Increasing interest Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2008

A lot of people have a mental image of the average president or CEO. He sits in his corner office, reading reports, signing documents and making policy changes, completely aloof and out of touch with what’s happening beneath him in his company.

David Boyle doesn’t want to be that guy. “I think the view of many people is that the CEO just sits in his office and doesn’t really add much value to the company,” says the president of National City Bank’s Michigan and Northwest Ohio region, a 4,000-employee segment of the Cleveland-based regional banking giant. “That’s not the image I want to portray. I want to portray that I’m a very engaged, accessible person. I think that when employees see that the CEO is every bit as engaged as they are, it builds that engagement within the company. People don’t just view you as nonvalue-added.”

It’s the driving reason behind why, since rising to his post more than a year ago, Boyle has strived to become a kind of servant CEO, connecting his company to the communities of southeast Michigan through public service projects, hitting the road to meet employees and customers alike and trying to drum up business for his sales staff at every turn.

Boyle says you don’t stop being the CEO of your company when you head home for the night. Everywhere you go, the store, the gym, the golf course, is another opportunity to connect your company to the community around you and meet new potential customers.

“I’m always trying to bring in business, whether it’s at the grocery store or at the barber shop, I’m always trying to find a way to come into work and tell someone, ‘Hey, I have a lead for you,’” he says. “I want them to know that I’m thinking about their business. That engagement will build morale because your employees will see that the team is working together, that the leader is willing to roll up his sleeves and work with the team. That is crucial to the success of a company.”

Put your community first

Your business takes a lot from the surrounding community. When you make a sale, you obviously take money in return. But you also take your customers’ time to make a sale. Your building uses water, electricity and other utilities. If your business is large enough and located in an outlying area, you might have needed special zoning variances to get your building built in the first place.

Yes, your business likely gives back a lot, too. You probably pump a lot of money into the local economy through jobs and taxes. You probably pay your utility bills on time, and if your product is good, customers should want to take the time and money to purchase it.

However, Boyle says simply having a transactional relationship with the communities you serve isn’t going far enough. To truly gain a presence in a community, people need to see your business as an active participant in the community.

“There are a couple of reasons why it’s important to be an active member of the community,” Boyle says. “One, it’s a quality of life issue. I live here, my family lives here, and we want the communities we live in to thrive, and the way you do that is by giving back.

“Two, having a thriving community is critical to the success of your business, and the only way you are going to be able to affect that is by having people who are involved in trying to make a difference in the community and trying to make it better.”

The most effective way to do that is to lead by example. If you make community involvement a priority, you will develop employees who value it, as well.

To that end, Boyle has instituted a periodically held community appreciation day in southeast Michigan. It’s a program that was first attempted by National City in Cleveland but has experienced its greatest success in the Detroit area.

As part of its community appreciation days, National City closes all of its retail offices for half the day, during which employees are asked to participate in a variety of community service projects.

“We send about 700 people to 24 or 25 different agencies to give back for half a day,” Boyle says. “That is probably the most powerful thing we can do, from a community perspective, for the internal folks here at National City. It has created a real desire on their part to continue to give back, and we’ll be doing it again this month.”

If you are new to a city, as Boyle was when he took over his region of National City, he says it’s a necessity for you to get involved in the community, both on a personal and business level. People will be more responsive to you if you offer help before asking for it.

“When you come to a new community and you don’t know anyone, you have to start building a network from scratch,” Boyle says. “Getting out there and getting involved, getting to meet some people, it’s very important. To me, it’s always about giving first and asking how I can help them before I ask for any help. So I’m always finding ways to step up and meet someone else’s needs, and then I can kind of foster relationships with them to help me build my network in the market.”

If you and your employees take the time to connect with the surrounding community, you will be able to measure the results for your business.

“You can measure some of what you get for your efforts,” Boyle says. “In our case, we can look in terms of the business we might be able to do with some of the nonprofit entities. When you are active in giving back and they are a recipient of that, we have seen a number of people within these organizations that we work with, and the organizations themselves, choose to do business with National City.

“We don’t really put pencil to paper to measure that per se, but it is something we focus on.”

Communicate effectively

No matter what values you want your employees to embrace — be it community service or anything else — the impetus has to start at the top with clear, concise messages.

“I’m pretty black-and-white when it comes to communication,” he says. “You have to be honest and open with as much as you can share. My communication, oftentimes, is managing by walking around. I try to walk around and get kind of a pulse of what people are thinking. It’s about giving of my own time and being accessible to listen.”

Boyle says your business will reflect your attitude toward communication. If you are honest, straightforward and frequent in your communication, your employees will likely act the same toward the people with whom they do business.

You also can’t be afraid to be frank. When challenged, meet tough questions head-on instead of dancing around them. Even if your employees don’t like what you have to say sometimes, Boyle says, they need to know that you’re willing to tell them the unvarnished truth, good or bad.

“You have to be prepared to get some challenging questions, and you can’t take them personally,” he says. “That can be difficult sometimes. I try to go into a challenging situation and anticipate what some of the curveball questions might be. The other thing you have to do is be patient and kind of digest the question, maybe ask a follow-up question or maybe get a little more information before you answer the question.

“Try to understand that, in most cases, people don’t mean it personally. They’re passionate about something, and it might possibly come across as more of a type of personal attack. But in reality, it’s their passion, so I always try to take a deep breath before I answer a difficult question. I find I can calm myself down, and I don’t fire as many barbs back that way.”

Get diligent about delegation

An extension of good communication is good delegation to your managers. Boyle says it’s especially true as your business grows. You won’t be able to be in every place at just the right time to reinforce your messages, so you must develop a strong team of managers and rely on them to lead in places where you can’t lead as effectively.

Boyle says a good delegation strategy helps your managers as much as it helps you and the company.

“My nature is, ‘I can probably get this resolved in 10 minutes, but if I give it to someone else, it might take hours, so I should just do it myself,’” Boyle says. “But I’m not developing my people if I do that.

“I have to challenge myself to let go of certain things and let other people do them the way they think it should be done. Then you sit down and evaluate why they’ve done it the way they’ve done it and use it as a learning tool for both them and for myself.”

The willingness to delegate comes back to building trust within an organization. Just as you want to build trust with your community through outreach activities, and you want to build trust with your lower-level employees with clear communication, Boyle says handing your direct reports key tasks and responsibilities is a way to build employee confidence.

That’s not to say you should shovel all of your responsibilities onto your managers at once. Boyle says he starts small, then adjusts the level of responsibility for each manager based on the results.

“It’s letting them take a little bit of risk, letting them take some ownership for the outcomes, seeing how well they do it, what their success is, what their failures are — and, more importantly, how they deal with success and failure,” he says.

“If someone takes on a task, fails at it and blames everybody else, I’ll be less inclined to continue to delegate to them. But if they take on something, it doesn’t work out and they own up to it, then I’m going to feel much more comfortable giving them a more meaningful delegated project because I know they will take ownership of it for the good or the bad. That’s how I get the trust factor resolved.”

Perhaps the most important lesson to learn about delegation is the potential consequences of not doing enough of it. Boyle cautions all CEOs about the damage an overloaded schedule can do to your personal life.

“I have been in situations in the past where I have not done a good job of delegating, and it becomes almost unmanageable,” he says. “It starts to interfere with you getting the rest of your job done. It creates the need for you to be at work more, which creates challenges at home.

“If you don’t learn to delegate, you will be largely inefficient. That’s why you have to trust people and let them learn from their mistakes, even though that’s tough to do sometimes.”

HOW TO REACH: National City Bank/Michigan and Northwest Ohio, www.nationalcity.com