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Respect your role Featured

8:00pm EDT March 26, 2007
While it takes a high level of confidence to attain the role of CEO, John Elder III says a leader who thinks about the title too much will have a tough time staying on top.

“When you get high-performance people, egos get involved and that’s the beginning of poor leadership,” Elder says. “It’s not about you. It’s about the impact that you are having on the people that are around you that is really significant in this role.”

Elder has employed this thinking in his role as CEO to lead Legacy Energy Management Solutions to a 50 percent increase in 2006 revenue over 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Elder about the importance of respecting both your customers and your colleagues, and why it’s critical for a CEO to be humble.

Q: What contributes to a healthy culture?

Respect is a big piece. Respect for your customers in terms of how you are treating them, as well as respect for your peers within your organization. It really establishes a culture where people can grow and really enjoy where it is that they are working, which increases productivity and the success of the whole enterprise.

If you have a good, healthy work environment that is in a good place culturally, where people can just worry about the right things, their productivity is dramatically increased, as well as their job satisfaction.

We started out very early with making sure that the goals and objectives and the vision were established in terms of group meetings and taking the time to make sure that it became a part of the organization very early.

It’s always a part of the way that we all communicate. It’s very much an environment in which people are encouraged to look out for the best interest of each other and their customers.

Q: How can a leader cultivate a healthy culture?

Listen to other people’s ideas and do not be closed-minded or righteous to your own perspective on things at all times. Humbleness is incredibly important. It is what allows people to relate to you. People like to follow people that are real.

The head of the company is just another role. It is a key ingredient and it’s going to influence everyone. But once ego becomes a component of that role, it’s the beginning of a loss of effectiveness.

If you’re not willing to surround yourself with people that are being honest with you, then your effectiveness over the long term is going to be greatly limited.

Verbally communicate that that’s what you want to do. Tell them that you want to listen and you want to hear it. They have to see that in action. Then it becomes part of the culture and the expectations, and now you’ve got an environment that is really healthy from a leadership standpoint.

Q: How do you find employees that can work in this culture?

We’re looking for flexibility. They have to have the core competencies that you are looking for in terms of skills. But as important is will they fit in culturally in a high-performance environment in terms of working with the others in the manner that is demanded? The desire behind the individual is what is going to dictate how far they can go in our environment.

Q: How do you ensure that growth doesn’t spin out of control?

It’s all about communication. It’s something that has got to constantly be emphasized, or you’ll lose those battles.

The mechanics of how processes should work are always getting changed because a lot of other people have better ideas and improvements on my ideas. From a cultural standpoint, that gets to be my domain. That is the highest impact area that I can possibly have. That is a stake in the ground that is not changing. All the processes around it and how we deliver goods and products and services, those are all things that are constantly evolving based on lots of input.

It’s a constant journey in terms of communicating as much as you need to, trying to do it at the appropriate times and recognizing it’s not going to be perfect. Make sure that your people know your goals and objectives. They have to have a lot of trust in you that when they don’t understand what’s going on, or until they understand what’s going on, it’s all OK.

Q: What behaviors can stop a company from growing?

Arrogance and lack of humility, especially when you start to have some successes and you think you are a lot smarter than you actually are.

Don’t get too enamored with your title. It just means that you’re ultimately responsible for everything. Stay humble through the journey and keep a sense of humor, because you’re going to need it.

HOW TO REACH: Legacy Energy Management Solutions, (713) 524-0250 or www.legacyenergysolutions.com