Denise Reading Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
Denise Reading has reinvented her leadership style as she evolved into her position as president of Corporate College, a division of Cuyahoga Community College that offers employers continual training for their employees. She’s constantly looking at her skill set and challenging herself to find strong people in her weak areas, and that re-examination process has allowed her to give her 65 employees the support and tools they need to succeed. Smart Business spoke with Reading about how she has to eat the lima beans even though she doesn’t like them.

Strive to learn. You have to be willing to reinvent yourself and make things that were not your core strength and force them onto your plate. I don’t like lima beans, but I’ve got to eat them.

If you come to a point of leadership where you think you hold all the answers, then you’re probably ready to retire because if you have all the answers, then you’re not growing, because the world is changing so quickly. There are things that each of us address daily in business that a year ago weren’t even part of the agenda.

Hire the best. ‘A’ leaders surround themselves with ‘A’ players, and ‘B’ leaders surround themselves with ‘C’ players. A leader has to decide that they’re not afraid to have people that are smarter than them or have talent or skills that are different than them. Get the best talent, and augment your own skills.

If I’m a visionary, intuition leader, I need to have someone standing next to me who has more sense of procedure or is data-driven because then our team is stronger because you get my instinct and vision and their data-driven process that allows us to have the most solid decision.

Put together a team that complements one another and has a lot of diversity. Diversity includes all the things that we think about in diversity — race, religion, gender and sexual orientation — but also diversity in style and performance and the way you come to a job.

Hire performers. You know when an employee is coming to a job, and you know when an employee is coming to something that they feel purposefully driven to do, and it’s a part of what they want to be about. You see that in their performance.

The real difference between ‘A’ players and ‘B’ players may not be a difference of talent, smarts or intelligence, it may be a difference of, ‘Am I in a job that I have passion about? Am I in a job that I have bought in to the vision?’

Look for performance. Look for that little bit more than what was on the job description.

Ask better interview questions. It’s asking really good behavioral-based questions — not what would you do or what do you think, but what have you done? Can you show me? Can you demonstrate?

Even if they don’t have a lot of work experience, they have life experience that they should be able to draw on to answer behavioral-based questions.

Hire achievers. I have to have a sense of excellence — that they are committed to a personal sense of performance excellence. Being average is not part of their vocabulary; they want to achieve. That is important in the team that they have a sense of urgency of we need to get our work done — this has to happen.

They’re committed to doing the best job possible, and they’re committed to doing that best job today, not tomorrow. Those are the things you can’t teach people necessarily. They come to the table with that, and then they have a sense of openness to learning. If they have a sense of openness to learning, then we can do anything.

Let underachievers go. Make sure that people who are not able to perform to the standards of your organization are not part of your organization ongoing. It damages your entire team for them to have to carry people because of a manager’s inability to deal with that difficult task of letting someone go.

A good manager is someone who’s addressed issues often enough that there are no surprises. Somebody shouldn’t be surprised that they’re losing their job. Work with people to help coach them to help them find that this isn’t the right fit for them and help them find the right thing. I regularly say, ‘It’s OK with me if this isn’t a right fit for you, or you don’t like it. Please come to me and let me help you find a new job before you fail.’

It’s easier to help them with a recommendation when you’re both working on getting a job for them somewhere else than it is after you have said to them, ‘You have to go.’ Once you’ve fired them, you’re not a good reference.

Create buy-in. If you’ve hired people that have great talent, it’s your job to get out of the way. I think of my job as the person who removes barriers and brings resources to their initiative that helps us fulfill the mission.

I’m here as a resource as opposed to a micromanager. Empower people by making sure they all have clear expectations of the outcomes you’re seeking.

Communicate it regularly and often. They need to see it in print. It has to be visual. It has to be something that they hear and see. It has to be something that you show in demonstration.

Support your human capital. Companies die because of a lack of innovation and productivity. They die because their human capital has a lack of ability to meet whatever those strategic initiatives are.

Companies die by the actions of people. If you give your human capital the resources that they need to learn and grow, they will be more productive and innovative. Productivity and innovation are the lifeblood of economic growth. None of that happens without a human being.

Ask questions regularly, especially if you’re a fast-growing business. Are these the people for the business today, and do they have the talent? If these are my right people — they’re loyal, they have the values and the work ethic — how do I help them get that extra skill that will push them to the top?

Make the financial investment to get folks up to speed — close the talent gap. Make sure they have the tools, and invest in your work force to help them reach those goals.

HOW TO REACH: Corporate College, (216) 987-5875 or