The Leadership of Honest Don

Paul Reuter, Founder and former CEO, CSP

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I was amazed to learn that since Presi­dent Abraham Lincoln’s death in 1865, there have been more than 16,000 books written about him, including four new ones that have either been or will soon be published. One has reported sales of more than $2 million. Quick math says that in the 137 years since his death, an average of 10 books a month about him have come off the press. And a new movie on President Lincoln comes out this Christmas.

Overall there are 129 million books in the world, according to Google. The topic of leadership leads the subject list, and President Lincoln is the most written-about individual.

OK, so where am I going with this? Well, first, regardless of the number of volumes produced, the opportunity to learn something new never ceases.

I am pretty sure Don Zietlow will not have 16,000 books—if any—published about him. (In fact, if he had his way, I doubt he would approve this column.) Jim Collins’ research on leadership qualities is very clear: Level 5 leaders are humble. And frankly, Don (pictured, center, with CSP CEO Mike Wood and yours truly) takes the word “humble” to a whole new level.

Each year for the past 10, I have had the privilege of being a part of our annual Retail Leader awards dinner and CSP cover story. Researching and selecting the honoree begins a year out. Once the CSP team has made its selection, I contact the per­son to see if he or she will accept. I have consistently found on my first contact a resistance to accept. Always the reply is, “This award should not be given to me, but to our team.” And for sure, Don was no different: “It’s not about me, and I do not want to be singled out for any award.”

However, over some time and conver­sation, we all get to understand the award is indeed about the team. But we also acknowledge the culture and success of that team has to be attributed to the leader.

At our CSP Retail Leader of the Year dinner in Las Vegas, Sonja Hubbard may have summed it up best: “Don is so will­ing to share. He’s so humble. It’s all about his team. He gives them full credit and truly recognizes their value.”

Don’s leadership quality and his humil­ity are infectious, and it’s what happens with great leadership. It creates a culture that multiplies itself in the company, in the families and in the community.

Kwik Trip has been an enduring role model for other companies to study. Don and his family have arranged a benefit package that contributes 40% of prof­its to employees. This is unheard of in almost any industry.

This annual project has been my favor­ite activity every year. I always walk away from the experience inspired and a better person from the learning and the engage­ment with the honored guest. This year’s has topped my list.

When we find great leadership, we need to celebrate it and learn from it. Don, thank you for showing us the worth of great values: family first, hard work, caring, sharing and, overall, how we all can grow and teach ourselves to be leaders.

When in Vegas, we always have fun at least once with the expression “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Well, not this time.

I know you will enjoy our December cover story on Kwik Trip and coverage of our event. Email me at [email protected] if you would like to see the 15-minute video we produced and premiered at the dinner.

And Don, when you are ready for your book, let me know. I would love to work on it. I’m not sure we will rival Abe Lin­coln or make a movie, but I do guarantee its quality. The subject is just too good not to be a hit!

As we all get ready to celebrate this special time of the year, let’s remember we are all leaders and can in so many ways touch the lives of others. And as we do, let’s take a moment to appreciate how much we have to be thankful for.

May you and your loved ones have the best holiday season ever!

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