On Leadership, CEO's and Practicing What You Preach

Unloading Boxes

We all know managers and executives should not ask their people to do anything that they would not be willing to do themselves.

But how often is this mantra actually followed?

While we don’t always know the answer to this question, it is always inspiring to hear stories starring leaders who exemplify the leadership commandment to practice what they preach. Today, I share just such a story about my uncle, Hyrum W. Smith.

A Legendary Leader

Hyrum W. Smith is the co-founder of FranklinCovey Company and an originator of the Franklin Day Planner. At age 40, Smith took a huge risk – including securing a loan against the mortgage of his home – to start his company with a few colleagues back in 1983.

Within a few short years, the Franklin Institute had become very successful, eventually evolving into FranklinQuest, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in 1992. Smith instantly became a mega-millionaire driving V-12 Mercedes-Benz cars and flying on his own corporate jet.

After years of hard work and sacrifice, he had truly become a “big shot.” He also became a best-selling author of several books, including The 10 Natural Laws of Effective Time and Life Management (1994) and What Matters Most: The Power of Living Your Values (2000).

Five years after going public, FranklinQuest merged with Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s (of 7 Habits fame) Covey Leadership Center to form FranklinCovey Company, one of the top training companies in the World.

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Learning a Legacy

Six years later as a recent college graduate in 2004, I got a job working as a retail salesman in a FranklinCovey store in Atlanta, Georgia. The manager of my store had previously met my uncle at a FranklinCovey company conference, and related the following story about him:

CEOs Can Unload Boxes Too

The manager of my store and some of her colleagues were working to set up a table to sell Hyrum’s books. As they worked, Hyrum – the co-CEO of the entire company – walked by. To my manager’s surprise, he immediately jumped in and started helping them unload boxes and set up the table.

As she shared this story, she expressed surprise, and related to me: “I didn’t think CEOs unloaded boxes.”

His actions left an impression on her, and in-turn, on me as well. The story underscored the great truth that no matter how high your position is, you are never too good, too wise, too experienced, or too high in the organization to lend a helping hand, even if the task involves seemingly menial labor.

Speaking Without a Sound

Hyrum – a world-renowned public speaker – taught a vital lesson that day without having to give a speech. His lesson was perhaps best iterated by the poet Edgar A. Guest, who wrote:

I’d rather see a sermon

Than hear one any day;

I’d rather one should walk with me

Than merely tell the way….

For I might misunderstand you

And the high advice you give,

But there’s no misunderstanding

How you act and how you live.

My manager came away from that conference inspired to work harder at her position and treat her subordinates with more respect, and all because of a simple act of a thoughtful executive.

Quick Questions for You:

What sermons are your actions teaching those around you at work and home?

And what are the results of those sermons?

Leadership in Practice

I have a doctorate in educational leadership and have spent nearly three decades studying the science and art of leadership, self-leadership, and personal development. I have noticed, however, that amidst all the books, articles, courses, and speeches I have heard and studied over the years, none of these pedagogical tools can match the educational power and eloquence of actual examples of real leaders who practice what they preach.

To quote again the poet Guest:

“The best of all the preachers are [of those] who live their creeds. For to see good [character, integrity, compassion, courage, hard work, diligence, discipline, persistence, consistence, determination, patience, justice, and mercy] put in action is what everybody needs.”

Communicating Through Actions

Are you a manager, leader, or executive in your company?

  • If so, what have you done lately to communicate through your actions that you support your subordinates, or that you are not too “high and mighty” to join them in the trenches when necessary?
  • When was the last time you intentionally took the time to listen to and visit someone closer to the bottom of the hierarchical totem pole?
  • When you did, were you sincere in your efforts, or where you just “checking a box” you knew must be checked for the sake of appearances?

A consistent pattern I have observed among the greatest leaders is their fundamental recognition that everyone has equal existential worth. As a result, the way they treat the CEO or other “big shots” does not differ qualitatively from their treatment of an entry-level new hire or custodian.

I invite you to join the ranks of these truly great leaders by consciously recognizing and consistently affirming the tremendous worth of every member of your organization. The culture of sincerity, compassion, and existential equality that will develop from your regular efforts to do so will, over time, richly endow your organization with greater unity and productivity.


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Dr. Jordan R. Jensen is CEO of Freedom Focused, LLC
He is Originator of Self-Action Leadership, Seminar Facilitator & Keynote Speaker
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Image Sources: themillions.com

L2L Contributing Author


  1. ramakrishnan6002 on February 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Reblogged this on Gr8fullsoul.

  2. Dr. Tommy Shavers on March 1, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Reblogged this on tommyspeak and commented:
    Great read and reminder of the power exemplary leadership.

  3. Kerry Rustin on March 4, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    This post reminds me of an experience I had years ago. The company I worked for was purchased and a new CEO took the helm, amid the usual reactions to such a change. I remember this new leader attending a casual “birthdays of the month” cake-break in the company’s kitchen one afternoon – while I don’t remember anything he (or anyone else) said at this gathering, I remember turning to see him helping someone wash the dishes in the sink. And I heard later that he wasn’t asked to do so. I decided then and there that this was a leader I would follow – and I did, for many years. He became a mentor, for me and others. I appreciate his powerful lesson.

  4. Lynn Nordby on March 4, 2014 at 6:47 pm

    As a city administrator I learned early on how much the public works crews appreciated that I was just as willing to see how they were doing during a storm as on a bright spring day.