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7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Mike Muench’s leadership style is based first and foremost on one thing: passion. Therefore, as president and CEO of Line 6 Inc., a company that produces digital modeling devices for musicians, Muench stays involved in the music-making community, and for good reason.

“Customers can tell when a company is genuine versus when it’s trying to be something it’s not,” Muench says. “When you’re passionate about something, you’re going to get people attracted to both your company and your products who share that passion.”

Another significant aspect of Muench’s leadership is the space he grants his 250 employees to make their own decisions, which he largely credits with the company’s success.

Since 2003, Line 6 has grown revenue 55 percent, reaching approximately $69 million in 2005.

Smart Business spoke with Muench about how being a leader means developing skills in others.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

The best leadership I can give is good direction so that others can do their jobs. I don’t want to micromanage and do the job for people. I have good people who want to do the job themselves.

As you grow, your job as an executive is to develop the skills in others within your organization as opposed to having those skills and using them yourself.

From a leadership standpoint, it’s important that you are clear as to the goals and expectations that you have of an employee, and then the discussion really becomes, ‘How can I help you become successful in achieving this? What perspective or expertise can I bring to help you in solving the problem or achieving the goal?’

And that drives the kind of collaboration that I’m talking about.

Q: How does collaboration benefit your company?

We make better decisions. I certainly don’t think I’m the best decision-maker in all cases on every decision. We have people who feel more responsibility and ownership of their responsibilities because they’re not just doing what somebody else tells them to do, they’re doing what they think they need to be doing.

We get better performance, and they’re more satisfied than they might be in other types of environments.

That kind of collaboration avoids the ‘iconization’ of the leader of the company. In some companies, there’s sort of a general feeling that it’s all about, ‘Well, what does Joe think?’ and the whole culture of the company revolves around playing to the boss.

In general, we’ve tried very hard to avoid making leadership something that is personality-driven, so it’s not what Mike wants, it’s what is in the best interest of the company.

Q: How do you motivate employees?

From the beginning, we have been very open with our employees about when things are going well and when things aren’t going so well. We try to be transparent, and that includes the financial performance of the company.

The financials ultimately drive many of the decisions that get made and the priorities that are set. It is the scorecard for how the business is doing. To say that the employees are on the team but they don’t get to see what the score is -- ‘Just keep scoring touchdowns but you never get to see if we’re winning or losing’ -- didn’t make any sense.

It’s a very rare case where we will set goals that the employees don’t understand how achieving those goals is in the best of interest of the company and their success. It’s a natural thing that people want to do a good job, they want to be successful, and if you give them the direction of what they need to do to be successful and they’re self-motivated, buy-in and motivation isn’t a problem.

Q: How do you set goals in a fast-growth situation?

It’s really a tough balance when you’re leading a high-growth company and you’re trying to set aggressive goals and you find yourself coming up short of your goals but perhaps exceeding many of the traditional benchmarks of your business. People’s incentive structures are based on the achievement of goals.

Their feeling of, ‘Did I do what I was asked to do, or not?’ or their own motivation is a function of these goals, so it is a tough balance.

It’s hard to feel good when you’re not making goals, so we’ve had to, at times, adjust and reset our goals. In some cases we changed that if traditionally it was a one year goal, we might take it in smaller steps, a quarterly goal instead of an annual goal, and see if we can’t achieve those quarterly goals as a step to getting us to an annual goal. It’s definitely one of the more difficult things to balance.

You want to set aggressive goals, you don’t want to settle for the status quo and yet you want to be able to celebrate your accomplishments.

HOW TO REACH: Line 6 Inc., (818) 575-3600 or www.line6.com