Can Personal Tales of Adversity Fire Up the Staff
Many companies schedule annual meetings to give employees and update on the current status of the organization and involve them in developing plans for the future. At a one-week retreat for 300 Cisco Systems, Inc. finance managers, the first order of business was a series of strategy sessions. This was followed by some team-building activities. Then came a visit by a blind man.
In an after-lunch speech, Erik Weihenmayer described his bitterness as a teenager over losing his sight. He explained how he channeled his anger into rock climbing and dreamed of climbing Mount Everest. After some brief introductory comments, managers of the computer-networking company watched a video that showed Mr. Weihenmayer picking his way past deep crevasses until he reached the top of Mount Everest. Near the end of his presentation, he told the audience it is possible to use adversity to propel you forward.
Several years ago, Plug Power, Inc., an alternative energy company, was facing serious economic problems. The company was an energy success story in 2000, with stock briefly trading $150 a share. A few years later, the company’s shares had declined to single-digit levels. Roger Saillant, CEO, decided Plug Power employees needed to hear an inspirational speaker. He spent $5,000 to bring Trisha Meili to its corporate office in Latham, NY. In 1989, Meili was assaulted in Central Park and left for dead. After a long recovery, she published her memoirs and began her speaking career. She tells her audiences about learning to walk again after spending months in a coma. She had been in a near-death state but was able to make a recovery. Saillant says she struck a chord with Plug Power employees who were working hard to keep the company alive.
Today, organizations are spending hundreds of millions a year on speakers. Theses speaker lists include Mia Hamm (U.S. Women’s Gold Metal Soccer Team), Greg Gadson (decorated U.S. Army Commander), Erin Brockovich (whistleblower), and many others.
1. Many inspirational speakers attempt to take the audience on an emotional journey. They try to erase cynicism and complacency and get employees fired up about their jobs. Do you think organizations should rely on inspirational speakers to build passion among their workers during challenging times? Discuss your answer
2. Let’s assume your company has spent a large sum of money to bring in Lance Armstrong. He makes an enthusiastic presentation and receives a standing ovation. Define what steps your company would need to take to ensure that this enthusiasm transfers back on the job during the weeks and months ahead. Be specific as you describe your recommendations.
3. Jordan Romeo and Laura Dekker set important records during their teen years. Should they consider a career as an inspirational speaker?
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