Mark Scott: Why it matters what your employees think of you

Rick Fezell gets it. Why else would he jump into the icy waters of Lake Michigan in the middle of January? As the new managing partner for EY’s Midwest Region, Fezell wanted to show everyone that there was another side to his personality than just being the boss. He was willing to step out of his comfort zone and do something that a lot of people think is completely crazy.

But as much as his polar plunge got everyone talking, it’s the more subtle actions taken by Fezell that demonstrate his understanding of what it means to be a strong leader in today’s fast-paced world.

While he was born and raised in Pennsylvania, he had spent most of his career working in California. It was there that he and his wife raised their family and built a life. The move to Chicago in 2012 was a great opportunity, but it was also a huge adjustment for his family. Fezell understood that if he couldn’t help his family adapt to their new home, it wouldn’t matter how successful he was at EY.

So he worked hard to build relationships with his new colleagues and other key people he would be working with. But he also managed his schedule so he would be home in the evenings as often as possible to have dinner with his family. There wasn’t much time to rest, but Fezell understood his leadership responsibilities both at work and at home.


Be real

It’s easier than ever to stay in touch with your work these days, but that often makes it harder than ever to disconnect from the office and have a little down time. The problem is if you try to go too long without taking those moments to step away, you risk burning yourself out.

But you also risk setting the wrong tone with your people. Everyone understands that you’re the boss who makes the key decisions that shape the direction of your company. But being the boss doesn’t mean you have to be distant and aloof and project an image that you’re different from your employees.

It could be as simple as sitting with a group in the lunchroom — or maybe just stopping by someone’s cubicle in the afternoon to talk about family or the big game last night.

If you’re really bold, maybe you’ll find an opportunity to jump in the lake in the middle of winter. But the point is that you find some way to relate to your people so they see you as a man or woman who has some of the same challenges and obstacles in life that they do.


Still the leader

A brash action doesn’t chip away at your authority. You’ll still be the leader and command the same level of respect even if you take your jacket off for 10 minutes and shoot hoops in the parking lot with your customer service team.

But when you leave a little early one day to watch your son play T-ball, and let your employees do the same thing, you’ll also send the message that family is just as important as business. And what better message could you send about what your company stands for than that?


Mark Scott is senior associate editor of Smart Business Chicago. If you have an interesting story to share about a person or business making a difference in Chicago, please send an email to [email protected] You can also follow us on Twitter at @SmartBiz_CHI