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#10 | THE CEO ROLE

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”

—Joseph Heller

I often have to write for a while before it becomes clear to me what I am writing about.

This is contrary to what I was taught in middle-school English class. “You must know the end of the essay in order to write the beginning,” my teachers told me.

But life isn’t always that tidy. Sometimes you’ve just got to pick up the pen and start writing in order for the spirit within you to manifest and flow forth.

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This is the tenth essay of my weekly series, and it occurs to me that enticing CEOs to broaden their mission, expand their roles, and see their companies in a fresh light is one of the core aspirations of my writing this year.

Mike Hall, one of many great leaders at Hancock Lumber, where I work, is fond of telling me that my most valuable role is actually “Chief Evangelist,” not “Chief Executive.”

An evangelist is someone who seeks to convert. An evangelist understands the power and potential of an idea.

In that sense, Mike is right. My passion is learning to see the world of work, commerce, and free enterprise through fresh eyes—for what my alma mater, Bowdoin College, calls “the common good.”

I recently participated in a statewide leadership program on racial equity here in Maine.

“Why are you here?” one of the facilitators asked each of us at the opening session.

“I’m here because the purpose of any company should be to advance humanity,” I replied when my turn came. “Whatever confronts and challenges humanity must also manifest as priorities in our businesses.”

I hadn’t premeditated that answer. It just came out.

There are approximately 195,000 CEOs in America. Together they influence the values and cultural expectations for 155 million US workers and a $25 trillion economy. Imagine the potential social impact of those CEOs all embracing the belief that their highest calling is to advance humanity by serving the people right in front of them, the employees who give all companies life.

Old-school business thinking once urged CEOs to stick to their knitting and focus on the narrow core of their corporate mission. In our case that would be making lumber and facilitating logistics. Make no mistake: In order for our company to have a platform for doing good, we must be world-class at making lumber, and be fanatics about OTIF (“On time and in full delivery”). But that doesn’t mean lumber and delivery trucks represent our highest purpose. Our highest purpose is to create meaningful and empowering work experiences for those who choose to dedicate a piece of their lives to our company, as employees. The first priority of our company is the people who work there.

Where in society are adults going to grow and self-actualize? It has to be their place of work, because that’s where most adults congregate.

From a business standpoint, the twenty-first century is about flipping the script on the core purpose of capitalism. When the mission reorients and elevates, the potential for good expands. Humanity doesn’t need less capitalism; it needs more. But the kind it needs must be reimagined. Employees don’t exist to serve companies; companies exist to serve employees. When this shift occurs, employee loyalty, creativity, commitment, and capacity are unleashed. Business performance accelerates on the wings of service to others.

This doesn’t mean the end of accountability, best practices, core systems, or organizational focus. In fact, when companies serve their employees, all of these elements are strengthened. As our safety director Gregg Speed is fond of saying, “People support what they help to create.”

The Hancock Lumber sawmill team in Casco receiving a team safety award. A core mission of our company is to be a place where every member of the team feels trusted, respected, valued, and heard.

The purpose of safety within a company is a great example of this required shift in thinking. A company does not pursue safety to save money or avoid OSHA. A company pursues safety because its core mission is to be meaningful and valuable to the people who work there. Helping everyone stay healthy and safe is fundamental to any company’s raison d’être.

Change is created first within us, then beside us, and finally beyond us. When CEOs change what they see as their highest purpose, organizational transformation follows.

CEOs have the opportunity to release a veritable wave of human capacity, machinery, and capital toward the common good. Business is no different than life. When you commit to serving others, you are repaid with more than you give.

My personal mission as the CEO of Hancock Lumber is to create a corporate culture where everyone feels trusted, respected, valued, and heard. Creating that culture will improve business performance, but those results are the outcome of a higher calling. That higher calling is sharing leadership broadly and respecting all voices in a manner that helps every human within the organization to self-actualize and tap into the sacred power that dwells within us all. Advancing humanity, one human at a time, is the new business of business.

Setting that course is the CEO’s role.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable.”

—Martin Luther King

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Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

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This is the tenth in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!



