Jim McCann of 1-800-Flowers.com on the Art of Conversation Leadership
Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-Flowers.com, shares his most effective leadership tool: good conversation.
When Jim McCann says, “Tell me something I don’t know,” he’s not being sarcastic. McCann is CEO and founder of 1-800-FLOWERS.com, the $735.5 million florist and gift company, based in Westbury, New York. His recent book, Talk Is (Not!) Cheap: The Art of Conversation Leadership limns a management style based on curiosity, relationships, a sincere interest in other people, and a smidgen of goofiness. In a recent conversation, McCann explained to Inc. editor-at-large Leigh Buchanan how he chats, jokes, and queries his way to insights and information.
You are the boss. How do you put people at sufficient ease to have a conversation with you?
There are two things. This goes back 100 years to when I worked in a group home for young men. The mistake I made at first was to try to have a relationship with the group. You don’t have relationships with groups. You have relationships with individuals. I had to find different ways to make contact. There was this one kid, Joe, who was very tough to connect with. He had a touching issue. If you touched him, he would go off. Lose control. It was very tough for me to reach Joe. But, slowly, we built a relationship. It got so that on my shift, when I first saw him, I would purposely bump into him. Two months earlier, that would have caused a riot. But now he realized that was our special way to say hello. It would go to the extreme where I would sneak up behind him–he always knew I was coming–and I would mess up his hair. He had long black hair that was always combed just so with a clean part off to the side. He’d say, “Oh, he did it again.” And he would have to go to the bathroom and comb it, just so. That’s my thing to this day. I don’t always mess up people’s hair. But if you are walking down the hall, I will make believe I am bumping into you. Or I’ll make believe I am going to trip you while I am standing there in conversation with someone else. You can’t help but laugh. And you get the sense that I am approachable and that I want this to be a place where we don’t take ourselves too seriously. So I use humor and I use the bump.