Under the microscope Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2009

Danny Wade says it’s one of the hardest things a leader can do. But it’s also one of the most necessary: Sometimes, you have to show that you’re human.

You might think it decreases your employees’ confidence in your leadership abilities when you step up and tell them that you don’t know something or that you were wrong about an idea or initiative. But the president and chief operating officer of Goodman Networks Inc. — a network solutions company that generated $221 million in 2008 revenue — says it can actually do the opposite. Admitting that you don’t have all of the answers shows your team that you’re willing to admit fault, seek input and continually improve yourself as an executive.

“One of the things is that organizations need to see their leaders willing to accept and acknowledge when a decision they’ve made may have gone in the wrong direction,” Wade says. “It makes you more human and relatable.”

Smart Business spoke with Wade about how you can use self-evaluation, feedback and criticism to better your leadership skills.

Learn from failure. Self-evaluation is one of my strengths on a personal level. I am the youngest of 10 boys, so I had nine older brothers, which tends to put you in a more humble position. And I have just been the type of person who steps back and truly looks at myself and what I’ve done and decisions I’ve made.

I’ve told the organization numerous times that I learn more by my failures than my successes. By analyzing our failures and determining where we went wrong is how we truly improve in our personal lives or our professional lives. So I do a great deal of introspective thinking and putting myself in other people’s shoes, seeing how they perceive things. Those two traits and characteristics make for a better environment in an organization. It shows employees that this is leadership that is truly going to work with them to evolve and get better versus being set in your ways and driving things down the way they always have, not making adjustments along the way.

It’s a balance, because on one hand you want to use the methods and the tools in the past that have made you successful. But the problem is that you can’t bring everything you’ve done in the past into different environments. As you come into a different environment, you have to know how to be able to adjust, how to tweak yourself so you can drive the organization to achieve optimal execution. The success is in how the organization performs, not how we as leaders perform.

Encourage feedback. I tell everyone in my organization to come talk to me about anything you want. Just do it in a professional, nonattacking, nonthreatening manner. If you do that, I’ll listen to anything you have to say.

You can be argumentative with me as long as it’s done tactfully and professionally. You can tell me that you think I’m not moving in the right direction, express why you think it’s wrong. We’ll have a conversation about it, and if you have an influential message and can sway me to some degree, I’ll accept that. If not, we’ll maybe agree to disagree or I’ll sway you.

You have to allow people the opportunity to have their say. If you give people the opportunity to get stuff out in the open, it cuts down on rumors and it cuts down on back-door conversation. It ultimately cuts down on people getting distracted. If the things on your employees’ minds don’t involve how they can be successful and how to better serve the customer, if they’re focusing on how they felt they were treated incorrectly, you’re not getting the best performance out of them. So you have to be willing to let people share things and you have to be willing to listen to some criticism. Sometimes you learn something from the criticism.

Stay close to the ground. Some-times leaders get too far away from where the rubber meets the road in the business, sometimes feedback has to go through so many layers that it can’t reach you. So it’s critical to get that firsthand feedback from your people that are down the ladder, doing the tactical jobs. You really can learn a lot from them.

Keeping feedback channels open has been a big challenge. There is no one model that I have been able to uncover that says, ‘This is what you do.’ It’s a matter of making sure you keep yourself tied to what is going on in the organization. You have to have very consistent and formal communication with regard to what is happening inside your business and in your distributed markets.

We try to spend a lot of time and focus on how we get that information up to the executive level, so that as executives, we really understand what is happening.

Be willing to adjust. You make adjustments by constantly looking at how things are performing and executing in the business. If you see something not making progress or trending in the right direction, you’re evaluating what the root cause is. If it’s something we can control or something we initiated, we go back and adjust.

Maybe you picked the wrong person for a role, someone who is not following through, you have coached them and worked with them, and you just need to accept that they are the wrong person in the wrong role. If there are tools and systems that got implemented incorrectly, you need the commitment of resources to correct those. The tweaking is that you’re constantly looking at whether you have the right people in the right roles — are they executing and trending correctly? Do you have the right environment for them to be successful? If not, you make the appropriate changes.

How to reach: Goodman Networks Inc., (972) 406-9692 or www.goodmannetworks.com