The ideal Tires Plus employee possessed six qualities. Scott McPhee, our retail operations veep, coined the acronym COPPSS to make these attributes easy to remember: Caring, Optimistic, Passionate, Persistent, Systems disciplined, and Spirit-filled. We snapped up everyone we could who embody these six qualities:
Twenty-four years in my workplace laboratory convinced me there are two kinds of employees—those who are deflated by mixing with the public and those who are energized by it. The distinction may initially be difficult to discern. Nineteen out of twenty applicants for client-service jobs will assure you, “I love working with people!” Yet six months into the job, the self-proclaimed “people person” is bellowing, “These people are driving me nuts!” We sought out employees who loved to make someone’s day. Every business, regardless of its offering, is in the business of helping people. Every employee, no matter how removed from customers and colleagues, contributes to the organization’s CQ. The higher the CQ, the more harmony in the workplace. That means a happier, more productive hive.
In the Optimism Olympics, Eddie Haskell would be barred from the stadium. At best, Eddie’s oily brand of optimism on Leave It to Beaver was annoying. So is the modern corporate yes-man equivalent. At worst, it perpetuates dishonest behavior. On the opposite end, overt negativism kills initiative and deadens spirits. It’s also contagious. I’ve seen one employee with a rotten attitude seductively infect his colleagues until a black cloud hovered over an entire department. Grousing about coworkers is especially toxic..
Selling a new idea to colleagues is like a district attorney trying to persuade a jury to lock up the bad guy: Conviction equals success. More precisely, success hinges on the passion of your convictions. In its purest form, passion is the combustible mixture of meaning and purpose. A passionate pitch is more likely to get a warm reception. But check yourself, don’t get volcanic. Quiet, controlled passion also packs influence. Besides, erupting too often raises eyebrows. People are more apt to help someone who maintains an even keel and hollers, “Man overboard!” only after a really loud splash.
Our first three tire stores were small converted service stations that also sold gasoline. With the late-’70s energy crisis in full swing, my gasoline allocation was grossly inadequate and I struggled to meet payroll. So I wrote an appeal letter to the federal government for more gas. Denied. I called the Department of Energy’s Midwest office in Chicago to request a meeting with the director, Ray Fiene. Denied. I was told in no uncertain terms that Mr. Fiene was unavailable. Undaunted, I hopped a plane to Chicago and tried to sweet-talk his receptionist. Denied. Now, I had seen his picture once, so I plopped down, scanned the lobby, and waited. And waited. A few hours later, there he was, shuffling past me on his way to the men’s room. Golden opportunity.
In my younger, ego-drenched days, I often challenged the authority—professionally and privately—and relished every opportunity to beat the system. Hindsight is humbling. It’s now clear that playing by the rules produces less chaos and honors others more.
On a Paris business trip in 1998, I had the honor of meeting François Michelin, then seventy-three years old and head of the company bearing his name. Impressed with his vitality, I asked how he stayed in great shape. “Spirit!” he told me. “When translated into Greek, pneu, the French word for ‘tire,’ means spirit. Air is to the tire as spirit is to the human body.” He emphasized the point by giving me a big hug. Wow, I thought, I hadn’t realized I was in such a spirit-filled business.
Connecting with spirit is a primal need. Mythologist Joseph Campbell spoke of our innate desire to “feel the rapture of being alive.” I felt this euphoria of living more intensely the more I avoided spiritual tranquilizers—unhealthy food, booze, no exercise, denial, guilt, inappropriate anger. Russian philosopher P. D. Ouspensky explained that most of us move through life in a waking sleep that prevents us from tapping into our spirit. If that sounds familiar, stop hitting the snooze button. It’s time to wake up.