The Best of the Best

To this day I remember walking to the podium 20 minutes later.  My hands were trembling thinking about what I was fixing to say.  No notes  – no prepared remarks.  Just a short talk from the heart why we needed to get more people involved.  “We were born for this moment, the fate of our communities lie in our hands.” In 1991, the South Carolina Jaycees started the year with 4,294 members and ended with 5,008 for a net growth of +714.  Most of the new members joining in the last couple of months of that Jaycee year.  We raised nearly $75,000 for our state philanthropy Jaycee Camp Hope, and $20,000 for a new Lupus Awareness program. In addition, we raised more than $200,000 in goods and services for the victims of the Ohio Floods, who the year before had been so generous with our communities during Hurricane Hugo.  The South Carolina Jaycees were also recognized as one of the Top Five Jaycee States in America that year.

Twenty years later, I still give talks to civic groups and Chamber members urging them to be their very best. Rarely do I attempt to use prepared remarks.  I learned long ago, the best speeches come from the herart.  If you show folks how much you care, they’ll show you what they can do.  My advisor, my friend Gene Martin left me with a very valuable lesson, “Our words speak boldly of our intentions, but our actions speak louder than the words and while the words are important – we are the real message.”

June 18, 2010 Posted by | Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) | , , , , | 1 Comment

Now’s the Time to Turn it up!

HomeThis past January,  I was asked to speak at a South Carolina Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) meeting in Columbia.  My participation in Jaycees is really what led me into a Chamber career.  For those unfamiliar with Jaycees, it is a service organization for young people ages 21-39 years old much like Optimist, Kiwanis, and Rotary.    When I joined the Rock Hill Jaycees in 1982, I was just looking to get involved.  However, when an opportunity of leadership availed itself, I volunteered to be an officer.  Within a short time I was chapter president.  In a few years state president and in 1992, I was elected president of the United States Jaycees.  In that capacity I traveled to 47 states and 7 countries speaking to Jaycee chapters and other groups about the importance of community service.

Inevitably I also met with chapters who were struggling with membership.  On roll they may have 15 folks but only 5 or 6 were coming out to meetings or projects.  Often the chapter president would confide they had cut back on the amount of projects because they simply didn’t have the manpower to run them.    That’s the last thing they needed to do!  Now’s the time they needed to increase their activity, run more projects, and increase their exposure.  “People in the community need to see you in action.  You can’t recruit new members if they don’t know what you do.”

“Quit feeling sorry for yourself and lamenting how good things were when you had more folks.  Go out there and do your job – make a difference in your community – and people will want to be a part of your success.”     I can’t tell you how many chapter leaders told me over the years that the message we delivered worked for their chapter.   They did turn up the energy and through the exposure of running new projects, new members joined.

Today, many of our businesses remind me of those struggling civic clubs.  When things get tight, we look at ways to minimize our expenses.  Often the first thing we do is cut back on our marketing and exposure.  Perhaps we spend more time at the office and less out in the field.     When things are at their worst is when we must be at our best.  Now is the time to increase your exposure.  When all around competitors might be scratching their heads what to do, you need to get your message to that potential customer or client.  Use your Chamber membership.  Don’t let a networking opportunity slip by that you don’t get in front of another business.

Get out in the community attending local events and programs.  Use every opportunity to showcase why people should do business with you.     The bottom line is this recession we are experiencing is a natural correction of the market.  Just as the sun will set tonight, the day will dawn tomorrow and we can’t have a rainbow without getting a little rain.    In a few months, our economy will come charging back and I expect this region will see recovery sooner than other parts of the country.  We at the Chamber will do everything we can to provide the networking opportunities and create programs that give you the tools for your toolbox that enable you not only to survive but thrive in this challenging time.001_1

However, it’s up to you whether you pull back like a turtle in its shell or you seize the opportunity to promote your business.     As I told those Jaycees many years ago, “There’s nothing we cannot overcome when we work hard, work smart, and work together!”

March 12, 2009 Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , , | Leave a comment