The role models around us

Sometimes, being a good role model is a good business decision, too.

Too often, our sons and daughters tend to look for role models in lofty places and many become disillusioned by the bad behavior some of them. Worse yet, some try to emulate that comportment.

The most admired people tend to be the teachers, neighbors, pastors and bosses who live in our home towns.

In 2013, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a psychology and brain science professor at the University of Massachusetts, wrote in Psychology Today (PT): “Role models who uphold high ethical or moral values are typically not the people whose stories make it to the press or social media.

Penn State researchers Michael Brown and Linda Trevino investigated ways that managers can be perceived as decent humans and ethical leaders. “The individual must be seen as a moral person who is honest, trustworthy, caring about people, open to input, respectful and able to make principled decisions,” reported in PT magazine.

Brown and Trevino observed that when employees have ethical leaders, they like them better and behave in more positive ways.

In New Zealand, the Father&Child Trust found the lack of male role models exists more in the community than at home. “Fathers may be present at home in a nurturing and high quality fashion, but men are all but absent from the wider community.”

In high school, we were blessed to have legendary teacher and coach. Harry “Swede” Dahlberg’s teams won a number of state championships over his 40-year career, but everyone admired him as an ethical family man who believed in hard work, following the rules and honesty. There was a reason former students stop by Butte High School to visit him. They knew he cared.

In college, a professor had us visit the neighborhood Dairy Queen. She would say if you really wanted to see how a good family business works, go down the street for an ice cream cone.

Art Mandell grew up on dairy farm in southern Minnesota. He met his wife, Joann, in high school and they raised five children. His only prior experience with Dairy Queen was stopping for a soft ice cream cone while delivering milk around Faribault.

In 1961, the Mandell’s saw an ad listing a DQ in Missoula for $17,000. They took a risk, bought the business and moved their family to Montana—a state they had never seen.

“Art may not have known much about business, but he worked hard, made friends and hired neighborhood girls to help him run the stand,” Missoulian reporter Michael Moore wrote.

More than 1,000 young people are Mandell DQ alumni.

Today, there is Mandell Scholarship at the University of Montana. Students perform 120 hours of community service each academic year in exchange for tuition, fees and books.

Mandell practiced punctuality, good customer service and treating people well. His farm-learned ability to improvise paid off.

For example, one day the meat packer mistakenly sent him foot-long hot dogs. Rather than sending them back, he posted a sign advertising foot-long hot dogs in regular buns. Guess where Missoula’s hot dogs business went?

If one of the servers makes a mistake such as dipping a vanilla cone in chocolate rather than cherry coating, Art doesn’t throw it the trash, he put it in the freeze. They are called mistakes, and kids asking for mistakes get them free. His “mistake policy” has become so popular that he devised a “baby cone” that he would give children when there were no slipups available.

There are millions unsung role models in business today. They are generous people who work hard to make our communities better places. Hopefully, their good examples are still contagious among teens.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

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