Building Leaders

How to handle growth and support your corporate culture.

By IDEA Authors
Mar 31, 2007

In the first of this five-part series, we discussed what it takes to create and define a successful corporate culture (see February 2007 ITS, page 1). In this second installment, we’ll look at how you achieve that and how you help staff grow and flourish as people and professionals through the experience. This is a vital ingredient. To grow your business, leaders are needed to oversee projects and divisions and also to maintain continuity in the culture and operational style.

I prefer to develop leaders from within after matching personalities to the corporate culture. To foster and successfully handle growth, manage the mechanics of business operations, align new staff, evolve different systems and upgrade processes, you need to develop a team with the specific know-how, ethics, personality and culture you desire. Your team should reflect the top-quality reputation you have established. With a good team in place, you are able not only to replicate yourself, but also—eventually—to remove yourself from your leadership role in the day-to-day business operations and move into the elusive position of working on the business. This will free you up to focus on improving the team and positioning future opportunities that are in line with your vision and company values.

Build on Your Principles and Values

As your company grows, it will become more difficult to stay “hands-on” with all staff. “Assistant captains” will be required to deliver the same message in a similar way, drive the business using the same core values and fulfill duties with the same methods and style you have initiated. You can model the leadership traits you want, but at the end of the day your chosen assistant captains must have the core personality traits that will allow them to align themselves naturally with the principles and values you set. I have seen staff try to act as if they have certain virtues, but it hasn’t worked. No amount of mentoring can change deep-rooted traits that are counterproductive to your environment. People who do not fit with your values need to be completely removed from the company. That way, they can’t detract from the workplace environment nor draw an inequitable volume of time and attention away from the most competent team members, who can then grow and thrive as leaders.

Set the Tone From the Top—
What Is a Leader?

A leader is not necessarily an administrator, a manager, a person with a specific title or someone who expects others to just “follow instructions.” A leader is not the person with the loudest voice or someone who demands respect.

A true leader has vision and energy that attract others to his or her cause. A leader stimulates motivation through intrinsic drivers and has natural attributes that inspire commitment from others. He or she thinks in terms of what is best for the company and knows how to purposefully foster development in others so that they flourish as individuals and subsequently add more value to the group.

Leading in a manner that helps cultivate a constructive corporate culture is contagious. A true leader can achieve 100% buy-in from individuals, creating enthusiasm for the process and value from the experience for those who join the journey. A true leader helps people get to where they want to go. For corporate culture to flourish, staff must see their co-workers as a team—and see the team as a vehicle for everyone’s individual success. It is up to the principal leader to establish an environment that emphasizes the personal connection.

Develop Leadership—
The Inner Circle

Building a team requires consistency; you must set the stage to attract potential leaders, foster their emergence and define the environment that encourages them
to align long-term with your vision. As mentioned above, growing companies need assistant captains. These are the people who make up the inner circle. While Twist Conditioning works on a premise of inclusion and disclosure, more complex business plans are discussed in detail with the inner circle, owing to their history with the company, our relationships and the fact that they are charged with implementing processes within their divisions.

A true leader sets aside ego and the need to “win” or dominate a dialogue in exchange for input from others to determine the best go-forward strategies. A true leader establishes an environment that helps people feel comfortable stepping up and making decisions. Ninety percent of the time I have a course of action in mind, but I will defer to my inner circle, asking what they think, what ideas they have, how they would handle the issue and what we should do. This gives people a chance to offer their opinions, learn new business variables and gain confidence. They might not even realize they are in a purposeful learning experience; rather, they might assume their know-how is more advanced than it is and that I am reliant on them. Good. Eventually I will be. Once the company grows to a certain size, they have to be capable to lead independently.

Allow Autonomy in Leaders

Give people autonomy. Don’t micromanage—define the project or task; let your captains know the expectations; provide the necessary resources; offer feedback; then get out of the way and let your staff think through the steps on their own. Everyone needs the opportunity to tackle projects and learn from mistakes. To become leaders, people must learn to take initiative, think ahead and determine what’s needed to successfully complete a project. Although it might be tempting to offer advice, let your staff determine how to move ahead. Your role is to provide feedback and make sure they are going in the right direction.

Encourage Contribution
and Accountability

There are three interrelated variables that give more life to a constructive culture. When clear goals, support resources and accurate, timely feedback are present, the opportunity to work autonomously and truly put one’s stamp on a project can help anchor people into a business culture. My staff love to “sink their teeth” into a project and define something as their own. Their contribution, effort and willingness to try must be acknowledged and valued.

It is accountability that drives the self-assessment needed to upgrade skills and assure best efforts. Honesty in this regard is needed from the top. As I said in the February issue, I stand up in front of my team at meetings and admit failures, letting them know I am personally accountable and will learn from my mistakes. Even if there were extenuating circumstances, I still take responsibility and define what I could have done better to produce an outcome more in line with our goals and expectations. I may then also identify other team members who could get more involved by inputting strengths I may not have.

When staff get into the habit of making “no excuses,” they are in a cycle of learning and growing. As a leader, you want to accept or share responsibility for any company failures and acknowledge team members for any successes. This strengthens the team-based culture, encourages staff to tackle more responsibilities and in this way helps people learn and grow. So the cycle continues.

Leadership Development

Here are a few tips that have worked for us. The secret lies in setting the tone from
the top down and having your team create and share ideas from the bottom up.

  • Role-model your preferred leadership style and be an example of integrity.
  • Focus on quality and on making a positive impact.
  • Have fun and be human.
  • Be accountable for your failures, learn from them and act on what you’ve learned.
  • Avoid an ego-driven style; help staff step up and speak.
  • Provide staff with opportunities to put their stamp on projects.
  • Link a lofty vision and high expectations with a clear day-to-day game plan.
  • Make sure staff members are fully accountable.
  • Acknowledge effort and success.
  • Don’t micromanage; provide autonomy.
  • Help each individual mature, flourish and connect his or her growth to the team’s goals.

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