• Living as a Leader,  Organizational Leadership

    Be Careful What You Say About Yourself

    “The whale that spouts first gets harpooned first” was one of the first things I learned in 1984 as I started in the management training program at Steelcase, Inc. A quote attributed to its then CEO and chairman, Bob Pew.

    The message was clear – we shouldn’t talk about how good we are as a company. We just needed to demonstrate it through our superior products, service and value. The need to “spout” indicated more serious issues, issues that would eventually lead to being “harpooned”.

    Being understated was a strong value of Steelcase’s and it permeated the entire company’s culture. It’s a value that continues to influence my career and as a result influences SpringHill.

    It’s so integrated into my own values that I hadn’t thought much about the quote until one day, late in July, I drove by this sports bar in a small town near Marion, Indiana.

    The sign on the side of the building read “Best Damn Sportsbar Period”.

    As I went by the front of the bar I said to myself “it doesn’t look like the best one – period” and then noticed the “for sale” sign in the window which confirmed my assessment of the place.

    The owners surely hadn’t gone through Steelcase’s management training program. Because if they had, they’d had known not to spend money spouting off on signs. But instead they would have invested that money and energy into the service and experience they provided their customers with the result being that they wouldn’t have needed that final sign I saw in the window.

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