Caring leadership

 When Kenneth E. Smith says his objective is to be a servant leader, he wants to make it clear what he means.

“Sometimes the phrase ‘servant leadership’ is misunderstood,” he says. “For me, it’s important folks understand a servant leader isn’t necessarily someone who does the work of others but rather enables others to do their work.”

The leadership style is breeding success for the president of HB Maynard Co., a $14 million international consulting, software and training business dedicated to providing solutions to improve work force performance. The company employs more than 100 people. Smart Business spoke with Smith about servant leadership and how a CEO can become a better leader.

How do you train employees to work within your leadership style?
It’s articulated in our values. When folks join us, we begin talking right away about the servant leadership style or approach. We provide their early training exposure to our servant leadership model.

Our model helps to articulate to folks that if you are going to enable somebody to succeed, you first need to care about them. You need to take the time to build a relationship with them and understand what their capabilities are.

Through that model, we provide training to all of our folks that helps them in each segment of the model. What are the things you do to build relationship with others? What are the things you do to demonstrate your care and concern to others?

What things should a leader avoid doing in business?
You’ve to be careful not to put the focus on yourself. (Jim) Collins does a great job in “Good to Great” when he talks about the Level 5 leader and uses his various analogies that the person who puts the focus on themselves or is very self-interested is going to lose the trust of the people they are leading.

You have to have a sincere concern for the people you’re leading and a sincere desire to see them succeed. We’re all selfish at heart. Can you manage that so you keep your focus on others and be careful not to become self-interested?

The examples I’ve seen over time of leaders who have taken a downfall quickly is when, all of sudden, they have become self-interested.

What qualities are needed to succeed in business?
You need to clearly articulate what your values are, and you need to understand them. Then you need to have integrity with those values.

A lot of times, folks use the term integrity, and to me, it’s not a value. To have integrity is to live according to the values you do espouse.

You really need to develop and articulate vision. That’s a challenging thing. You’ve got to have the courage to share your dreams and ideas and to listen to people’s feedback and continue to see those ideas evolve and grow.

You’ve got to work hard at being able to articulate those and think about different ways to articulate those to different groups within your company, so people clearly understand where you want to head.

How do you make yourself a better CEO?
It’s a constant learning process. It’s very important to listen to others, and it’s important to make sure those others come from different types of organizations.

I certainly want to learn from other folks running consulting-type organizations, but I’m involved in a handful of nonprofit charitable organizations around the Pittsburgh area.

I would like to think that I’m adding values to those, but I take quite a bit of value from those. There are some really great leaders in those organizations.

How do you handle failing at something?
You just acknowledge that we are a learning organization, we won’t do everything right and we need to keep trying.

We had a recognition system in place a couple years ago. There was some good thinking in there, but the reality was, it only focused on public recognition.

We stepped back and realized, as a company, that this is OK, but this really isn’t the answer. We need to keep learning. We weren’t afraid to take that board down and say we need to start over and step back and learn more and see what other companies are doing.

That’s the real difference between the companies that continue to grow and the ones that don’t. Companies that continue to grow recognize it’s OK to take risks and make mistakes.

You’ve got to learn from them and keep pressing forward and not be afraid to stop doing things.

How to reach: HB Maynard, (412) 921-2400 or