My daughter works at a small but prestigious college in Maine by the name of Bowdoin College. It has been around for a while, actually since 1794 and it has amongst its alumni two Presidents of the United States: writers Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Senators George Mitchell and William Cohen, Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain and my personal favorite Joan Benoit who was the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the first woman’s marathon. It also has other local dignitaries as well.
It is also a very difficult college to get into accepting only 14.9% of its applicants which means that when a kid finally gets into Bowdoin and shows up for his first week there he is usually pretty intimidated; and I would bet that more than one kid has feared that it was all a mistake and he really doesn’t belong there …and this is where the Bowdoin Book comes in. And this is I want to talk about.
Every kid who goes to Bowdoin spends a few minutes with the President of the college, every single kid has to go to the president’s office and meet with him and the meeting goes something like this:
The president welcomes the kid into his office (he now does it with groups of 5 or 6 students I understand) he tells them that they truly do belong there, he says to them that they spent hours and hours going through hundreds even thousands of applications, had endless meetings and then finally they choose him, they choose this kid because he belongs there, at Bowdoin; she was hand-picked to be there because they knew that she could do the work. Then he brings out the big Bowdoin Book, yes there is really a big Bowdoin Book. The matriculation book and he shows it to them. He tells them that every single person who has ever attended Bowdoin starting in 1794 has signed this book. The he flips through the pages and shows them the actual signature of the dignitaries that I mentioned earlier. Then he tells them that it is their turn to join these people. It is time for them to sign the Bowdoin Book and officially become one of the family.
I want you to think about that for a minute. Think about what that must feel like? Think about how much tradition and heritage is instantly embedded into each of these kids. Talk about an effective way to bring them into the fold. I bet it is something they never forget.
Now let’s apply this to our business. As leaders it is our responsibility to instill this kind of pride and tradition into those who work for us. It is up to us to make sure that our people are the best that they can be. We have to make sure that we instill greatness into them. If they are the best they can be then our company is in good hands right?
I remember working for a company that was owned by a brilliant guy, an engineer and inventor, there was only one problem he hated sales people or “peddlers” as he called them. Every year we would have a very well planned and elaborate sales meeting. All of the sales people and reps would spend a week at the home office getting ready the New Year. I would spend a great deal of time getting ready for this meeting as would the sales people. We would work hard and play hard and do a lot of team building. The people would get really jazzed up completely charged to get out there and have a terrific year.
There was only one problem. The owner. The owner never participated in any part of the sales meetings, no part at all. But he would always insists on coming to the meeting on the very last hour of the last day to get in what else the last word.
He would then come in and proceed to berate the sales people into oblivion telling them that they were lazy, that they all were overpaid and that this year if they did not produce heads were going to roll! And then he would leave suddenly, slamming the door behind him in disgust.
Every year he did this and every year as far as I was concerned he completely ruined all of the good work we’d done the previous four days. Why did he do it? I am not sure after all he was the one footing the very expensive bill for that meeting. And now he made sure through his words and actions that the sales team was completely demoralized. They left those meetings with their chins dragging on the floor. All that time and money and energy was wasted because of that last talk from the owner.
These are two very different stories with very dramatic differences aren’t they? Which story did you like best? Which organization do you think gets the most out of their people?
It’s pretty easy to say isn’t it? The people at Bowdoin are so instilled in pride for their organization that they would follow their president through hell; while I can tell you from firsthand experience that the people in the second story would not follow that owner across the street to a free buffet.