Leadership 101 from a Carney

Last fall, I attended the Arizona State Fair after a 25-year hiatus, mostly due to my misgivings of safety, security, and my favorite, the dreaded carny. Handing my ticket to the operator of a roller coaster who reeks of liquor and marijuana and looks like they are ready to fall over dead at any given moment, does not fill me with confidence that my ride will end well. However, my recent experience was a complete 180 from years past.

The first thing I noticed was everyone who worked the rides and games looked normal. They even looked professional. They weren't high, drunk, stoned or mentally checked out. These workers interacted with the park patrons. They even smiled and were friendly to kids.  As I continued to look around I noticed a logo on just about everything. "RCS," which stands for Ray Cammack Shows, is the company that puts together the midway rides, games and food vendors for the fairs in Texas, Arizona and California. It is their employees that run everything. As I continued to observe, I had a feeling of organization, thoughtful planning and design. Very much what you would expect from a permanent amusement park not a mobile one like a state fair.

Here's where the leadership lesson kicks in. RCS has taken the typical challenges of a mobile carnival, namely, hostile environment toward customers by workers, unsafe rides, and unethical game practices, and transformed it into a professional, safe, family friendly and fun experience for not just the customers, but the workers as well. RCS has done a fantastic job of infusing each of their 1200 employees with the vision of creating an entertainment environment that leads the industry in safety, employee benefits and customer satisfaction. This is not an easy task but by setting high standards for employees in dress code, code of conduct, a very strict drug testing policy, and requirements for professional training and development, RCS has increased the quality standards for those who work for them. RCS also pours back into their employees who are on the road with a number of amenities, benefits and incentive programs. Their philosophy is simple: to get the best people to work with them, RCS needs to provide those employees with the tools they need to succeed.

In my experience as a Leadership Performance Coach, I have spoken to many leaders who would agree with that last line. The real question is, “What are you doing to make that statement a reality in your own company?” In order for consumers to have an exceptional customer experience with your company, the leadership, at all levels, need to personify that value. Leaders need to model the value in how they interact with their employees, customers, and vendors. It’s not enough to post your values on the office wall, these values have to be lived out.

Have you ever seen someone who is malnourished? I’m not talking about someone from a third world country, but someone who just doesn’t eat well. Their skin isn’t as healthy. Their eyes are darkened. Their body posture is slumped. They have made a conscious decision to not provide the proper resources necessary for their cells (and body) to function at its peak. An organization is no different. When the top leadership (the brain) chooses to neglect providing the proper resources to their employees, such as a compelling vision, solid values, clear communication, skillset development, and so on, (food), the visual side of the organization suffers; customer service, product or service provided, interactions with vendors, and so on (body).  That day at the Arizona State Fair, I saw the visual side of an organization whose leadership did what they needed to empower their employees to excel and provide customer service that goes well beyond what people expect. I saw leadership done right from a Carny.

Is your organization’s posture slumping?  What decisions need to be made to infuse strength back into the core of the organization? What are you doing this week to provide the resources needed to ensure that your organization is performing at its peak?


Photo © Jennifer Steck iStockPhoto

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