Stan Friedman learned early on that if you’re not taking care of your people, your people won’t take care of you. And he’s applied that lesson to grow RetroTax — which helps business owners obtain tax credits and incentives — into a company that posted 2007 collected tax credits of $20 million.
Friedman, the company’s co-founder, president and chief operating officer, says executives need to take care of their employees and make sure they feel engaged in the company’s direction to keep them with you.
“Give them opportunities to grow a career in a path that will enable them to never have to leave you, to be able to grow and advance, stay where they are and continue to enhance their career right here,” he says.
Smart Business spoke with Friedman about how to set your company’s compass and how to set an example for your employees to follow.
Q. What are the keys to effective leadership?
Being an effective leader is having a compass, then reading it and following it. That compass can encompass some internal things that are instinctive. It can encompass some external things like being able to correctly navigate and see where you are and know what to do about it. Being in the right place at the right time for some people is all it takes.
That’s a good start, but then you have to know what to do about it, have the resources to get it done, and put your head down and get it done. All of those things are traits of a good leader, along with earning the trust of the people who put their trust in you. Be true to those people; you’ve got a lot of lives in your hands.
Q. How do you determine what direction the company’s compass should point?
Some of that is internal. You have to have the right moral fiber to begin with. Be true to that moral fiber. I’m a believer in Stephen Covey and his ‘Seven Habits.’
Begin with the end in mind, then if there isn’t a win-win in a transaction, it probably should-n’t occur. I don’t care if that’s a business transaction internally or externally. You’ve got to put that moral fiber in place and be true to it.
Q. How do you get employees to buy in to the company’s direction?
The best way to do that is to lead by example. Don’t ask others to do things they can’t see you doing by yourself. Don’t tell them — demonstrate to them that you’re willing to do those things that you are asking of them.
We’ve got some young people in our home office. Those young people aspire to bigger and better things. You want them to, but you have to show them that there is somebody doing things the right way that they can aspire to.
If you don’t provide that opportunity for people to model you, then you’re not really building anything but a house of cards. Too many organizations suffer from leadership that says one thing and then does another. All you do then is just confuse your troops.
To that, you have to add some other ingredients. You have to give people responsibility along with empowerment. Too many times, you see people charged with the responsibility to get something done, but they get hamstrung by the inability to do their jobs. You’ve got to have a level of trust.
As you want your subordinates to trust you, you have to put trust back in them and give them the room to do the right job.
You need accountability all the way around. They’re accountable for what they do, just as I’m accountable for what I do. But you need to put responsibility and accountability and empowerment into the recipe, or it is not going to come out correctly at the end.
Q. How do you ensure that doesn’t happen in your organization?
The No. 1 way is communication. If you set out on a task at hand, and you charge your people with their responsibility for getting that task achieved or accomplished, and they don’t check in with each other along the way, it would be like getting on the interstate for what should have been a 50-mile trip, and 300 miles later you’re still traveling in the wrong direction because nobody tapped you on the shoulder, and you didn’t ask.
That’s why you need constant communication — not to the point of micromanaging but gut-checking the initiatives that are going to lead up to the fulfillment of the task at hand being accomplished. Where help is needed, it’s being asked for or provided — but not in a way that micromanages anybody.
A constant level of communication in and of itself leads to accountability. If somebody knows they’re going to be checked in on, and there’s going to be a report of their progress, you have to be prepared to say something. It keeps you focused.
HOW TO REACH: RetroTax, (770) 516-2718 or www.retrotax.com