Byron's Babbles

Warm & Fuzzy Leadership

I had the honor of working with educators in Michigan this week. That also gave me the opportunity to visit Frankenmuth, Michigan. Now, if you don’t know about this city, it is truly “Christmas Land.” It is home to the world’s largest (literally, 27 acres) Christmas store: Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. I had only been to Frankenmuth once before, but this was one of my mom’s favorite places in the world. My dad and her would trek up here once a year. This time I had the opportunity to go to a program about the founder of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, Wally Bronner. The program was all about how he got started.

The business started in his parents’ basement as a hobby when Wally was a kid. Here’s what Wally wrote about himself: “My hobby of signs, displays and decorations developed into a full-time business, and I never went to work. Since I never went to work, I don’t have to think of retirement, and I’ll continue the hobby, God-willing, but only on days that end in ‘y’.” I loved this! To me this was a better way to approach life than the old adage of, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This really made me think about all the great businesses have been started as hobbies, or someone setting out to solve a need as a hobby.

I’m sure I will blog more about Wally, but as I listened to the employees speak of his life and influence there were a few things that stuck out. As a leader, those he led described him not as “charismatic,” but “warm and fuzzy.” I loved this. He was shown in videos meeting Presidents, dignitaries, fellow Frankenmuth business owners, and the employees he served. And yes, he was “warm and fuzzy!” Interestingly most things written about the warm and fuzzy are negative, but I gotta tell you it’s just being good to people. I could just tell from the personal reflections and video that Wally treated everyone right and was the same person with royalty or anyone in his wonderland. In fact there was a clip of Wally stating that one of his most important core values was recognizing every person’s, “…Value, dignity, and importance.” In other words he was a “people person.” And, I for one respect those who are “people persons.”

You know. Those who support their people in such ways build invaluable trust that helps keep employees motivated, engaged, and willing to follow the leader even when things get tough. Leadership implies values. A leader must have values that are life-giving to society. It is the only kind of leadership we need. So many leaders I have encountered are manipulative. You know the ones. The answer or action will always be in her/his best interest, not the other persons’. Not Wally. To him business was all bout serving the needs of others. The Michigan educators actually talked about the need for leaders to really care. So, what did Wally have? He had a purpose that was larger than he was and the balanced personality and skills to put that purpose into action. It was great to chill out in Frankenmuth and learn more about Wally Bronner.