Setting the standard Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2007

Mike Rodman makes no mistake about his belief in hard work and leadership by example.

“I’m asking everybody at the company to work very hard, and I personally work very hard,” says Rodman, president and CEO of Advanced Planning Services Inc. “It’s a lot easier for me to ask that of others when they see that even the president of the company is busting his tail every morning, up early, working hard and traveling a lot. In some companies, the leader is absent a lot or not as active, and it sets the tone for everybody else when they see how hard I work.”

Balancing that hard work with the right amount of fun helped grow Advanced Planning Services’ annual revenue to more than $20 million in 2006.

Rodman, who describes the company he founded in 2002 as “an adviser to other financial advisers,” spoke with Smart Business about encouraging buy-in and the importance of having confidence in your employees.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

My style is leadership by example, and it’s also a collective style. As opposed to demanding what I want, I tend to seek the opinions of my senior management in such a way that I can listen to what everybody has to say before I make a decision on what I want to do.

You have to communicate regularly, and you can ask for feedback often. It’s both communicating in an outbound way and asking for input and feedback. The benefit is that I solicit everybody’s input before I make a decision, and I’m more likely to have more information. It also enhances the buy-in of the employees that they have at least the opportunity to be heard before a decision is made.

Some of the best ideas come from that collaboration, so the decisions that are made are better than if I had taken the position that I know everything myself.

Q: How else can a leader enhance buy-in?

I like to empower my employees with great authority at an early point and give them a chance to show me that, given that opportunity, they can make the most of it. That’s the key ingredient.

Once I see some talent in even a young person or a new person, I tend to give them a significant opportunity to see how far they can go without too many reporting requirements. Some people really embrace that and excel, and others waste that opportunity.

I have great faith in the talent of the people that I’ve hired, so I don’t think it’s necessary to micromanage them. For the most part, I have not been let down.

I have a high degree of confidence in newer people or younger people in positions that demand expertise, and I’ve been consistently impressed with the results that I’ve seen. Therefore, I am stretching more and more every time I get the chance.

It’s a sign that I have confidence in them, which is really important to get buy-in, but it also, frankly, eliminates any excuse for failure. They can’t blame it on the lack of empowerment. It’s a combination of a real sign of confidence, but it also lets that person know that if it doesn’t work, I know where the buck stops.

Q: How has growth affected your culture?

It’s been enhanced. It’s the new blood in an organization that makes everyone that has been here for a long time better. Although the initial reaction sometimes when you bring on new people is that it threatens the old people, we get a real boost of enthusiasm and excitement with all the new associates that we bring on.

I involve some of the existing senior people in the interviewing process of all new people to get buy-in before we hire a person. Once a person is on board, I encourage that person to have no limits on what they think they can do, because I firmly believe that people are capable of doing more than they think.

If you can get a new person to knock the ball out of the park in the first year, it helps remind some of your existing people that they can do it again, as well.

Q: What is one trait that all successful business leaders share?

Optimism. You have to believe that you can accomplish what you set out to accomplish, or else you’re destined to failure. I let all of my employees know that I have great confidence in them and that I am optimistic that they can do the job.

When they’re doubting themselves, my optimism and support of them helps them turn the corner sometimes when times are tough. A sense of confidence and optimism makes people stick to the task at hand when it seems like they might not be winning, and if they just hang in there a little bit longer, they will win.

HOW TO REACH: Advanced Planning Services Inc., (619) 220-8116 or