Steve Wilson can’t lead without followers. So if you ask him to share his leadership secrets, the answer has nothing to do with him.
“The key is the people you surround yourself with,” says the chairman and CEO of LCNB Corp., the holding company for LCNB National Bank and Dakin Insurance Agency Inc. “My biggest job is to put round pegs in round holes — in other words, to get people in a position where they can succeed.”
Wilson starts with a thorough hiring process to identify which pegs will make the best fit at the company, which had $42.8 million in gross revenue and $650 million in assets at the end of 2008.
Then he keeps communication flowing, both to track progress and gather input. Along the way, he offers development opportunities to keep his 250 employees keen.
“The success of your organization is 100 percent directly related to your people,” Wilson says. “So if you’re not being successful, you probably have a people problem.”
Smart Business spoke to Wilson about building a business with the right people.
Hire for a fit. I look for people not necessarily trained in what I want them to do. I look for quality people that are enthused about doing a good job, learning, having a lot of pride in what they do. If I had two people, one that was enthusiastic and excited about working, versus a person that was well-trained at the task I was hiring for, I would hire the former person 100 percent of the time.
I try to talk to [candidates] multiple times, and I try to see them in more than one setting. Just having them come to my office and sit and talk would not be enough. I want to give them a tour of our facility and watch how they interact with other people. I want to see how much they care about different aspects of what we do. I want to watch their eyes and their smile, and I can sense when they’re excited about something.
You look if they care about other people. Are they self-centered and constantly bringing the conversation around to selling themselves? Or are they genuinely concerned about the goals of the organization, the people they meet?
If the most important thing is the people you surround yourself with, take plenty of time with that. Don’t short-change that process. Just like somebody you would meet at a picnic, just naturally if you spend some time with somebody, you begin to understand their character and their motivation.
Keep communicating. It normally starts with, ‘Hi, how are you? What’s going on?’ And then you bore down to specifics if there’s a specific that needs to be talked about. Maybe I’m going with the objective of questioning why they’re not reaching a certain goal. Or maybe I had no real agenda but I sense there’s something on their mind. Maybe it’s a five-minute conversation about the weather and you move on because you can tell nothing else is on their mind. Or maybe what you thought was going to be a five-minute conversation turns into an hour conversation.
You’ve got to explore it with them. Even if you disagree with them, you’ve got to show them the respect. You can’t just say, ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ If you think they’re on the wrong track, you have to take the time to explain to them why, while it might be a good idea in some instances, it doesn’t work here. Then to gently guide them back, not to get angry because they brought something up or not to brush something off and ignore it. If it was important to that person enough to bring it up, you better spend the time to explore it with them.
You’ve got to establish that trust. When someone has a concern, you can’t listen to it and not get back to them. You need to get back to them, even if you’re getting back to them to tell them that whatever they’re concerned about can’t be changed. You’re at least communicating with them.
Offer improvement opportunities. You can’t avoid the negative. But you don’t criticize the person; you criticize the performance. So don’t go in and say, ‘Wow, you’re terrible. You do a really lousy job.’ You go in and say, ‘I know you’re working really hard, but we’re just not getting it done. What do you think is happening here?’
Provide opportunities and let them fill gaps and do classes where they think they need training. For example, we pay 100 percent of tuition and books for any banking course that our employees want to take.
And then we have a tuition reimbursement program. We say to people, ‘If you don’t have an associate’s degree, you should be working on one. If you have an associate’s and you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, you should be working on one. If you have a bachelor’s and you don’t have a master’s, you should be working on one.’
We pay 50 percent of tuition and books on any course that a person needs to take to gain a degree. We want that degree to be related to work, but once we approve that they’re going for a degree, then we’ll pay for basket-weaving if they need that as an elective to get that degree.
I talk about those educational benefits every time I go to an office for training or any other reason. If I have a group of employees together, one of the things I always talk about is, ‘We’re going to grow, we’re going to prosper. We need you to do more tomorrow than you’re doing today. Please, please, please take advantage of our educational benefits.’
I have to have patience. If they’re good at what they do and I’m encouraging them to do more and they don’t want to do more, I’m foolish not to be patient and let them just be a good teller if that’s what they want to do. So you lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink — [that] doesn’t mean they’re not a good horse.
How to reach: LCNB Corp., (513) 932-1414 or www.lcnb.com