By Susan Hitchcock
Founder & Host Emerita of Women in Leadership
I love the title of Lyn and Bob Turknett’s book, Decent People Decent Company: How to Live with Character at Work and in Life. I remember when I first heard the title. Never had I heard anyone in the business world use the term “decent” to describe a leader or a company. I wondered, “Why not?”
To me, a decent person is a good person; a respectable person; a person who holds himself/herself to a higher standard; and a person who does the right thing even when it may not be to his/her advantage. A decent person is also a person of unequivocal integrity and solid values.
When I think of these attributes, the best leader I ever worked for immediately comes to mind. Richard K. (Dick) Snelling was the Executive Vice President of Network for BellSouth Corporation. He was an officer with Southern Bell and BellSouth for many years, reported directly to the president and CEO and had responsibilities for tens of thousands of employees across 9 states. Dick Snelling was a highly respected “guru” in technology and was known around the world as a visionary in telecommunications, broadband and other advanced technology. He delivered over a hundred keynote speeches in major forums on the subject of wireless technology, foreseeing the future of cell phones and fiber to the home.. During the planning for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Dick Snelling was the chairman of the technology committee. Actually, a major reason Atlanta was chosen for the Olympics Games was because of the “fiber optic ring” around the metro area. It was Dick Snelling who made that happen.
With all his accomplishments as a professional engineer as well as numerous honors and awards as a telecommunications executive, he was even more extraordinary as a decent individual who cared about people as well as results. In the mid 90’s, Snelling created a vision called “Network 2000.” This was a strategic plan that laid out what the organization should be like in the year 2000 and beyond. Snelling’s vision included a culture of respect and responsibility for all employees. One of the key components was more training and development for managers and non-management employees with the idea of helping everyone be the best they could be and maximizing their potential.
Dick Snelling loved to meet with people in his organization and travelled to every district to talk about his vision. While he always had extremely high standards and set very challenging goals for the organization, he also shared something about himself. He often said, “When I think about life and work, I put God first, my family second, and the company third.” To me, this was not only Dick Snelling showing vulnerability by sharing his personal beliefs, he was also demonstrating decency and authenticity as an individual and as a leader.
In over 5 decades of work experience as a leader myself, I’ve never known a better role model for what a decent person and decent leader should be. While he passed away a number of years ago, his legacy of decency and great leadership lives on. In February 2006 at Turknett’s annual Leadership Character Awards program, Dick Snelling was honored with the only posthumous award ever presented.