Monthly Archives: June 2012

A True Superstar

Although this story features a celebrity, it is really about a different kind of Superstar. In order to fully appreciate the tale, you need to know some background. Our Superstar, Kevin Maskey, may possibly be the most giving, selfless person on the planet. As an employee, father, son, husband, and human being, he constantly is doing something for someone else, and rarely for himself. For the purpose of our story, let’s focus on Kevin the employee.

Kevin is the service manager at Gerald Jones Honda. He has 60 employees who report to him, and with the volume of business that cycles through his shop, you can imagine the number of customers who need his help every day. There is rarely a time when Kevin doesn’t have a line of people waiting to talk to him. His days at work are hectic and long, yet he doesn’t let the stress make him grumpy, as we often see in people under that much pressure. He is one of those rare managers who can push hard for his business, do the right thing for the customer, earn the respect of his employees and still find some humor in every day.

Kevin ran the service department at Saturn from the time the dealership opened until the day the sign came down. He has also managed the local Acura, Chevrolet and Mazda service departments. I would always watch in amazement as he worked his tail off, building each business to run smoothly with happy customers and profitable numbers. No matter how chaotic a department would be when he arrived at a new store, he had it turned around by the time he left. Every boss he worked for was sad to see him leave, knowing how difficult it would be to find someone that talented to run their service department.

But the car business is a brutal world. You are only as good as your last best month, and it’s all about the numbers. It is rare for someone doing a good job to hear the words “Thank You.” Despite the level of dedication that Kevin has shown to his employers through the years, moments of praise or appreciation have been rare.

This leads us up to our celebrity story. Kevin was taking me to see Rick Springfield for my 46th birthday. A loyal Rick fan, I was excited to go to my 5th concert during a span of 28 years. Despite the many shows, I had never managed to finagle an autograph, and Kevin was determined to get one for me. Camera and Sharpie in hand, Kevin was focused on finding a way to capture a picture or a Rick signature. It was his mission for the night.

We went to the show with my sister and brother-in-law, and had a couple of extra tickets, which Kevin shared with his boss Andy Jones. When Andy and his wife Connie arrived, they set up chairs near us in the VIP area, where we all relaxed to wait for the show to start. During the pre-show activities, the event organizers decide to have Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross hold a live auction of a guitar to be signed by Rick. The money would go to the local children’s hospital. Andy jumped up and got into the bidding. The figure started at $1,000, and soon the asking price skyrocketed as several concert-goers competed for the chance to meet Rick and get the coveted guitar signed after the show.  By the time Andy won the auction, the stakes were high, and the children’s hospital was going to receive his generous gift of $4,700. The crowd was wound up with excitement.

Chairman Cross handed Andy the guitar from the stage, saying that they would settle up later, telling the crowd that he knew Andy was “good for it”. Then the most amazing thing happened. Andy walked right over to Kevin, showing him the guitar and telling him, “I got this so that you guys could go up with us and get a picture with Rick after the show. This is all because of how hard you work.”

As long as I live, this is a moment I will never forget.  Andy went back to his seat and I looked over at Kevin. I could read the emotion on his face, and see the red eyes trying so hard not to lose it. There is nothing more powerful than the image of a strong man on the brink of tears. He was touched that someone would make such a grand gesture on his behalf; I was touched by his reaction. After so many years of long hours, stress and sacrifice, suddenly someone demonstrates sincere appreciation of his effort in a meaningful way. All Kevin wanted was to help me to have a special memory for my birthday, and here it was. Because of the kind of employee Kevin is, Andy Jones seized the moment with a generous and bold action that translated into a dream come true for me. I wiped at my tears as we sat silently with hands tightly clasped, knowing how much it meant to both of us that someone truly recognized Kevin for the person he is.

During the show, Andy told us that when the song “Jesse’s Girl” began, it would be time for all of us to head to the sponsor tent for the guitar signing and picture. After decades of being a Rick fan, I was finally going to meet him. We went to the tent while the encore songs were being performed, and Andy walked over to me with the guitar. He told me, “This is yours to keep, because you are married to a true Superstar.” Andy Jones paid $4,700 so that he could convey to Kevin how valuable he was to his business. Cameras were clicking all around us as I held the guitar with a stunned look on my face. If you see one of those pictures, you may notice my shocked expression as the reality sunk in.Rick came into the tent, where he was immediately ushered over to us. Chairman Cross and Andy introduced me to Rick, telling him that the guitar was for me. Rick shook my hand, signed the guitar, and embraced me for a photo. The moment was a surreal whirlwind, over in a blink.

