Peter Vosotas can’t recall the title, but remembers a movie in which two captains lead two sets of troops on a long run.
While on a break, one captain helps his troops and rubs their feet, while the other captain barks orders. Vosotas chairman, president and CEO of Nicholas Financial Inc., a company he founded with his wife, Paula says that he would be the leader rubbing feet.
“I believe if I worry about your feet whether you care or not and think I’m a jerk the majority of you guys will care about me and my feet. You might not, but that’s OK. I’m not doing it so you’ll rub my feet. I’m doing it because I legitimately care about you,” says Vosotas, who leads the specialty consumer finance company, which posted $50 million in revenue for fiscal 2008.
Smart Business spoke with Vosotas about how to show employees you care and how to make decisions without alienating people.
Allow employees to talk to you. I’m not so naive that I believe that will ever really happen that I will become so phenomenally godlike or transparent that anybody and everybody will open their minds and hearts to me.
So, what I need to do is be sure that I have excellent lieutenants that think the way I think and that have the same moral compass that I possess that I can’t do it all to everybody, and I need them to help and do it all.
I need to show them that I believe in them, too. What I really need is to create like-minded disciples that I become respectful of, that I trust and feel good about, unless they show me that I shouldn’t. So, I have many people in the company that I entrust that way, and I like to use the terminology that I inspect what I expect.
As long as the various department managers that work for me are doing what we agree we’re supposed to be doing, then I don’t get in the way. I want people who are bright, who are able to work independent of my inclusion on a daily microscopic basis.
Lead with integrity. You have to have tons of integrity. They all say that, but people have got to look at you and think you are the real deal.
But you’ve just got to be straight. For example, Carol walked out on us I’m just giving you a fictitious name and gave no notice. But, we still owe Carol for three unused vacation days. Now, it actually comes to me because this is a small company because everyone knows the answer in HR which is you’ve got to pay her, and everybody knows that here.
You just have to always be consistently honest. You just lead by your actions, you do things that are straight, and you keep doing them that way, and eventually, people look up to you. I think that is a terribly important thing that you have to possess if you’re going to lead the troops.
You really have to show this quantitative and qualitative commitment to them to whoever it is you are talking with. ‘I really care about you. I care about your well-being. I care about your health. I care about your appearance. I care about your job knowledge. I’ll help you in your job knowledge. What can I do to help you?’
But, whoever you talk to, my suspicion is they are going to feel good about working with you, working for you, if they really think that you are working with them as opposed to having them in an indentured capacity.Be decisive. I walked in an office once the only time I’ve ever done it and I had heard one of the ladies in this five-person office had gone on and on to say what a lousy company we were, how we stunk.
I don’t think this woman knew who we were. I visited that office, and it was kind of interesting. It’s not like drums are rolling or anything. I drive up in a rented car, knock on the front door, go in and say, ‘Hi, I’m Peter Vosotas.’ They kind of know I’m coming. It’s not like people have to stand at attention.
So, I usually go and I have with me as much information about each, in this case four individuals, of them their latest review, their current pay grade, when they started, comments that their immediate manager has made about them. In this case, I knew about this Carol, if you will, and she told me to my face that the company was terrible. I fired her on the spot.
I just said, ‘If that’s the case, you should leave right now.’ She looked at me funny, and I said, ‘No, you should leave right now. This isn’t a pretend statement.’ This is like, I pulled the trigger, and the bullet is out of the chamber. That’s part of the whole business of being able to do it. You’ve got to be compassionate, but when you say, ‘Go’ it’s got to be, ‘Go.’
I knew going in she was a lippy person. She had, if you will, the total disregard for me ‘I don’t care if you are the president or you are the founder or you and your wife spent three years building this company and taking no pay and literally had everything you had on the line.’ I mean, not that I’m going to walk around wearing that Seabee on my chest, but I looked at that as like this is an insane affront.
HOW TO REACH: Nicholas Financial Inc., (727) 726-0763 or www.nicholasfinancial.com