story and photos by Jamie Smith
The two most important phrases used in leadership are not delegation and profit margins but rather “please” and “thank you,” according to Don Soderquist, retired chief operations officer of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Soderquist delivered the audience stories that punctuate his thoughts on leadership at The Sunny Side of Leadership breakfast event, which is an annual fundraiser for Havenwood. The event was Wednesday (May 14).
This marks the 20th year that Havenwood has been active in Northwest Arkansas through programs designed to provide resources to single parents and their families. This was the second year for The Sunny Side of Leadership event.
“We raised just over $10,000 through today's event,” said Rachel Cox, Havenwood’s director of Development and Marketing. “The proceeds from today will help us continue to grow our case management and children's programs. Both programs have recently gone to provide full-time services within the last six months to our adults and children. The services include life skills classes, individual and family goal setting, job preparation classes, financial literacy, a children's program focusing on the increasing our families skills with literacy programs, access to the arts through a partnership with Trike Theatre, and incorporating healthy living and nutrition programs and curriculum including adding a community garden this year.”
Through stories from his Walmart years and leadership lessons he’s witnessed since then, Soderquist shared what he believes is the “sunny side of leadership.” Put simply, it’s about people and how we treat them.
He shared a story about how he and “Mr. Sam” (Wal-Mart co-founder Sam Walton) were in a store and Sam noticed that all the managers had Mr. or Mrs. in front of their name and the hourly associates just had their first names on the name badge. Sam ordered that all the name tags be changed to include the first name only for all employees, no matter the rank. This was an expensive venture that meant getting rid of three years’ worth of stored name badges. The associates feeling equal and respected was more important than the bottom line, however.
He also said that monitoring the profits and losses are important, but it’s important because saving money helps further the company’s need to serve more people.
“Leadership is not delegation or the bottom line,” Soderquist said. “It’s about serving the customer.”
Focusing on how we affect people we encounter every day is a vital part of leadership, according to Soderquist’s remarks.
“Everyone has touch points with people every day,” he said. “Do we leave people better, the same or worse? Do we have a consciousness about how we touch people?”
Casey Hammond, academic assurance coordinator for the Business Division at NorthWest Arkansas Community College was in the audience. She said Soderquist’s comments demonstrated how she as an individual can have a positive impact on other people’s lives.
“It’s important to put others in front of myself,” she said.
Brittney Skelton is a category manager for Lifetime Brand. She said what stuck out to her was how leaders should take the daily opportunity to touch other people’s lives.
“It’s making an effort to reach people where they’re at,” she said.
Ashley Barrett is with Sam’s Club marketing and she agreed that what stuck out to her was the talk of “touch points and how we impact those around us. (What Soderquist) said reinforces that belief and makes me more cognizant of it. It’s all about giving back and helping make other lives better.”
Paul Wood, chair of the Havenwood advisory board, urged the audience to learn more about Havenwood and to help make a difference.
“The more you learn about Havenwood the more you want to share,” he said. He added that encouraging leadership and leaders to make small changes will have a “huge ripple effect” on the community.