Last Friday we held the latest JuntoDay learning event, a mini-conference on leadership for growth-stage companies, featuring three accomplished CEOs:
Chris Considine - President of Onward Advising and Former CEO of Wilson Sporting Goods
Tom Gimbel - Founder/CEO of LaSalle Network
Adam Robinson - Co-founder/CEO of Hireology
All three shared the leadership philosophies, experiences, and practices that helped shape them as effective leaders who have built profitable companies recognized for workplace excellence. The following are three key lessons from each presenter's talk.
Focus on what you can control. Chris uses an adapted version of Stephen Covey's Circle of Concern which proposes that one should only focus on what they can influence rather than what they can't. In Chris' version, there is an additional circle in the middle to represent "control": those things that we don't just influence but actually have full control over. In his experience, this concept enabled him to be completely focused on producing results based on what he had power over and, as a leader, to get his team to remain focused as well.
Being direct bulids trust. Chris acknowledged that directness can sometimes be uncomfortable for other people but, in his experience, that typically fades fast and is often replaced by a sense of appreciation. He believes that by being direct, people aren't left wondering "What does s/he really think?" about an issue, situation, or person. And that by being direct, it helps build transparency in an organization. He was very clear that directness must be complemented by respect, dignity, and professionalism.
Leaders create culture. Culture drives behavior. Behavior produces results. This was perhaps my biggest personal takeaway from Chris' session. It so concisely captures everything about building a business is nine words that are simple, logical, rational, and complete. Yet, as any leader can tell you, the simplicity of it belies its enormous complexity. Chris relayed how much of his time he focused on driving culture, recognizing that his people would ultimately be inspired by it to do the right things in order to produce the results they were striving for.
Hire the right people. To help find the right culture fit between job candidates and the company, LaSalle Network uses interview questions such as: What did you want in your last role or current position that you didn't get?; When did you not get what you want? What was the worst company culture you worked in and how did you cope? In addition, the company looks for soft skills like sense of humor, humility, and initiatve. And finally, LaSalle has each candidate interview with at least three employees at different levels and assigns potential candidates projects as part of the recruiting process.
Over-communicate with your team. At LaSalle Network, Tom has advocated and implemented initiatives designed to create a culture of communication. The Staff Council is a select group of promising, engaged employees who meet regularly with leadership to address new ideas, existing initiatives, and company issues. Mentoring Programs connect new employees with experienced ones. Town Hall Meetings occur where the leadership team fields questions from all employees. And all managers must have at least two one-on-ones per month with their direct reports.
Train and develop managers. In addition to weekly management meetings, LaSalle Network encourages the ongoing development of its senior-level team. A Corporate Grandparenting program exists through which top executives take responsibility for the cultural mentorship of emerging managers two levels below the executive. And it emphasizes management training on compassion (personal, professional, genuine caring), collaboration (internal communication, peer communication), and competition (peer-to-peer, peer-to-manager, and company-wide).
Know your job as CEO. Adam compared and contrasted how his job has evolved as CEO, from the time Hireology was founded six years ago to today, when it has over 100 employees. While his day-to-day duties have obviously evolved, he said his core responsibilities are still four things: set and communicate strategy; execute revenue growth; create and scale the right culture; and make sure the company doesn't run out of cash.
Culture strategy varies by stage. Adam emphasized that during Hireology's seed stage, its culture focus was on things like whether the founding team was healthy or unhealthy, hiring all utility players, and selling new hires on hope and potential. But as the company evolved into its emerging stage, the company could sell new hires on financial rewards, was able to hire outsiders and specialists, and began to develop a specific people strategy as part of its business model.
Management tools change over time. Again, as the company began to grow, Adam recognized that the tools he and his team uses to lead must evolve as well. During its seed stage, those tools included informality, closeness, and daily all-company huddles. But over time, those tools became more sophisticated, developing into custom operating systems and reporting methodologies, quarterly and annual planning, and monthly all-company town halls.
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