Harvey Mackay Finding the courage to speak up

A.G. Lafley, chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, says that his mother told him to exhibit the courage of his convictions, encouraging him to have the confidence to be himself. Her advice stayed with Lafley when he almost left P&G in his sixth year there, according to an article in Fortune magazine.

Lafley says he accepted another job because he felt the bureaucracy of the company was smothering him, and he didn't think the company would change quickly enough to keep him satisfied. He submitted his resignation to his supervisor, Steve Donovan, who immediately tore it up.

Donovan told Lafley to leave and call him at home later in the evening. When the two talked, Donovan told Lafley not to go to the office the following week but to come and see him each night at his home. They’d discuss what Lafley had been going through. Donovan kept probing until he hit the crux of the problem: that Lafley couldn’t stand all the bureaucracy.

Donovan was direct. "You’re running away," he said. "You don’t have the guts to stay and change it. You’ll run from the next job, too."

Lafley said these words made him angry, so in order to prove that he was not running away, he stayed. That inspired him to speak up whenever something didn’t work. He says it was the beginning of his realization that you have to make up your mind to speak up if you really want to change things.


Like Lafley, I received some good parental advice from my father, who told me: "If you want to be seen, stand up. If you want to be heard, speak up."

As Robert Frost so eloquently put it: "Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it."

The expression "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" may be used in a negative way sometimes, but you have to let people know what’s eating at you. Don’t expect your supervisors to be mind readers; you have to let them know what you're thinking. You might have great ideas, but how will anyone be aware of them if you don’t share them?

Investment mogul Charles Schwab said, "I’ll pay more for a man’s ability to express himself than for any other quality he might possess."

Management guru Peter Drucker claimed that 60 percent of all management problems were the result of faulty communications ... and that includes people not speaking up.

Chances are, others share your concern. It takes courage to speak up — perhaps there's a fear of retaliation, concern about being labeled a complainer or a reluctance to rock the boat. Stay calm, be logical and present your case in a clear and positive way. No whining! Waiting to see if things get better on their own isn’t a reasonable strategy. The following story might convince you.

A young man on an important business trip suddenly realized that the next day was his wedding anniversary. Remembering that his wife was fond of a canary he had given her, the man called a pet shop in their hometown.

The pet-shop owner said, "You are really in luck. I have just received a special breed of parrot, extremely rare and most intelligent. In fact, this parrot speaks six languages."


The $2,000 bird was delivered to his wife early the next morning with a card that said, "My own words cannot express my love for you."

When he returned from his trip a few evenings later, his wife greeted him and said that the bird he had sent her was in the oven and would be ready in 30 minutes.

"You are cooking what?" gasped the husband. "Darling, that is a rare talking parrot that cost me almost $2,000. It can speak six different languages! How could you make such a mistake?"

His wife replied, "Nobody told me anything about six different languages. That bird looked right at me while I was getting ready to cook it. If it was so smart, why didn’t it speak up?"

Mackay’s Moral: If you don’t speak up, prepare to put up.

Harvey Mackay is a Minnesota businessman and author.

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