Leading From the Front
Leading From the Front – an interview with Thad Bench, BW Health Group founder and CEO
Since founding Benchworks nearly 30 years ago, Thad Bench has been a driving force behind its evolution and emergence into a family of companies, recognized for the past 5 years by Inc. as one of the 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America.
We sat down with Thad recently to ask him to share his experience and insights on what leadership and being a leader means to him.
How do you lead a team under normal conditions and how does that change in an environment like we’re in now?
Transparency and telling it like it is, I think, are very important. It’s absolutely imperative that people know the truth in real time. I recently had a company wide chat during which I went through all of our financial metrics – and everything looks good. I told everyone that we are very fortunate, as an organization, to be doing well in the midst of this crisis – but I also said that I don’t know if this will last.
Ultimately, being transparent makes for a more satisfied and, quite frankly, a more motivated workforce because they know what they’re getting is the truth. Withholding things is much more worrisome to folks than getting the truth, even if it’s bad news. They need to know what’s going on. And then if you have to ask them to do some belt tightening, they understand why.
Given the uncertainty in today’s world, for example, we’ve asked our leadership to make financial sacrifices just as we’ve asked our staff to do the same in terms of this year’s bonuses. There’s no “hiding the ball.” In case we do hit a commercial headwind, we have the capital to preserve jobs.
Let’s say you’re talking to someone who is just stepping into a management role – a person who is being promoted because they have the qualities of a good manager but have never actually managed people before. What kind of advice would you give them about how to manage people, and how to manage themselves?
I think the foremost management tenet that I have for myself and for those who are in leadership positions within the organization is to push authority out. You have a team – empower them to make decisions and own those decisions. If they’re good decisions, terrific. If they make mistakes, that’s okay (as long as, obviously, they’re not huge mistakes). But you have to let people do their jobs, make decisions, and come to you for guidance. Of course, for big decisions, you’re going to have to be part of them.
I know it’s overquoted now – the Steve Jobs quote – but I do believe it. “You don’t hire smart people to tell them what to do; you hire smart people and they tell you what to do.” That’s really good advice. The other thing, from a selfish perspective, is that if you build an organization that is leader-centric, it can’t function without a lot of direct input from the company leader – and then you’re not building anything that has value.
I want to build an organization where, if, heaven forbid, I get hit by a beer truck or I decide to go sailing and remove myself from the day-to-day activities, it can carry on. It should be able to function well without me. And, obviously, that’s a function of scale. You have to have an organization that has sufficient size.
In my view, where leaders fall down is that they hire colleagues who make them feel comfortable rather than challenge them. “I won’t be shown up” or “my subordinate won’t know more about something than I do.” Even if you have a boss, hiring someone who knows more than you do shows that you have confidence, know how to hire really good people, and can develop a high-performance team. In most cases, that only reflects well on you and advances your career.
Leading From the Front is an ongoing series. Read “What Mistakes Do Leaders Make?“, Part 2 of the series.