People Power - October 2011
By Scott Humphrey
One of the most powerful things we can do to nurture good performance and improve morale is to recognize those who perform above the standard. It is unfortunate that in our society recognition is often overlooked. It is common to hear a manager say, “Why should I recognize them? That’s what I pay them to do!” Even sadder is the fact that most recognition comes too late. The most significant recognition of a life and its impact usually comes after we are gone, when we are eulogized.
This hit home recently when I was privileged to take part in a surprise 90th birthday party for Elbert G. Shaw, Jr. I would like to use that experience to share with you the importance of recognition and some of the important life lessons that I have learned from my friendship with this remarkable man.
I first met Elbert 24 years ago when I, a wet-behind-the-ears applicant to Shaw Industries, was given the opportunity to interview for a job as a sales trainee. At that time, all I knew was that his last name was Shaw, and that was also the name of the company with whom I was seeking employment (Elbert is the first cousin of Bob Shaw). Elbert wore many hats during his time at Shaw, but in 1987, when I was interviewing, he was responsible for hiring all of the sales trainees. Not long after I was hired, Elbert and I developed a strong friendship, and so, after two years in sales, Elbert offered me the opportunity to return to Dalton and take on the responsibility of recruiting for the sales training program. I worked under Elbert in that role for seven years, before moving into training. Funny how one decision, one friendship, can impact your whole life. Without coming back to work for Elbert, I wouldn’t have married my wife and been blessed with my four wonderful children.
I will never forget that first interview. You can imagine that I was intimidated to interview with Mr. Shaw from Shaw Industries. I soon realized that this was not the kind of man who would use his last name to intimidate. Instead, his friendly mannerisms and gracious style made me feel comfortable. I can still remember Elbert greeting me at the door by saying, “Hi. My name is Elbert Shaw. Please call me Elbert. Could I take your jacket? Would you care for something to drink?” Needless to say, this was not what I had expected.
There are countless people in the Dalton area and all over North America (with multiple flooring manufacturers) who will testify to Elbert’s character. From my own experience, I will say he has a heart the size of Texas, and he wears it on his sleeve. He lives to have a positive impact on the lives of others. Elbert would tell you that his purpose in life is to glorify God; whether or not you are a person of faith, the lessons I have learned from Elbert will have a positive impact on your personal and professional life. So, if you will allow me, I will share ten life lessons that I learned from this remarkable man.
1. Integrity always matters. Integrity is not something to turn on when it’s convenient. Integrity must be ingrained in who we are. The time of a difficult decision is not the time to decide to be a person of integrity. The decision to be a person of integrity must be made in advance.
2. In the end, a company’s success is determined not by product, program, or even price, but by the quality of the people who make up the company. A company will be better if the people making the hiring decisions live the company values. We must model what we expect throughout our organizations, especially at the highest levels.
3. You represent your place of employment 24/7. If you are a good and fair person, your company is viewed by others as a good and fair company. Likewise, if you are an extraordinary person, your company is seen as extraordinary.
4. Family first. Job changes occur, but your family should remain a constant in your life. Invest first in your home life, then in your work.
5.When in doubt, hug. Elbert is known for his hugs. I know very few people at his level who would humble themselves by hugging, and, though I know there are some who are uncomfortable with this show of affection, there is no doubt that a hug communicates a level of comfort with an individual that a handshake cannot. If you are unsure, ask someone if it is okay to give them a hug. Even if the hug never materializes, the asking conveys the value you place on the relationship.
6. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We live in a world where people seek to impress us with who and what they know. Sometimes it is as if the whole world is running for office and needs our vote. Elbert understands, as well as anyone I have met, the power of caring. Whether it is visiting a friend, or even the friend of a friend, in the hospital or volunteering his time—which he still does two days a week at the youth detention center in Dalton that now bears his name—Elbert shares what matters most with every person he meets.
7. Your legacy will ultimately be the impact you have had on the lives of others. This is a great lesson, especially for those who are in leadership positions. It is not about the accumulation of wealth. It is not about the level to which you are able to rise. It is all about the people whose lives you impact along the way. We will all leave a legacy. What many don’t realize is that we are establishing that legacy by the decisions we make today and where we choose to invest our time and money. I challenge you to follow Elbert’s lead and invest in people.
8. Strong values are only considered a weakness when evaluated by those with weak or no values. Elbert never lets his values become a weakness. He never uses them as a crutch. Instead, he acts on them and thus made his values real.
9. Everyone has value, and no one is so down that they can’t be pulled up. Most of us are willing to go out of our way to help those who may be able to one day help us or those that we see as having potential, but Elbert’s example teaches us that “God don’t make no junk.” Everyone has value. I rarely have lunch with Elbert without someone coming up to him and thanking him for the impact he had on their life. Many of these are people that Elbert spoke to in the youth detention center 15 or 20 years ago.
10. It is okay to say “I Love You.” I realize that saying these words at work is not always comfortable. If it’s uncomfortable for you, don’t say it with words. Let your life say it. Someone once said, “Your actions speak so loud that I can’t hear what you’re saying.” The words “I love you” carry no weight if not backed up with action. Let your actions toward others speak so loudly that there is no question in their mind about your feelings toward them.
Many of you have read the bestselling book by Mitch Albom titled, Tuesday’s with Morrie. It is subtitled, An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson. That is how I feel about my relationship with Elbert, though I still don’t consider him old (or myself especially young as I close in on the half-century mark). As I look back over the last 24 years of my life, I realize that many of life’s greatest lessons have either been taught or reinforced to me through my friendship with Elbert G. Shaw, Jr. But you can call him Elbert.
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