Ice Cream Social Leadership (part 2)

By Rick Forbus, Ph.D.

In the coaching session with the executive leader is where the title for this article came to be.

He said that a few weeks ago while he was traveling the Fun Circle Coordinator sent him an email just to inform him that Friday they were having an ice cream social! My client had this childlike grin on his face as he told me. He said the coordinator did not ask permission to have the ice cream social; the coordinator was just informing him. The total expense for the ice cream delivered to the office was less than $200. Yet, it created a fun buzz at the end of a hard week where business had flourished and the account managers had given a lot of energy and hours. So what? The energy and enthusiasm, the honesty and openness to inquiry, divergent push back and the right to be different is not only felt at this company but is seen in their profitability.

That is where the ice cream social leadership concept emerged in my mind. The results for this company group are not just about $200 worth of ice cream. It is never that simple or company execs would go out immediately after reading this article and purchase large amounts of ice cream. The executive at this location, in spite of a corporate culture worldwide that is not aware of his style and specifically why his team keeps achieving exceptional results, is true to himself. That’s right; he is relational and strong relational skills are easy for him. He is far more than just likable, however. This executive is insightful, discerning, fearless, engaging, strategically gifted and a good listener. He is not perfect, but he is willing to build his large group’s successes first and foremost within each team member. As the team has become engaging, enthusiastic and as they take ownership of overall successes of the company, so goes the interaction with the customers. They are thinking beyond the closing of deals into the overall outcomes of the company because they have been invited into the inner culture of the organization through these circles. This allows them to service the customers’ needs, rather than, pushing for a closed deal. They are emotionally invested and have the freedom to let their personalities blossom making the customer experience great for the customer and the account manager. 

Growing up in a small city in Mississippi my family attended ice cream socials. I particularly enjoyed the homemade ice cream competitions where I got to try many varieties. Looking back on those experiences there was much going on besides the plastic spoon and paper bowls, piled high with tasty ice cream. There were friendly conversations, handshakes with old friends, casual interactions, kids running (me included), laughter and an occasional song or two. The buzz in the social hall or outside under a shade tree was evident and the openness and human engagement was almost touchable. Smiles abounded and jokes and stories strung the whole experience together. As a boy I shirked at the old-lady hugs and the old-man hair scrubs. Now, the memories are clear and the feelings are bright and happy. As an executive coach, an ice cream social seems a million miles away and somewhat nostalgic. Could it be that the energy and feeling of inclusion, value and community made people want to attend? Was it just the ice cream?

I told my client that he had coached me that day. His willingness to go alone into the world of relational building and pure human interaction has brought him success. The circle idea is his and I really do not think it was a manipulative idea to get his team to work longer and harder. This particular leader just likes it real. He has figured out that most of his employees want to keep it real. Could it be that most company employees, account managers, sales executives, even accountants, want to keep it real? Consider the alternative style of ice cream social leadership. It could change the profit lines and the turnover ratios.


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