Extraordinary results Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2007

Andrea Michaels doesn’t mind when people gush over her employees.

After all, as president of Sherman Oaks-based event planning and production firm Extraordinary Events, Michaels wants her staff to hear the praise and feel lucky to work where they do.

“We are very well-respected in our industry, and I want people to have a sense of pride in our company,” Michaels says. “I want them to have the same respect for each other and the company that the outsider does.”

To build that respect, Michaels emphasizes staff empowerment, seeks feedback and works to foster teamwork and collaboration, building a culture that has helped grow EE’s annual revenue to approximately $15 million.

Smart Business spoke with Michaels about why letting others make decisions can be the most important choice a leader makes.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My leadership style is based on empowerment. I really believe in training people to do their jobs and letting them do it, keeping a watchful eye on everything and everybody, and stepping in only when needed.

It’s not that I don’t understand what everybody is doing, and I don’t expect anything of anybody else that I am not willing to do myself.

When I see people about to make a drastic mistake, it’s a matter of asking, ‘What would happen if?’ instead of saying, ‘This is the way we’re going to do it because this is the way I demand it be done.’ People don’t learn if they’re only told what to do.

It’s like kids — we’re all children in one way or another, and we have to be allowed to grow up. That’s a very important part of business. You have to train people to make intelligent decisions.

It’s hard because, like anybody who is in an ownership position, you have control issues. You want it done your way, but sometimes other ways are better, and we can learn from other people, too.

Q: How do you encourage input, and how does it benefit your company?

This is a company like advertising, where you have to come up with the best idea or you don’t get the business. When we need ideas, we shut the doors, we turn off the phones and we do exercises with just, ‘Here’s the scope of the project. Let’s brainstorm.’ That means the accountant. That means everybody, because that’s our audience. They’re all inspired and they are all part of it. Some of the best ideas and some of the most profitable ones we’ve had have come from the administrative staff.

It keeps people inspired and excited, and that’s more important than money, at least that’s what the publications say. It also develops friendships within the company that keep a loyalty factor going that might not happen otherwise.

With this kind of communication, people really get to know each other pretty well. When they do, friendships form. That keeps them interested in staying here.

Q: How else can a leader foster a team approach?

We have a program called ‘Walk a mile in my shoes,’ which means that people who do production who don’t understand the sales process and think that salespeople just go out and eat a lot of lunches, they go out and cold call for a day. They are required to spend one day cold calling and reporting on it and doing everything a salesperson would do.

At the same time, the salesperson then has to take on their job and work on production. Or they might have to spend a day as a receptionist, answering the phones and faxing, mailing and copying.

The point is, everybody here has to respect the position of everybody else by understanding what it is, or we can’t operate as a team.

Q: How does a leader’s responsibility change as his or her company grows?

The only way in which your responsibilities change is that your job becomes to bring up new leaders and not just hire followers. You have to take a look and say, ‘If I’m not here, how does the company function?’ and set a plan in place that takes it beyond you.

In my case, my son is very much part of the company now and has been for the last few years and is being trained really in all elements of the company. He’s a very different person than I am. Whether the company will go on one day as I’ve always known it or not, that will be his choice.

I’m trying to stand back and say, ‘It doesn’t have to be my way.’ That’s hard to do. I see that it is necessary, again, to the sense of empowerment, that if I am ultimately making every decision, it won’t benefit anyone else.

So I know when people come to me now and say, ‘What should we do?’ my response instead of an answer is, ‘What do you think we should do?

HOW TO REACH: Extraordinary Events, (818) 783-6112 or www.extraordinaryevents.net