The goal is always to set up a framework for a culture that gets your team focused on positive results more than who gets the credit. Once that is established, you have to keep reminding yourself of that and modeling it for others, he says.
The most successful teams that Shumate has either helped build or been a part of thrived when people came together to work and left their egos at the door. Shumate’s guiding principle for collaboration is to seek to understand as well as be understood, while also remaining sensitive to timing. He says sometimes you need to slow down and allow things to percolate with other people, before moving forward.
Listen well and ask good questions
In addition to running a law firm, Shumate’s mindset of continuous improvement is aided by his involvement with other organizations.
He’s serving his third term on The Ohio State University’s board of trustees, currently as the chair. He has been part of The Columbus Partnership for more than a decade, a civic engagement that has broadened his scope, perspective and interests. He also serves on the board of directors for The J.M. Smucker Co. and Dallas-based CyrusOne.
Shumate says as a board member, it’s important to remember you’re not there for management or operations.
“It’s challenging for some people to change hats, but successful board members understand the difference and actively remind themselves of the role they play,” he says.
The most important thing, though, is to listen.
“I’ve got a day job and it’s not being the professor at Ohio State or the president of one of the divisions of Smucker,” Shumate says. “So, one of the most important skills is to be a good listener and then to ask good questions.”
However, today’s board members need to invest more time than was the case before the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It’s a more demanding commitment because of the fiscal responsibilities and focus on shareholder value, he says.
For example, Shumate might spend his weekend reading to get ready for a Smucker’s board meeting — digesting and analyzing the material that’s going to be presented. He has to look at not just the financial aspects, but also the strategic aspect of what’s going on with customers and other initiatives.
Timothy P. Smucker knows Shumate as both the chairman emeritus of Smucker Co. and as a fellow Ohio State trustee.
“Alex’s qualities of inclusion and listening are hallmarks of his contributions,” Smucker says. “He clearly understands the role of a trustee or a member of a board of directors is to focus on strategy, management development and succession planning. In his listening ability, he senses the importance of key issues and is able to determine what to focus on, when it is appropriate to include others and who should be brought into the decision-making process.”
Smucker has noticed that Shumate is eager to get to know all constituents in the university and/or business, which gives him a thorough understanding of the talents and cultures of the respective organizations with which he works.
“This approachable mannerism encourages deep and broad relationships within the community and thus he is known as someone who will provide leadership and ‘get things done,’” he says.