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Leading with respect Featured

7:00pm EDT December 31, 2006

Michele Hodges puts a great deal of stock in respect. “The hallmark of healthy leadership is respect,” says Hodges, president of the Troy Chamber of Commerce. “Respect has a very broad definition. It must be shown to your employees or customers. But it must also extend to processes, history and every entity your business affects.”

Hodges’ philosophy has served her well as she works to make a difference in the business community.

“Helping make businesses more successful, as well as helping to enhance all aspects of the community, keeps me motivated,” she says.

The Troy Chamber serves 800 business members and a community of more than 85,000 residents living in Troy and 120,000 who work there.

Smart Business spoke with Hodges about why it’s a waste of energy to battle change and why you should never do anything you don’t want plastered on the front page of the newspaper.

Q: What characteristics are critical for a successful leader?

Respect is absolutely the underlying foundation. I believe the challenge is in not leaving out any stakeholder and, depending on the issue under consideration, allowing each stakeholder the appropriate weight in the decision-making process.

Often, decisions are made without a holistic view of how everyone will be impacted. That is when leaders run into problems. You certainly cannot please everyone, but you can — and must — respect all who are impacted.

I lead with respect and balance. There is always an emotional side to every issue. But when you look at the entire decision-making pie, the emotional aspect should be outweighed by facts.

Q: How do you manage change?

The secret is in not fighting it. The changes we experience in Troy are plentiful, including the trend toward outsourcing, changes in manufacturing and deregulation.

If all data points suggest change is inevitable, you are wasting energy battling against it. The wiser move is to find opportunities instead of focusing on the losses.

It’s human nature to resist change. That is why leaders play such a pivotal role in leading change. Great leaders are persuasive and communicate that the stakeholders are going to land in a safe place, despite the changes under way.

Look at change as an opportunity to manipulate your product and build a competitive advantage. That’s where leaders’ energy needs to be spent, rather than fighting the inevitable.

Q: How do you make decisions?

I use what I call the ‘newspaper test,’ and it has worked very well for me. No matter what the decision is, personal or business, I ask myself this question: ‘How am I going to feel when my decision is plastered on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow morning?’

Basically, will my decision hold up to scrutiny? Will people impacted by my decision read the paper and wonder why they were not consulted? Is there any aspect of my actions that I cannot fully justify?

This mindset helps me involve all resources before taking action. It forces me to take the time needed to make thoughtful decisions that I will not regret in the future.

Q: How do you define success?

Many leaders define success as perfection, but I have never held myself to this standard. As a lover of theater, I use this analogy — if the performance has some bumps in the road and is not flawless, that does not mean it isn’t a success.

At the end of the play, does the audience reward the performers with a sincere standing ovation? Does the whole cast feel positive about the outcome as they stand on the stage and take their bows? If so, it’s a success.

Likewise in business, there will be failures. However, if they are leveraged to the fullest degree, they can lead to overall success.

The focus cannot be on the bumps in the road, it must be in the final outcome when defining success.

Q: What is your best advice to CEOs?

I recommend the 10 Minute Rule. No matter what the communication forum, whether it’s a routine weekly staff meeting or a feedback session with an employee, take 10 minutes to mentally prepare. Think about it carefully and remember it is worth your full attention and focus.

Leaders can easily become overconfident and complacent over time. You must be on guard for this, because not staying fresh and current means you will become dispensable.

Stay cognizant of the fact that nothing you do can become routine. Every communication you participate in is worthy of your full attention and at least 10 minutes of mental preparation.

HOW TO REACH: Troy Chamber of Commerce, (248) 641-8151 or www.troychamber.com