Building credit Featured

7:00pm EDT February 23, 2010

Ian MacKechnie doesn’t care where an idea comes from. It can come from him, someone on his management team or someone who’s been with the company for two days. If it’s a good idea and can help the company, sign him up.

“A lot of my ideas get shot down,” he says. “And I don’t mind, because that’s OK. We want the best idea to win.”

MacKechnie has used that attitude to lead Amscot Financial Inc. from $85 million in revenue in 2006 to $145 million in 2008.

The chairman, president, CEO and founder of the financial services firm checks his ego at the door for most decisions. Of course, being the leader, if he really believes in a decision, he wants the organization to buy in.

“If I’m passionate about it, it’s kind of first among equals, if it’s a pretty important decision,” he says.

But that doesn’t happen often. If it did, MacKechnie would be driving away those who have good ideas or have valuable input. He could also be consistently making the wrong decisions since he is more at the 30,000-foot level of management than those who are below him and on the front lines dealing with customers.

“We want the best solution,” he says. “We don’t care where it’s coming from. It’s not who’s right; it’s what’s right. It truly is because you have to remember, why would I not want the best thing? When you’re running a company, if you are a leader, you want what’s best.”

Such was the case when the company wanted to tweak its brand. It wasn’t MacKechnie on his own who came up with idea of referring to Amscot in advertisements as “The Money Superstore.” It was everyone involved in the process.

“If you don’t mind other people getting the credit, you’ll be really successful,” he says. “That is the trick. You are going to get a lot of the credit anyway, if you are the leader. So who cares where the ideas come from?”

And that’s what MacKechnie wants Amscot’s atmosphere to revolve around.

“Running a company is not about me, and it’s not about the chief executive,” he says. “It’s about all of us growing the company. It’s not me that built this company. I’ve helped to get it started, but it’s all these great people around that are making it happen. The bigger it gets, the more they are making it happen.”

Here’s how MacKechnie drives that message home by inspiring people, setting guidelines and coaching those who fall short at delegating.

Be inspirational

MacKechnie recalls reading a report that people want their direct report or supervisor to be inspirational.

While he says your employees have to possess their own inner motivation, you as the leader can still inspire the people around you to be better.

“It’s got to come from within,” he says. “I don’t believe I can really motivate anyone. I think what we can do in a company is we can create the environment, which is a new kind of trend.”

You are part of creating that environment by the vibe you put out to employees.

“If you are a wet rag as a leader, you aren’t going to lead anyone,” he says. “If you don’t have any spark in you, how are you going to get spark in other people? So enthusiasm is critical in any walk of life but certainly as a leader.”

When you hear the words “inspirational leader,” it may conjure up thoughts of a motivational speaker throwing out new age sayings or an over-the-top, always smiling, cheerleader type.

But that isn’t what it takes to inspire people.

“We all show enthusiasm in different ways,” he says. “One leader may have a low-key form of enthusiasm, but his people still can get it. He quietly has that enthusiasm for the task and for what we are doing and so forth, where someone might be more at a different level. I’m not talking about jumping around and singing songs and holding hands or hugging. If you listen to President Barack Obama or Warren Buffett, you can just here the enthusiasm from what they do in their voice.”

You can do little things like sharing good news with the whole company or sharing a compliment someone received from a client or a customer. You can also e-mail something to employees that relates to the company.

“If I see a nice quote or a great quote that seems appropriate about customer service or something, I just go on and send it to everyone,” he says. “Then I’ll get feedback from them. We try to make sure that we are listening and that our management is approachable and people are able to talk to us easily; that’s the culture we want.”

Set guidelines

You have to be effective at delegating to be an inspirational leader who creates a team environment.

You may think you are delegating by pushing off tasks that don’t interest you and telling other people to take care of them.

But, that’s not the case.

“One of the things I learned early in business life is you can delegate but you can never abdicate,” he says. “If you give someone a task to do and they are not able to do it, you are abdicating that responsibility and I can never abdicate my responsibility.”

