Walters says he learned this valuable lesson more than 20 years ago when he landed two major customers and began to wonder how he was going to handle the extra workload.
“I quickly realized I needed good managers to watch this or I could never leave the office,” Walters says. “I could never go sell another client because I had to sit here and keep running these clients and managing the staff.”
So Walters brought in new managers and increased his staff from 12 in the early days to 68 employees in his Anaheim office today, with 110 employees across the nation. Revenue rose from $22.6 million in 2005 to $25.1 million in 2006.
Smart Business spoke with Walters about the importance of delegating responsibility to allow for continuing growth.
Q: How do you identify leaders in your company?
Leadership entails having em-pathy for others and to not be fearful of making decisions. If I or the managers of a department are gone and a decision has to be made, we encourage the people, even at the low level, to make a decision.
They don’t always have to be right, but those who are willing to do that and take that risk are generally the right kind of people for leadership roles. If they are not a risk-taker and they are not a decision-maker for even minor things, then there’s no way they can manage other people.
You can refine it and groom it, but they either have the spark of leadership or they don’t. As a leader, you’ve got to be able to motivate people and have the fire in your belly to succeed.
Q: What is an important skill all CEOs must learn?
You have to delegate to your managers under you. If I tried to manage all 68 people, I would fail. I deal with six managers. It’s nice to meet and get to see the staff down below but day to day, I work with the six managers that I supervise.
If you are a strong, aggressive person, you tend not to want to trust anybody around you. I still suffer from that but I delegate, and then find if I have good follow-up or reporting, I can tell very quickly if what I delegated is getting done without having to go out and do it.
It was a little hard at first, and even today, I still check in two or three times a day to see how everything is going. But I don’t worry beyond that, that things are not functioning and operating. I do read my e-mails once a day, which allows me to see if any customer is announcing a serious problem that is getting out of control.
Q: How does a CEO get a read on his employees?
I still walk throughout the building every day and visit periodically with every employee in the building at least once a month and inquire how they are doing. Sometimes you can learn a lot about the health of your business by talking to the troops rather than the managers.
Sometimes, if there is something not quite operating the right way, employees are reluctant to tell their immediate supervisor. Or the immediate supervisor is reluctant to tell me. It’s the same style we use in working with our clients. We can’t tell them what to do, but we do work as a team to help them see the right vision and have the tools to make the right decisions, and then we implement those decisions.
Q: How do you deal with stress?
Anybody who runs a business, we all tend to be a little intense and very focused on what we do. So it’s easy for us to get running down the street too fast and be too focused on one approach, when, in fact, there could be a fatal flaw in that approach.
Some managers and presidents get so demoralized when something fails, they begin to lose their way. They lose their faith in themselves and their trust in their judgment. That’s dangerous. That is the beginning of the end for running a business.
Talk it out with your few trusted souls that might be with you in the business or your wife or somebody you can talk to. Keep links open. Talk privately and intimately with others to bounce off your thoughts and your ideas.
You need to talk things out with other people and get yourself back off the ropes and your spirits back up.
HOW TO REACH: Freight Management Inc., (714) 632-1440 or www.freightmgmtinc.com