Best places

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Print this page by Bernie Niemeier
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Long ago, I ran barefoot in the summer down the path through the woods along Reedy Creek to a place we neighborhood kids called Big Rock.  The water flowed over a large stone, leaving a still pool where we floated homemade toy boats.

In my twenties, there was a small pond on a college friend’s family property on Big Lake in Northern Minnesota.  He and his mother worked together to build a short trail through the wetlands and spruce trees behind the pond.  I visited there again a couple of years ago.  It is still a very special place.

More recently, another friend and I stopped in Lexington after a day of shooting sporting clays to visit a fishing spot on the Maury River. The water flowed behind a cabin he lived in while going to law school at Washington and Lee.

I will always remember walking along the Pedlar River near Amherst with my father and brother, feeling the cork handle of a fly rod in my hand, testing our mink-oiled leather boots where the trail crossed the stream, hoping our feet stayed dry.

Everyone has memories of their best places.  More often than not, they aren’t just about the places themselves, but about the people we shared them with.

Our best places aren’t always outdoors.  In fact, some of them may not be places at all in the strict sense of the word. They may also be places where we have worked.  After all, we spend about a third of our adult life at work.

At its best, work can be a lot like play.  Remember that acquisition team you worked on in the 1990s?  It really was the people, the quality of the work, drinks and dinner at the end of the day, the camaraderie, a sense of building something bigger that made the work special.

Sometimes, it’s the advice you get from people, the lessons learned, that make a place memorable.  Like the time an early boss said, “Be patient; when better results come, we’ll enjoy them more,” or “Have the courage to be clear; people don’t do well with subtle signals.”

Best places create memories.  Hopefully, we can all recall that time or place or that person or group of people when things crystalized with a sense of opportunity, camaraderie and accomplishment.

Greatness doesn’t happen by chance.  Leadership plays a big role.  How can we create an environment where people feel a part of something larger than just their own effort? 
Leadership is different from management.  Management is focused on gaining compliance.  Leadership is about creating commitment.  A common thread in best places is that people feel committed to one another and share common beliefs that can lead to surprisingly great results.

Leaders are passionate about their organizations.  Their passion is apparent when they talk about the future.  They do this in a way that makes it clear the future can be much better than the present.  Imagine an organization where passion isn’t present.  What are the chances that growth will occur?  Passionate leadership unlocks the individual and collective power of employees, engaging them in creating a future that is much brighter than the present.

On Page 20 of this issue you will find our fourth annual list of Best Places to Work in Virginia.  These organizations have top-notch people and make it a priority to keep them.  “People” is the operative word; they are not just employees.  Companies that make our Best Places list find innovative ways to engage their folks, treating them as individuals, not as hired help.

So as you read these pages, give some thought to what’s working in your organization and what’s not.  Listening and learning from others is a great way to get better.  Coming out of a recession, this could be a real turnaround opportunity. 

We can all get better at creating great places.  It may not be quite the same as childhood, but business success also creates lasting friendships and great memories.

It is still early in the year, so here’s to our Best Places to Work in Virginia and the chance to build on their success in 2014!

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