I think we’ve all heard so many stories of CEO’s, coaches, execs who have the big desks, take the best seats and in no uncertain terms let everyone know who the boss is.   Maybe you even know someone like that.  I want to take a quick look at some very successful people who operate just a little differently and have achieved tremendous results in the process.

I love this story from Never Die Easy about the great Chicago Bear, Walter Payton.  “He always considered himself just a member of the team, not a superstar.  On his first away trip as a Bear, he sat in the first window seat on the left side of the plane in the coach section.  At the time, the veteran players, particularly the stars, took the first-class seats and the rest of the team sat in coach.  Walter sat in that same seat for every flight of his entire career.  Long after he could have moved to first-class and stretched out, he stuck with the rank and file of the team and flew coach class.  It was those simple gestures, away from the media and the public, that made his teammates respect him so”.

Richard Branson also comes to mind.  For years he operated his business out of the houseboat he lived on and even as Virgin grew and had multiple offices he would never even keep a desk at one.  He thought that it separated him from his people, that all the traditions of offices keep higher-ups from really finding out what is going with his employees.  Years later he would still take high-profile meetings in the living room of his house in London.  His wife finally insisted they get a second house down the street for his meetings because she was tired of their young daughter playing doorman for his guests all day long.

Wayne Gretzky tells a story about his hero, Gordie Howe.  “It’s like the time Gordie Howe was playing in the WHA.  He was in his forties then, a legend, and he went up to the coach and said, “Did you run a bed check last night”?  The coach said “Yes”.  “Well, why didn’t you check my room”?  Howe replied “I’m part of this team too.”  That’s the kind of thing I admire.

As leaders do we see ourselves as part of the rank and file or have we removed ourselves and maybe lost touch in the process?

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