Abdicating your responsibilities can create chaos. You have to have systems in place to guide employees so they know what they are doing when you give them a task or a problem to solve.

MacKechnie refers to setting up guidelines and then delegating as a culture of discipline.

“When you have a culture of discipline, you need less hierarchy and people can be left alone and they can be encouraged to grow and blossom without someone looking over their shoulder all the time,” he says. “Typically, you and I don’t want someone looking over (our) shoulder all the time. That’s not fun. We want it to be fun.”

For instance, a branch leader at Amscot is trained to follow procedures from the minute he or she enters the parking lot to the minute the branch leader leaves. While that sounds like it may create a stifling environment, MacKechnie sees it as quite the opposite.

“I would say it does the reverse,” he says. “It frees them. It frees them because they now know beyond that, it’s just looking at customers.”

You have to explain to employees that the rules and guidelines aren’t meant to micromanage them. That gives employees a better idea of what is expected of them, and gives them the freedom to make decisions within the set guidelines.

“If you create these strong procedures, you can leave people,” he says. “You can leave the branch leader once they know these procedures, … [and] then we can delegate because they know the procedures and they can be more empowered to go help customers.”

You want to monitor what you’ve delegated, but you also want to show faith in your employees.

“You have to go back to trust and verify,” he says. “But you’ll never grow your business if you can’t delegate.”

Lend help

While you have inspired your team by delegating, you also have to make sure your managers are following the same practice.

For MacKechnie, it’s easy to identify a le

ader who is great at delegating.

“You can see it,” he says. “One of the best ways to tell is (to find out) how many people has that individual developed in the company.”

If you see a manager who has people below him or her rising up the ranks, you know you have someone who is strong at following guidelines and delegating.

“A great leader develops lots of great people,” he says.

However, you may also have a manager who is slow to delegate, but fantastic at his or her position. The manager works hard, he or she is dependable, and when something needs to get done, you know he or she will come through in the clutch. But the one problem is that the manager doesn’t share your philosophy that delegation is more effective than doing everything yourself.

You have to go beyond simply telling someone to delegate.

“We are going to be coaching them and working with them to improve their skills,” MacKechnie says. “If they’ve got all the other qualities, but just lack that a bit, we are going to work very hard with them.”

Don’t be so quick to dismiss someone because he or she isn’t buying in to the procedures or delegating. You spent a lot of time and resources to hire or promote a manager, so don’t be so quick to dismiss that person if you see some flaws you didn’t see before.

“It’s expensive for us to hire people and train them,” he says. “So, we want them to succeed. We want our management team to do everything we can to help mentor them, and foster and explain to them why they are doing these things. They’re not doing them just blindly, but, ‘Here’s why we want you to follow this procedure.’”

That’s why you can’t just tell someone to be better at delegation and hope for the best. You are going to have to step in and help him or her realize the benefits of delegation.

“It’s got to be done with one-on-one coaching,” he says. “You really have to spend some time and care about these people,” he says. “Good leaders don’t want to lose people. They don’t want to lose talent. But at some point, a decision has to be made.”

You can give that person a couple of years to adjust, but if he or she still hasn’t learned to delegate, you need to step in and bring in someone to whom he or she will have to delegate. You involve the manager in the selection of the person, but you have to let the manager know this person is being hired to help with managerial duties.

If that doesn’t work and you’ve exhausted every avenue to help the manager delegate, then you will have to part ways.

“We can’t retain them if they are unable to delegate,” he says. “By delegate, I would say that is the ability to get great results through other people. If they’re not able to do it, they shouldn’t be in a leadership position.”

It might not be the result that you wanted, but you did everything you could to help the person. If the person isn’t promoting the team environment by delegating, then you won’t get an environment where people are motivated and will feel free to come to you with ideas. Because, as a manager and a leader, you are only as good as what your team produces.

“It’s not managing what people do in a company,” he says. “It’s managing what they do together.”

How to reach: Amscot Financial Inc., (813) 637-6100 or