Leading with confidence Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2007

Joseph S. Tempio has a bias toward action, but he says moving too soon in business can be a pitfall.

“Make sure you do your homework, make sure you understand what is going on and what makes the machine work before you start to tinker with the machine,” says the chairman, president and CEO of Tunnell Consulting, a 75-employee, $38 million consulting firm focused in the life sciences industry.

Smart Business spoke with Tempio about how to open the lines of communication with your employees and how to face challenges.

Q: What are the keys to being a good leader?

Confidence. You have to believe in yourself, believe you have the ability to share your vision and passion with other folks, and be able to let them set an agenda for what you are trying to do.

In addition, it’s important you have a plan, work the plan, expect there will be obstacles, try to anticipate them, and remain confident and energetic in terms of engaging those problems as they occur.

Q: How do you face obstacles?

Step back and take a deep breath. One of the things I’ve learned is nothing is really as bad as it seems on first blush. It’s important to look at things in a holistic fashion and look at all the aspects. Hopefully, it’s either something you anticipated, have seen before or had some experience with that was close enough that you can define what the next action is going to be.

Q: How do you show employees you have that confidence?

I walk around and talk to people quite a bit. I try to keep in touch with people, and I have a fairly good reputation for being open, honest and fairly direct.

Being in touch with what is going on, talking to people about what they are doing, having an understanding about what they are doing and what is going on in the industry helps to establish that we have control.

Q: How do you know if employees are getting your message?

We try to keep the lines of communication with our employees open. We are an employee-owned company, so people don’t feel reluctant to send in questions or ask anyone on the management team or CEO what is going on. We are generally an informal company. We try to be attentive to what is going on with our employees.

Q: How do you open the lines of communication?

We ask. We are not reluctant to ask people to ask us questions. We will send our head of HR out to sites to interview folks and solicit feedback. An element we instituted about three years ago is everybody on the management team will be interviewed by a member of the board, and information will be compiled to give the CEO another checkpoint on how we are doing.

We have done some surveys in the past. If you do ask questions and do surveys, you need to be open about what is asked, what you get, and you need to respond to it, even if it is to say you don’t agree. The worst thing you can do is ask people for their opinion and then ignore it.

Q: How do you retain employees?

I read some time ago that one of the things that prompts people to leave their firm is when they have lost confidence in their leadership or lost confidence in the ability of their company to accomplish what they have set out to accomplish. We try to make it clear to people what we are trying to do.

We think that is one thing that keeps people working. We are advantaged by the fact we are an employee-owned company, so people feel that if they do good work for the company, then they are able to share into that.

We are also a company that encourages creativity and encourages people to have empowerment and demonstrate initiative. Our folks are generally experienced and highly educated and smart, so you give them opportunities or put them in positions where they can be successful and exercise their abilities. That autonomy, in and of itself, helps in terms of giving people job satisfaction

Q: How do employees know the company is heading in the right direction?

We let them know what is going on. We are very frank about the things that are going right and the things that aren’t going as well as we would like them to go.

We feel that we have a responsibility, because of the employee ownership, to be forthright about almost everything going on in the company. We are pretty open about what we are doing, within the limits of confidentiality, in terms of the clients.

HOW TO REACH: Tunnell Consulting, (610) 337-0820 or www.tunnellconsulting.com