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Looking for leaders Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2009

Bob Hague doesn’t blame anyone but himself when his company experiences failure.

“As leaders, we have an obligation to the people that work for us to lead them to greatness,” says Hague, president of Hague Quality Water International. “If they don’t, first and foremost, it’s our fault.”

On the flip side, successful companies are more than just a one-man show. They incorporate the skills and talents of other employees in the organization who have a knack for leading and attempt to put those skills to use.

“I don’t find that I have too much leadership,” Hague says. “I look for it wherever I can find it.”

Hague’s ability to develop leaders has helped the 100-employee manufacturer of residential water treatment equipment grow, as export sales have increased 87 percent over the past five years.

Smart Business spoke with Hague about how to develop leaders.

Q. How do you demonstrate leadership?

Somebody on the factory floor will come to me and have a problem and drop it in my lap. I start asking questions. ‘When did you notice this first happening? Has anything changed in the process?’ At some point, I’ll ask, ‘What ideas do you have as a solution?’

Surprisingly enough, I’d say 80 percent of the time, their response matches up with what my idea of the solution would be. They just don’t want to make a decision. They feel it’s something above their pay grade, so they won’t make a decision.

Probe them a bit so you make sure you fully understand what the problem is. If they don’t think you understand the problem, they will have no confidence in your solution.

If you go ask somebody for something and you don’t think they really heard what you said, I don’t care if they are 100 percent correct, you won’t have any confidence that they have the right answer.

Earn their respect. They know that I understand that they have a brain. I don’t want them to check it at the door. I want them to use it at work to help us solve these problems. If I have a solution in my mind and they’ve got one in their mind, I always go with their solution.

Q. How do you make a good appraisal of someone’s leadership skills?

Look for people who take on additional responsibilities on their own, the kind of person who doesn’t require someone over them all the time to direct their activities. Someone who will look ahead a bit on a manufacturing process and will say, ‘I can see I’m about to run out of this, so rather than wait until that happens, I’ll go ask my supervisor about it.’

Look for people who see a little bit bigger picture than just, ‘I need to do A, B, C and D.’ Look for the respect of their co-workers. If they have that, that indicates there is some leadership quality there, as well.

Q. In what ways can you begin to develop these people?

Assign them some additional responsibility. Maybe it’s a new piece of tooling. I can give it to someone to set it up the first time and go through that and see how they handle it. Some people I’ll challenge.

I’ll ask them, ‘Hey, would you like to go learn another area of operation?’ I’ll move them to other areas and see how quickly they learn.

Even if it doesn’t turn out to be good from a supervisory standpoint, I’ve got a much more well-rounded employee when it’s all done.

I believe it was Will Rogers who said, ‘Everyone is ignorant, just on different subjects.’ We can’t lose sight of the fact that we all have areas in which we aren’t especially skilled in and look for others who do that.

My production manager worked for steel mills. My maintenance supervisor spent time working for large municipal sewage treatment plants and large plastics processors. I’ve got people that have worked for many other industrial companies, much larger than I am. These people bring some really good skills to the organization that I don’t have.

If I didn’t tap into it, I’d be wasting talent. And good grief, it’s hard enough running a business today. You can’t afford to waste anything, especially talented people. Some of these folks have got some really good training from previous employers so tap into it.

Q. What is the benefit of developing leadership?

As I can find people to do things that I at one time did in the organization, it frees me up to do other good things for the organization. It’s a great asset to have people who can move up to take those kinds of jobs.

At the end of the day, there’s only one of you. You’re going to limit the ability of your organization or even your department to grow because everything goes through one person. If you can multiply yourself by having others trained and eager to step up, ultimately it’s going to make you a whole lot more effective.

Q. What if employees take their training and run?

You can’t worry too much about it. It’s happened to me; it’s going to happen again. The only way I can absolutely avoid it would be to never train anyone and that’s going to leave me a lot worse off.

If your goal of success is to never have it happen, the only way to do it is to never train people. You’re going to lose if you do that. You have to accept some of it.

How to reach: Hague Quality Water International, (614) 836-2115 or www.haguewater.com