Guest Post by Scott Mautz
We’d all secretly like to think that our employees would storm the HQ castle in outrage, with pitchfork and torch in hand, and be red-hot under the collar if we, the boss, were given the pink slip.
Here’s an astounding story where this all but happened.
The Story of an “Others-Oriented” Leader
Market Basket is a 71-store, 25,000-employee grocery chain based in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The chain’s workers went on a highly publicized strike, staged protests, organized a boycott, and blatantly jeopardized their jobs to force the reinstatement of their beloved CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas (affectionately known as “Artie”). Demoulas was forced out by a rival member of his feuding family. Even as Demoulas was embroiled in his family’s feud over the years, he continued feeding a rare company culture of which he was the heart and soul — a culture mirroring a true family environment.
Steve Paulenka, one of eight managers fired for their participation in protests spoke of the care and concern Demoulas showed for his autistic son, Joe, after the boy suffered an accident requiring reconstructive surgery. For weeks after the accident, Demoulas inquired about Paulenka’s son, never once inquiring about business matters, only asking about the well-being of the boy. The story is thematic of the kindness Demoulas regularly exhibited in an effort to treat everyone like family.
A management professor from Massachusetts Institute of Technology who visited the picket lines found that many Market Basket employees spoke of their fear that “without Artie, we won’t be able to hold onto our values and we will fall into a vicious cycle.” Many of the employees saw it as black and white; the sense of family Demoulas created was simply not something they could do without. They’d rather put their high paying jobs at severe risk. (Market Basket is also known for its generous pay.) In all, 68 of Market Basket’s 71 store managers signed a petition stating they would not work for anyone other than Arthur T. Demoulas — the other three were on vacation, and presumably signed upon return.
Undaunted, Market Basket executives made it clear they would start hiring replacement workers. Equally undaunted, consumers left Market Basket in droves in support of the employees’ plight (despite their love of the chain and its low prices), an abandonment that deeply threatened the very sustainability of the grocery chain itself.
The unprecedented support for the beloved leader proved too strong. The board of directors caved to a proposed buyout led by Demoulas himself, and he was reinstated as CEO.
If You Were Fired, Who Would Protest?
In an age where it’s hard to fathom any employee putting their jobs on the line in support of a CEO, this story stands as a monument to the power of being what I like to call an “Others-Oriented” leader. Labor experts have been astonished that Market Basket employees, non–unionized ones at that, would go so far as to clearly risk their livelihoods to put a beloved boss back in command. Such behavior has simply not been seen before. It highlights the extraordinary power a manager can have by putting people first.
And it begs an interesting question. If you were fired, who would protest or put their jobs at risk on your behalf?
If you are unsatisfied with the answer to this question, it’s not too late or too insurmountable to change the narrative. It requires making an overt commitment to people as an organizational priority and embedding a genuine desire to do so in the culture.
You too can be an “Others-Oriented” leader.
There is no magic formula for doing so. It just takes intent. Intent that will make your employees less than content if you were shown the door.
So, keep front and center the golden question, “Who would protest if you were fired?”
Like so many Market Basket employees thought, it’s something worth fighting for.
Scott Mautz is a popular keynote speaker, P&G veteran, Inc. columnist, Indiana University adjunct professor, and author of the new book: Find the Fire: Reignite Your Inspiration & Make Work Exciting Again. You can learn more at ScottMautz.com.