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"Y People" and "Why People"

On November 9, I presented the highlights of The Leading from the Heart Workshop at the Michigan YMCA Key Leaders Conference. Over 300 of the YMCA's best were at the summit and their dedication was unmistakable. Rarely do you find that many people so passionate about their cause, their organization, and each other.

I've had the good fortune to interact with YMCA staff workers for a number of years, first in my role as a banker, and lately as a leadership speaker. I've grown accustomed to hearing them describe themselves as "Y People." As a mission-driven organization devoted to building strong kids, strong families, and strong communities, the Y attracts a deeply caring group of individuals. That its employees recognize their unique altruistic qualities as part of a shared corporate personality explains the Y's sustained growth.

Also adding to the Y's success is an unrelenting willingness to question the status quo. Once an organization of Christian men, the Y now includes members and employees of any sex, religion, race, or nationality. The penchant for challenging tradition was exhibited in the successful merger of The YMCA of Greater Toledo and the city's Jewish Community Center.

Leadership often requires questioning convention. Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazil-based Semco, described his company's philosophy in his book, The Seven Day Weekend. "If we have a cardinal strategy that forms the bedrock for all our practices, it may be this: Ask why. Ask it all the time, ask it any day, every day, and always ask it three times in a row."

Semler admits that asking questions is unnatural. We're taught early in life that asking too many questions is impolite. And asking questions might betray our ignorance. But by challenging useless and out-of-date rules, leaders are adhering to the values of their organizations, living up to their responsibilities, and upholding the trust placed in them.

And, as Semler reminds us, organizations must avoid what he calls "calcified" thinking, "that state of mind where ideas have become so hardened that they're no longer of any use." It's a strategy that works for his company. In ten years, Semco's annual revenues grew from $35 million to $212 million. "Employees must be free to question, to analyze, to investigate; and a company must be flexible enough to listen to the answers."

It takes a special type of person to enter the ranks of "Y People." Likewise, it takes an extraordinary leader to become a "Why Person" and to encourage your employees to be "Why People." Join the "Why" in your area today!
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