Leadership Lessons of Chocolate

Milton Hershey and Forrest Mars were different types of leaders who both built successful companies. We can learn much from them:

1.) There’s no one way to lead. Milton was a dreamer; he wanted to build a worker’s utopia. His people loved him. He ran his business with his heart. Mars was a tyrant with an obsession for quality. His people feared him, but he paid incredibly well and was driven to achieve excellence. He ran his business with his head. Don’t lock your leaders (or yourself) into one leadership style.

2.) The right data is crucial. For years, Milton just focused on making good chocolate. The company was insular, hiring local people, not bringing in outsiders. When two top men defected from Mars and joined Hershey, they were shocked to find no data being gathered. As long as Hershey made a profit, management figured things were okay. When the newcomers began gathering market data, they found out 30% of products were out of stock in stores nationwide. This was a disaster—and no one had even known! Meanwhile Mars was measuring everything and gladly filling up all the empty spaces with its candy. Leaders have to gather the right data (employee satisfaction, customer opinions, etc.) to continue to grow their companies and maintain success.

3.) Different rewards work for different people. At Hershey, workers were toiling for the boys school and for their way of life. They lived in a city built by profits from the factory. At Mars, there was a profit sharing plan and bonuses for those who were never late. Leaders have to find out what rewards are meaningful to their people and tie those rewards to results. Many of the companies I work with have no rewards tied to the performance they desire. Customer service people are expected to save sales and retain customers but few get any type of reward for doing so. Many companies only give service awards which sometimes are given to the slackest employees. You get rewarded for just continuing to show up! What do you reward?

4.) Know your strengths and weakness and build your team accordingly. Milton Hershey loved to start things—inventing new candies, opening factories. That was his strength. He dreaded the day-to-day operations and wasn’t good at them. He was smart enough to hire a second in command who excelled in that area. Great leaders have to be freed up to make the most of their strengths. They have to hire those who are strong where they are weak.

5.) Great leaders walk the talk. Milton was passionate about chocolate, constantly trying to make it better, to develop new candies. He was in there struggling with the process himself. His followers could see his commitment. Forrest saw candy as a product. He wanted it to be good, but his passion was business excellence and growth. He was always working harder than anyone else in his company. Leaders have to be walking examples of the values they want their followers to have. This doesn’t mean either man was scrubbing toilets to show he wouldn’t ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. It means both were living icons of the values they wanted their people to hold. What values do you want your followers to hold? Do you even know? Once you know what they are—do you really exemplify them? If you say customer service is your main priority, yet you haven’t spoken with a customer in 15 years, you’re not walking the talk.

Here’s to the Hershey’s Kiss, the Mars Bar and the men who made them possible! Bravo!

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