#3 | STAYING ON MISSION IN A CHAOTIC WORLD

2021 IDEA-SHARING ADVENTURE SERIES BY KEVIN HANCOCK

In the first decades of the twenty-first century, three exceptional yet unforeseen events altered humanity’s course.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda militants hijacked four airplanes. Within hours the twin towers of the World Trade Center would fall and a global war would commence. In 2008, subprime borrowers began defaulting on their home mortgages, initiating a financial crisis that nearly collapsed the entire global banking system. In late 2019, a small group of shoppers at a wet market in Wuhan, China, became infected with a virus of unknown origins. Within a hundred days, nearly every nation on Earth was partially paralyzed by gathering restrictions and lockdowns.

In times of such epic social disruptions, how do we stay focused on our personal mission and voice? How do we support the whole while advancing our sense of self?

Maintaining one’s personal energy in a sea of social chaos may be the essential skill of our time.

Every voice is unique by design. The long arc of humanity is ultimately the sum of its individual parts. What society needs most from us is for our never-to-be-repeated voices to be unfurled and broadly shared. We change the world one human at a time.

I was sensitized to the importance of authentic voice and personal mission by yet another combination of unexpected events. In 2010, I began to have trouble speaking. I was the CEO of one of America’s oldest family businesses, and our lumber company was reeling from the stress of the economic crisis when my voice failed me. Months later I was diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder called “spasmodic dysphonia” (SD). Suddenly, I had to develop a new strategy for leading that did not include lots of talking.

Two years later, I began traveling from Maine to the remote Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (a place I have now visited over twenty times). There I encountered an entire community that did not feel fully heard.

These two events combined to produce a series of personal learnings. First, I understood what it was like to not feel fully heard. Second, I realized there are lots of ways for people to lose their voice in this world. Third, I began to wonder if the very purpose of a human life on Earth is to self-actualize.

Unfortunately, across the centuries many leaders have done more to restrict the voices of others than to liberate them.

That’s when my personal calling became clear. The partial loss of my own voice was an invitation to disperse power, share leadership, and strengthen the voices of others. I have stayed focused on this mission ever since, despite the distractions of the larger world.

Influencing the world is an inside job. You have a mission and that mission matters. Only you can pursue it. Humanity needs you to be you and carry on. With this approach the world morphs into a different place. It slows down, gains clarity, and localizes.

The history-altering events described at the beginning of this essay share a single root cause: Humanity is moving too fast to acquire more. Our pace—you might call it our “race”—is unsustainable. In the Western world’s zeal to conquer and colonize we find the underpinnings of radical Islamic instability and terror. The subprime mortgage market collapse was also the result of impatience and excess on all sides. Speed was equally responsible for accelerating the global pandemic. How many customers can be crammed into an airplane, a stadium, a bar? Bigger, better, more. We all drank the Kool-Aid and now here we are.

Once we recognize the cause of our chaos, we can hone in on the cure. The world as seen on TV manifests as overwhelming. Only by returning to what lies within us and beside us can we clear the skies. Staying on your mission is the remedy to the turmoil that plagues our modern world. So for the love of humanity, follow your voice. Walk your path. Speak your truth.

If excessive pace with vague purpose is the problem, controlling your pace and clarifying your purpose is the cure.

(Note: A longer version of this essay was first published in 2020 as part of the international bestseller “Bright Spots: Motivation and Inspiration to Light Your Path in a Changing Worldby Cathy Davis. This book—a collection of essays written by forty authors from around the world, including Kevin, in response to the events of 2020—is available on Amazon, or wherever books are sold.)

* * *
Thank you for considering my thoughts. In return I honor yours. Every voice matters. Between our differences lies our future.

____________________

This is the third in a series of short essays to be posted by Kevin to www.thebusinessofsharedleadership.com in 2021. Kevin is dedicating these writings in honor of Black Elk, the Oglala Sioux holy man who was escorted as a child on a sacred vision quest by the 48 horses of the four directions to visit the six Grandfathers. My horses, prancing they are coming. They will dance; may you behold them. On that journey Black Elk understood the sacred power that dwelled within him and lives within us all. He also recognized that this power could be used for good or bad. Intentional we must be about the path we walk. To invite others to join The Business of Shared Leadership and receive these posts, just pass this link along. The more who join, the deeper the energy field of engagement will become! Thank you!