Jim Geiger's keys to building strong leaders Featured

8:01pm EDT July 31, 2011
Jim Geiger's keys to building strong leaders

Two elements of leadership — trust and service — unfortunately, aren’t always obvious to us analytical types whose focus is primarily metrics and results.

Cbeyond has a unique culture, one that we diligently protect and one that creates an environment in which we are proud to work. There is a return on investment for creating an environment where employees are expected to contribute and, at the same time, have the tools and encouragement to succeed.

A leader isn’t the guy with all the answers. Rather, a leader is the catalyst for influencing others to overcome obstacles, find solutions, and seize and create opportunities. Leadership begins with trust, and leaders are most successful when they combine trust with a challenge to look outward.

Trust dangerously, protect vigorously

Here is a fact: People will not remain motivated, growing and achieving at high levels of performance if they are insecure about their place on your team. As leaders, we can create exponential levels of creativity when we build an environment where employees and teams are encouraged to share ideas and where courage and risk-taking are complemented with both reward and safety.

Encourage vulnerability. Ideas that are proposed today may not work today. However, experimentation will develop a culture of creativity and lead to better ideas in the future. When employees can count on your support, it creates an environment where there is honest and proactive conversation about what’s working and what’s not. People become comfortable with risk, which, in turn, encourages them to move into uncharted territory, expect problems along the way and find ways around obstacles. It becomes natural to learn from mistakes.

Dance with the one who brought you. Continually looking for the “100 percent” employee is a futile and exhausting exercise. Experience has taught me that bringing in the next “great guy” often exposes me to a different set of weaknesses. A better approach is to know your people — what motivates them and makes them tick. You’ll find great success and earn tremendous loyalty and trust when you leverage employee strengths by putting them in the right role rather than painfully focusing on their weaknesses.

See what you don’t like and stamp it out. As the leader, you are responsible for a healthy team. As a role model, you owe your team consistency between your walk and talk. And you owe them an environment that is free of politics, backbiting and ill will. You need to be fair, consistent and diligent about how you treat, respect and encourage each other. What you value will get done.

Promote community involvementOne of our key missions as we grew Cbeyond was to build a company of which we were proud and that would enthusiastically give back to the communities where we lived and worked. We’ve built a grassroots outreach program that has delivered more than 50,000 hours of passion-led service in our 14 markets in the last 10 years.

It’s good for our people, and it’s good for business.

Create capacity. As our world expands, so does our capacity. Engaging beyond the workplace connects us to amazing people and increases our networks and energy levels. Our Cbeyond University goes as far as to promote strategic volunteering; encouraging our employees to use their volunteer efforts to build skills, gain proven leadership experience and build resumes.

Drive citizenship. Community outreach helps our teams become citizens, not taxpayers. You know, those people who actively engage in their environment and drive the change they want to see. We find that attitude, when practiced in the community, also is reflected in our workplace.

Encourage “passion-led.” Drive community service by inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to engage their communities in imaginative ways that are near and dear to their hearts. We call that “passion-led.” Employees may choose to focus volunteer efforts on coaching, school or church rather than board involvement. We also use volunteer events to drive team-building and have fun.

You are creating a culture — whether deliberate or not. Your employees have to feel safe, appreciated and encouraged if you expect them to make your customers feel that way, as well.

Jim Geiger is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Cbeyond, a company that provides IT and communications services to small businesses throughout the United States and also provided the world’s first 100 percent VoIP local phone network.