Unsung Heroes

Good to Great
September 1, 2018
March Madness
September 1, 2018

When I first met Dave Tatman, plant manager of the Corvette Assembly plant, I knew I had encountered a special person. During one of the daily tours offered at the Bowling Green facility, I heard him exclaim, “We don’t build cars, we build dreams!” And as he led our group through General Motor’s flagship assembly plant, Dave Tatman knew every worker’s name and high-fived most as he proudly bragged on their workmanship and commitment to excellence.  After the tour, I complimented Tatman on his seemingly natural rapport with his team.

He recounted an experience that reinforced what came natural to him and the importance of not only recognizing the greatness in others, but our responsibility to show appreciation for other’s hard work. The story Tatman told me was of a professor he had in college who on a test offered a bonus if one could name the gentleman who cleaned their classroom. Dave Tatman knew his name as he frequently conversed with this gentleman before and after class.

It may have been a simple, “Hello,” or “How are you today?” but that was perhaps all that was needed to let that man know that someone recognized and appreciated his contributions. And for the professor to use this opportunity to teach his students this valuable lesson was commendable to say the least.

And while no one would question Dave Tatman’s contributions at the helm of the Corvette plant, Tatman would tell you the real heroes behind America’s sports car are the women and men who are on the front line every day building this iconic dream maker.  Great leaders, like Dave Tatman, as well as great organizations recognize the unsung heroes.

My son is a junior at Western Kentucky University. He tells the story of his first day of college being in a huge auditorium scared to death when a facilities management employee approached him as asked, “Son, is this your first day at college?” “Yes sir,” he responded. With a warm and loving hand on my son’s shoulder, the next words made all the difference in the world. “Son, you’re going to be fine. You’re in a good place.” And like Corvette’s Dave Tatman, Western Kentucky University’s president Gary Ransdell would most certainly attribute much of his university’s success to the unsung heroes on the front line.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, had a reputation of getting to his office by 5am everyday where he prayed, composed many of his great writings and planned the beginnings of what is today one of the largest church dominations in the world. But the real hero John Wesley would later say was his personal assistant who arrived at his office a full hour before he did, started a fire and prepared hot tea for the morning.

Closer to home, the unsung heroes at the Capitol are in no short supply and easy to spot, especially during the legislative session. The operators in the basement of the Annex who are literally the voice of democracy for constituents as they connect with their representatives. The gentleman in the cafeteria who cheerfully asks if I’m through with my tray and wishes me a good day. The numerous LRC employees who work tirelessly behind the scenes drafting legislation and providing unmatched and immeasurable support to so many.

The receptionists on the 2nd, 3rdand 4thfloors making sure visitors have the opportunity to visit with their legislators. The state police detail that maintains civility during legislative committee meetings. Our spouses, significant others and families who hold down the home front while we’re gone during the week. Thank you unsung heroes! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

In my workshops, I ask a simple question. How many have a note of appreciation that is over one year old and still remains in your desk or on your bulletin board? The majority raise their hand. In fact, numerous studies indicate the top reason for employee motivation and engagement is to simply feel appreciated.  I suggest we consider carrying Post-It -Notes leaving them for the unsung heroes that simply says, “Thank you for all that you do! I appreciate and value you!” I call it, “Leadership by Post-It-Note.”

So here’s our bonus question: “Who are the unsung heroes in our lives?” And here’s our assignment: Thank them!