Leaders need to be part of the action

Last time, we talked about the need for leaders to be “doers” – can you talk more about why that’s important?

The only way to know what’s going on at “the front” is to stay in the trenches. That’s why another big mistake that leaders make is that they stop talking to clients. You can say, “I have people on the account who handle the relationship” – but if you really want to know how well you’re doing as an organization, you need to go out and talk to clients yourself.

That’s why I try to spend as much time as I can in client conversations: I want to see what is and isn’t working, and where we can improve. It actually goes beyond just the talking – I also want to thank them for choosing and staying with us. We’re a small family business – when you share your genuine thanks with the people who make your business possible, well, that’s the bread and butter. That’s how you own the relationship.

You also want to know who your clients are because people change – both your staff and the people for whom you work. If a person managing a client account leaves, you need to know where that relationship stands and be able to maintain it. The only way you can do that is if you know what your people are doing and you maintain a high level of personal awareness of and with the client – that’s how you avoid business migration.

What other aspects of the business require leaders to be actionable?

It is critically important to understand your business’ financial metrics. For me, if someone presents a new business opportunity and it doesn’t make sense after I’ve heard the first and second telling, then I generally don’t pursue it: either it’s too complicated or I’m not smart enough to understand it. What I need to know is simple: “How do you make money when you – or I – do this?” If that isn’t crystal clear, then it’s not worth pursuing.

That’s why, as I’ve said, leaders need to be committed to continuous learning and fully understanding their business – I learned those lessons the hard way. In 2008-09, I had an underdeveloped understanding of the balance sheet – how important it is to an organization. Well, I learned that in a hurry. From that point forward, as a leader and a company, we’ve been very focused in on making sure our financial house is in order and as strong as it can be.

How do you keep your team as strong as it can be?

While publicly recognizing people for their good work is important, letting people do their jobs is more important. People hate being micromanaged – it’s a terrible environment in which to work. Show your people that you are confident in their skills and that you trust their judgment – that’s the best recognition.

Of course, there are instances when I don’t agree with a strategy or tactic. If it’s something about which I feel strongly, then I’ll step in. Usually, though, it’s more productive to give people the green light and say, “I have concerns with this, but I’m going to let you own and execute on it and see how it goes.” Most of the time it works, and you’ve now done a few things: You’ve shown the person running with the idea that you trust them, that you have their back, and you have empowered them to try new things. Together, that is a huge morale builder and more rewarding than any recognition I or the company could give them. Without them, there truly is no company…or me as its leader.