Consensus leader

Everyone who works in Phil
Blair’s office knows that he has a short attention span.

The co-CEO and co-owner of
Manpower Staffing of San Diego
admits that he bores easily, so
he doesn’t expect his employees
to sit through long-winded staff
meetings, communicate via
impersonal memos or prepare
reams-long reports — the standard at many companies.

Instead, Blair prefers “management by wandering,” walking through his administrative
office, communicating with his employees in person and doing
a visual checkup of their stress
levels. He would rather talk with
employees than get an e-mail
from them, and he says they
prefer that, as well.

Blair, who also serves as
president of the San Diego
Regional Chamber of Commerce,
leads a staff of 100 people,
who manage 3,000 temporary
workers daily through his company’s six countywide branches.

His franchise posted 2007
revenue of $85 million, and
Blair anticipates 2008 revenue
of $95 million.

Smart Business spoke with
Blair about how he communicates
with his staff and how he makes
sure that everyone is heard.

Be inclusive. I like to have
everybody give their fair share
of input. I like to come to a
consensus on a decision, but I
also understand that sometimes the buck clearly stops
with me, and I have to do
what’s best for the business. I
may have more of a 35,000-foot-level view on issues than
my staff may have, and they
need to understand that.

Everybody understands that
they get to have input. Often
they get to have a vote, but I
hold a veto. I play it very
rarely, but when I do, I explain
it very thoroughly so that they
respect it. They may not agree
with it, but they respect it, and
that is important.

Otherwise, employees may
say, ‘I work for a consensus
leader, except he ignores
everything I say. He goes
through the game, and we
waste time giving our opinion
and discussing issues because
he’s already made up his mind
when he walked in the room.’
Many times, I don’t want to
lead the discussion with my
staff; I just want to be in the
room, listen to their thoughts,
let them come to their conclusion and let them make their

Many times in those meetings, it’s not worth playing my
trump card. I understand their
thinking, and the decision is
not what I would have done,
but it makes sense, and there
is either value in the win or
education in the loss. Sometimes, you have to learn
through your errors. I’m never
there to say my decision is
always the perfect one and the
right one.

Don’t nurture the yes-men. When
someone sees the CEO going
down the wrong path, sometimes they’re afraid to say anything, or they don’t bother saying anything because the
CEO’s going to do what he
wants to do anyway, so why
ruffle the feathers?

Just the opposite: I want
them to fight heartily for their
point of view until I’ve either
blessed it or not. I like people
that challenge me, make me
think and make me a better

If we’re discussing an issue, I
will lob out my concerns and
will give them a chance to sell
me on their point of view.
Rarely do I say, ‘I’ve got to
think about this for a few
days.’ I like to leave them saying, ‘I’m not with you yet on
this. Let’s meet again about it
because it’s probably important to you.’