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Taking one for the team Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2007

While the CEO plays a vital role in the success or failure of a business, Jim Markham learned last year that his company is capable of functioning just fine without him.

Markham, founder and CEO of PureOlogy Research LLC, had decided to go on an Alaskan cruise, where he would be without phone and e-mail access.

“It was really scary not knowing how the business was doing,” Markham says. “But the team came through, and they didn’t need me that much. Sometimes, you’re not as valuable as you think you are.”

The key to the company’s smooth sailing while Markham is away is his ability to get others involved in the day-to-day operations.

“I never say ‘I,’ it’s always ‘we,’” Markham says of his 58 employees. “If everything you do is ‘I, I, I,’ I think you take a little bit of the ownership out of it. It’s a team effort, and they are part of the team.”

This philosophy helped Markham lead the hair product manufacturer to $54.3 million in 2006 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Markham about how to develop leaders in your business.

Q: How do you identify and develop leaders?

Work with them on a daily basis, and hopefully you have enough confidence to know their core competence level. Work with them and evaluate what they are capable of doing. Know what they are capable of doing if you weren’t there.

A lot of times, they have great ideas. If they are coming in with an idea, they are coming in because they believe in it, and they are becoming more passionate about their job, especially if they know how to start it from soup to nuts.

I like to have a presentation of how it’s going to go, how it’s going to work, what it’s going to cost and what return we’re going to get on it. That way, it will be much better time spent in the conference room instead of somebody saying they have got an idea, but they have no way to determine whether it’s going to work or not.

Q: How would you describe your leadership style?

Anybody in any department can come see me. Everybody’s opinion is important. We tell everybody that if they have an issue and they need to talk to me, they can come in. We have meetings several times a week. There is a lot of communication going on. We have a lot of departments, and we’re meeting all the time about different issues.

I don’t ask anybody to do anything that I haven’t done myself. It’s important that you listen and you lead by example.

It’s real important that when you first hire the people, even after you have them hired, you should really have a little heart-to-heart. Say, ‘Listen, there will be times when we agree; there will be times when we disagree. What I want to know from you is, when we come to a fork in the road and there are two ways to go, where you want to go left and I want to go to the right, what do we do?’

Q: What is the best way to build consensus when there are disagreements?

It’s important as a CEO not to be too stubborn-headed about where you want to go. If everybody in the room does not agree, you may have a problem with the concept. I try to intercede, and I try to make the decision where I am the mediator, and I try to get everybody on the same page. I usually say, ‘I understand your point,’ and agree with both sides, and I reiterate both sides.

Q: How do you get to a final decision?

That’s where you need to talk to them before and let everybody know you’re going to listen to everybody’s opinion, and then you’re going to make a decision. Right or wrong, we’re going to go in that direction.

We all need ownership. We’re going to take parts of what you do and parts of what the other one does and try to come to a consensus. They all kind of have to give in because it’s a consensus.

If you’re a good salesman and you’re presenting the case and you’re going in the right direction, you can kind of guide it the way you want it to go.

Q: How do you find people you can work with?

We like to ask what successes or accomplishments are they most proud of. How do they see themselves fitting in to our company; what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses. That tells me quite a bit.

A lot of them tell you, ‘I’m not weak at anything.’ I ask specifically, ‘What do you like doing the best?’ Whatever they dislike doing the most is probably what they are the worst at.

HOW TO REACH: PureOlogy Research LLC, (800) 331-1502 or www.pureology.com