I was 15 when I spent the first of five summers working at magical Camp Orkila in the beautiful San Juan Islands. Starting as a volunteer counselor, I quickly was promoted to a paid position as laundry lady-- much to the amazement of my mom, who’d never known me to run a washing machine. I enjoyed the camp environment and taking on more responsibilities. I dreamed one day I’d get my Master’s in Social Work so that I could help people and truly make a difference. At that point in life, I’m not sure I understood what a CEO was, let alone imagine that I would be one someday.
Thinking back on that time, I now realize the skills I learned at camp prepared me well for a career in sales and leading small companies. At camp we were taught the power of genuine kind words and showing gratitude. Over seven short days spent with our campers, we could make a positive lifelong impact
Our YMCA kids came from a variety of backgrounds. What was interesting is the kids who you’d think didn’t need much in the way of positive reassurances often were the ones who craved it the most. Based on the fabulous “The Warm Fuzzy Tale,” we created our cabin culture with daily practice showing appreciation and gratitude for each other. If you’ve read the tale of the Warm Fuzzies, you know when the Cold Pricklies came to town it dramatically changed the environment. We learned specific language skills and maintained minimum quotas of handing out Warm Fuzzies. Our little game of noticing and celebrating the kids’ special gifts ended up, unknowingly at the time, providing a foundation and framework for company leadership.
At SHW we strive to keep the Cold Pricklies at bay. We all have been in companies, or around people, where we are lifted up just by being around positive energy. Everyone has the ability to be grateful, though sometimes it requires a change in mindset. Simply said, we’re all just people. And as people, each of us has the power to show gratitude, no matter your position in a company, your age, where you live, where you come from. Genuine expressions of gratitude and appreciation is the glue that holds our humanity together.
Fast forward to life after camp (minus a few chapters): I spent 11 years as CEO of Metropolitan Travel, and Travel Port, and these past 4 years as CEO of SHW. I was surprised and honored that SHW was named this year as one of Washington’s Best Companies to Work for—just as Met Travel was nearly 20 years ago.
The secret to creating a great place to work is not such a secret: the common link is hiring people with kind hearts, people who are capable of truly expressing gratitude to each other, our partners, and our customers year-round.
As the year is coming to a close, I’ve written notes to each member of the team. It’s my way to show each person I recognize their unique talents and contributions. The diversity of skills – in a culture of gratitude – is a winning combination.
We do a version of this to celebrate birthdays of family members and friends. It’s a few minutes filled with smiles, Warm Fuzzies, and sometimes tears – and always my favorite part of someone’s special day. It can be adapted easily to work meetings or any environment.
I’d love to hear all of your ideas and thoughts to express gratitude to the special people in your lives: family, friends, neighbors, employees, teammates.
Here’s to a New Year filled with blessings and gratitude!