When Rick and the crowd dispersed from the tent, I told Kevin what Andy said-the guitar was ours to keep. We were completely blown away, having difficulty digesting such a magnanimous gift. My sister would later tell me that it was the perfect moment of karma for me, for the kind things I do for others. She is only half-right. It was a moment of karma, yes. But the karma was Kevin’s: for being the kind of person that he is, doing for others every day, all the while keeping his grace and humor, and asking nothing in return. Finally, someone saw how much he was doing for everyone else, and made the grand gesture to match. Thank you, Andy Jones.  Although I was happy to finally meet my celebrity, I was even happier to know that my true Superstar got his time in the spotlight.

Quietly Leading to Win

The May edition of Fortune magazine featured an article titled, “How Introverts Can Be Leaders”. Showcased in the story is former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, who describes himself as a “born introvert”. I related to Doug’s experience when he told the story of the time he was offered the job of President of Sales for his company. His response to the CEO : “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m an introvert and I don’t play golf.”

In the end, Doug took the job, “his most challenging ever”, and got it done. He goes on to explain that although he isn’t the archetypal charismatic leader, his work ethic and directness won him the trust of his team and his leadership style got results. He would go on to even greater success, underscoring the point that one must never discount the power of a quiet leader.

I’m hoping this is true because I’m a quiet leader with a new responsibility much like Doug’s sales job: way outside of the comfort zone. On July 1, I am going to be the Chair of the Board of Directors for Leadership Augusta. Now that the start date is approaching, it feels like a recipe for an anxiety attack. Although there are no sweaty palms, I definitely have some heart palpitations and heaviness, similar to what one might feel after consuming a 6-pack of Mountain Dew and a bag of gummy worms. This year will definitely be a test of the quiet leader.

I know you think I should be a pro at managing these symptoms by now, and I truly should be. After the pressure of being a Dancing Star and a bride last year, surely this new role will be a breeze.  There is no reason to panic; it’s just a few board meetings and pep talks. So what’s the big deal? Why the extreme physical distress? I will tell you the big deal in one big word: expectations.

I can tell myself that the Board Chair position is just a few meetings and speeches, but I know in my heart that I expect much more of myself. This exceeds the stress of the Dancing Stars adventure because my goal this time is diffferent. Facing a crowded Bell Auditorium to perform the Tango, I aspired to make my instructor and supporters proud, and to avoid any serious mortification and/or injury. A couple of times the possibility of winning would pop into my head, and I would say, no, that’s the not the objective here. I was seeking survival over success. Survival was my success. I wanted to have a good experience, make new friends, learn something about dance and about myself. From these measures, the endeavor went beyond my expectations: it was an amazing experience and I am thrilled with how the final performance turned out. I tied for second place and doubled my fundraising goal. I didn’t win, but I was happy.

Some people who were there that night tell me I should have won. But they don’t know the truth. They don’t know that I played it safe. I didn’t do the tricky kicks  in the promenade around the dance floor, knowing that statistically the odds were stacked against me. The kicks would have given a tremendous ‘wow factor’ if I pulled them off, but the slightest hesitation or mis-step would cause a catastrophic tumble. I knew If I did the dance without the kicks, the audience wouldn’t know the difference. I could save face, turn in a decent performance, and live with my decision. I was not willing to take the risk, so I did not deserve the win. I can live with that.

This time, though, the stakes are higher. I don’t want to turn in a safe performance. I don’t want to just preside over some meetings and make a few speeches. My predecessors didn’t settle for that, and I don’t intend to, either. I want my year of leadership in this organization to be a year of progress. I want to leave my mark on the history of this impressive group. This isn’t just survival without mortification. This time I want to win.

In planning for my win, I have been conducting alumni interviews to determine what my best strategy might be. It has been a powerful and informative process, guiding me down a path that feels as right as that kick should have felt. I can imagine having a year of increased engagement, improved processes, fiscal responsibility and memorable experiences. The team is falling into place, the playbook is being finalized and the interviews are wrapping up.

So why the anxiety? Because it means so much. This organization has been important to me since I graduated in 1999. I have served on the Board for almost 10 years. I have been preparing for this role before I even knew I wanted it. And now it is time for the green flag. This is my one chance, my one race. I want to make it count. I’m willing to take the risks.

In one of my interviews, an alumni underscored this sentiment when she said, “Every day we must prepare for our finest hour, because we don’t know when it will be. Sometime during this year you could have your finest hour. Be ready.” I intend to be ready, but not because it could be my finest hour. I intend to be ready because that is the kind of year my team deserves and I deserve. A leader sets the bar for excellence, and it will not be said that I did not aspire to win, even if it is quietly.