Inquiring mind Featured

8:00pm EDT October 25, 2007
John Bostick would love to watch more television, but he doesn’t have the time. Between spending time with his family, working out and serving as CEO of LÛCRUM Inc., a business services firm, he can’t fit TV into his personal life. In fact, he stopped watching football all together.

“I was a big [Chicago] Bears fan and when the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985, I said, ‘I’ve seen it all; I’ve seen my team go to the top,’ and I actually stopped watching football,” says Bostick, who led the company to more than $16 million in revenue in 2006. “I love football, but I had to have a balance and make a choice.”

Smart Business spoke with Bostick about making choices, delegating authority and how to create a people-centric culture

Q: How do you create a people-centric environment?

When I find CEOs or leaders that want to become more people-centric, the very first thing I say is, ‘Triple your listening and halve your talking.’ Too often, CEOs and top leaders know their business strategy because they live it and breathe it every day.

The challenge is, the people underneath them don’t understand that strategy. The CEO or leader doesn’t understand why they don’t understand it because to them, they live it every day, it’s simple. The people from an individual contributor level, which tend to be operational, are not living it every day, so they can’t see how they relate to that strategy.

I look at that and say, ‘Ask a lot of questions and do a lot of listening.’ When you do that, the questioning gets heuristic in style, and one question begets another question, which begets another question. You’ve got to kind of take your predefined notions you live with every day and your strategy, and park them outside your office, put them in a drawer and sit down with the people you are working with and just start asking questions and listening and start spending time getting them to talk and not you to answer.

I always like to say, ‘The art of managing is listening and questioning, and not talking and answering.’

Q: How has being people-centric helped your business?

Being people-centric creates leadership, leadership creates momentum, momentum allows us to achieve our planned numbers and also have an opportunity to hit our stretch goals.

Any time I look at an area where we are underperforming, it’s typically because people didn’t understand the objectives, the objectives change through external dynamics or internal dynamics, global market or internal organizational competencies or incompetencies. So, you look at that and say, ‘How do I get these people to march to the same drumbeat, and how do I get them to make sure they understand what I was trying to get at when I first dealt with them?’ I ask myself those kinds of questions because I always think if you ask those questions in a self-deprecating fashion and see the warts and see the parts where we’re not achieving the original results — call it failure — then you can look at that and take a perspective of, ‘We are where we are.’ So, you have to face where you are and continue to move forward.

Q: How do you talk to an employee who isn’t living up to your standards?

You have to go back to listening and questioning, rhetorically. My style is to get the person to switch shoes with you. So you say, ‘OK, you are the CEO, and I’m the manager or the leader in this one business unit. How would you treat me right now?’ Switching sides makes a very interesting way of going to the lowest common denominator of how we communicate. These are simple techniques that I use on a constant basis.

Q: How do you know when to delegate?

I have a very simple philosophy. The CEO should be in charge of shareholder relationship, strategy, and setting the tone for the people dynamics and the culture of the company. Shareholders first. You are in business to make a profit, and the profit should be demonstrated back to shareholders, first and foremost, for every business. No. 2 is strategy: Where is the company going? And third is setting the culture on the people-dynamics side.

If you can’t delegate 100 percent of everything else, then you have the wrong group.

Business is a bunch of exceptions, and an exception right here is, I believe, in every single company, the No. 1 customer representative is the CEO. I just said delegate all that and, at the same time, I’m going to contradict myself and say, ‘That’s right, delegate it all. But, at the same time, absolutely the CEO is in charge of customers first and foremost.’

HOW TO REACH: LÛCRUM Inc., (513) 241-5949 or www.lucruminc.com