Joel Manby is the author of “Love Works: Seven Timeless Principles for Effective Leaders.” The former president and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Manby also was president and CEO of Herschend Enterprises, the largest family-owned theme park and entertainment company in America. He also served as CEO of Saab Automobile. He currently is chairman of the board of Orange, an organization that develops Christian curriculum for churches, families and schools. He lives in Atlanta.
What differences do you see between leaders from your generation and today’s young leaders?
Manby shared three ways leaders are better today.
1. Increased social consciousness. Years ago, there wasn’t a lot of talk about environmental or social justice issues.
2. Most won’t work for a company they don’t align with from a values standpoint. “People today have a much shorter fuse, and they’re willing to take risks to get to companies that they really believe in,” Manby added.
3. More entrepreneurism in starting up companies because of the Internet and digital communication.
You’re keen on leading with love. Was there a stretch in your career where earning profits was the only thing that mattered?
Manby started his career in the auto industry.
“I became a Christian at 16, and so in my 20s and 30s, I had this angst in my soul as I was working, ‘OK. I want to be in the marketplace.’ I never felt called to nonprofit work,” he said. “I wanted to hang out with the best and the brightest, but I just felt there had to be a better way to lead. In general, the auto industry was very autocratic and dominated with a fear-based culture, which didn’t lead to the innovation I felt leadership should have.”
After serving at Saab until 2000, Manby transitioned to Herschend Enterprises, where he met his mentor Jack Herschend.
“That’s where I learned about leading with love, and you could lead with love and have a very successful enterprise,” Manby added. “How you treat people and not just get numbers and the bottom line. The first time I met Jack, he introduced me to four senior leaders. He specifically took the time to praise them in how great they were in certain areas, which I had never seen done before. The first meeting—in a very difficult strategic issue for the board—so many times the leader feels like they have to have all the answers and they come in, ‘OK. Here’s the issue and here’s what we’re going to do.’ It is more order giving. He would give the issue and then give the pros and cons. He would go around the room and would make everybody else speak first. He would start with the lowest level and go up the ranks because he knows people are political. Then, he would decide, ‘Here’s where we’re going,’ and he would tell each person in the room why he wasn’t going in the direction they thought he should go. I’ve done that ever since.”
How do leaders at larger companies help build trust with their employees?
Manby has worked at some of the largest corporations in America for more than 25 years.
“The short answer is it takes communication,” Manby said. “The be-goals and the do-goals is what my book is all about. The be-goals are, ‘What kind of leader do we want to be or our employees to be and what kind of culture are we trying to create?’ Then, there’s do-goals, which every business has. ‘What kind of margin do you have to have for growth? Your engagement at church. All the metrics and measurements you have to have. You’ve got to hit certain financial targets to make it.’ Most organizations don’t have be-goals and if they do, they’re just plaques on a wall. I call it the plaque problem.”
Manby said in order to have a seamless transition from top to bottom, the communication chain needs to flow.
“If leaders aren’t sick of communicating, they’re not communicating enough,” Manby added.
Was there ever a point when you sacrificed your family at the altar of work?
Manby had a great upbringing, but his father’s family business struggled.
“Our family was extremely poor,” Manby said. “So, I came out of my childhood with a very unhealthy fear of not having enough. I didn’t want my family to go through the financial fight, but I don’t think I had enough faith that God would provide. That drove unhealthy desires to make more money, and I was very driven to be successful.”
About five years ago, while working 70 to 80 hours a week at SeaWorld, Manby went through a divorce that reignited his relationship with God.
“In my entire life, I have not found a very good balance between work and family,” Manby added. “I would say out loud, ‘My family is most important,’ but I didn’t act it out. I deeply regretted it. It’s not just the hours, but the pressure of the top job and turning a public company around in short order like SeaWorld causes unhealthy decisions. God is still always there. My faith was challenged. For me, it took five years of literally being in a dungeon of hopelessness to be on the other side and having a positive impact on others going through similar things.”