Follow the leader Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

Most executives prize those people in their organization who exhibit leadership qualities — whether they are in the executive suite or on the front line. Yet, it’s an executive’s responsibility to help employees develop leadership qualities.

As president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp., Carl Albright has a lot of experience developing and nurturing leaders. “People look for leaders in all walks of life to inspire them to do well, to be better than they can be,” Albright says, adding that good leaders never will ask their people to do anything they wouldn’t do, whether it’s working on a Saturday, coming in early or working late.

Smart Business spoke with Albright about leaders and what makes them tick.

What is leadership in a business setting?

People want to be led by people who know what they are doing and have done the job before. People like working for people who have their best interests at heart. And people want to work for people who will help them become leaders.

How do you develop leadership in your management team?

Good leaders are good followers. Look for people who are good team members. I teach nine or 10 sessions a year on all aspects of management, including how to manage people and how to get the most out of them. Encourage people in your company who exhibit leadership to take classes. Best of all, tell them to watch closely those people who inspire them. Take notes on how those people operate — whether it’s a boss, a teacher or a sports coach. If there is someone in your operation who became an account executive in four years, go up and ask how he or she did it. Ask what he did to help himself succeed.

How do you develop leadership in workers?

Look for people who are good at the job they’re doing now and who have the right attitudes. Some people can be very good at their jobs but have poor attitudes. Others love the company but don’t do the best job. Look at attendance and work ethic. Do they want to move up. Do they get results? Do they have good attitudes? Do they have the company’s best interests at heart? Conversely, you should show them you have their best interests at heart. Everyone starts low and moves up if he or she does well.

How do you recognize or identify those people with leadership qualities?

First, people should always know where they stand. There should be a formal review process after the first 90 days, six months and then annually. However, if your staff members do not know how you feel about their job before you sit down for the review, there is a problem. Good leaders will tell people when they are doing great. If a worker is struggling, he or she should know that well before the review. One rule of leadership is that there should be no surprises.

What helps to bring out leadership qualities in employees?

Mentoring programs are great. If you identify someone early on who has leadership qualities, pair that person with someone outside his or her department who has similar job functions. Then, give that person more challenges to see if he or she can lead as well as follow. You want to see if that employee can go beyond following a straight line from A to Z and exhibit leadership qualities. Then, encourage the employee to attend seminars or go to classes. Tell that person to emulate a sports coach, teacher or manager whose style he or she admires.

How do you handle situations where two good leaders’ ideas conflict?

That is bound to happen. Good people can have differences of opinion. However, when you leave the conference room, you need to have an agreement. Executive vice presidents don’t always think alike. So, there has to be compromise. Everyone has to come out of the room on the same page. It does no good to force a policy on people. You need to get buy-in from everyone. Be sure everyone is on board.

Are there books or seminars you’d recommend for developing leadership skills?

If you have people who get nervous in a crowd, send them to Toastmasters. Have guest lecturers and speakers come in to your office. Have your best managers mentor people. I have a library of books 25 or 30 feet long — books on managing time, managing people and motivating people. I love to read the philosophies of sports coaches, such as Pat Riley, Rick Pitino and John Wooden. Right now, I’m recommending Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great.’ I’ve always liked GE’s Jack Welch and books like ‘Straight from the Gut.’ Gordon Bethune’s ‘From Worst to First’ is another good read. On top of that, take notes on people whose style you admire. Follow up with people. Leaders give credit where credit is due, but take blame when things don’t go well.

CARL ALBRIGHT is president and CEO of InfoCision Management Corp. Reach him at carl.albright@infocision.com. InfoCision Management Corporation is the second largest privately held teleservices company and a leading provider of customer care services, commercial sales and marketing for a variety of Fortune100 companies and smaller businesses. InfoCision is also a leader of inbound and outbound marketing for nonprofit, religious and political organizations. InfoCision operates 32 call centers at 13 locations throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. For more information, visit www.infocision.com.