Carlos Cardoso guides Kennametal Inc. forward Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2010

When Carlos Cardoso graduated from college in 1981, the country was in a recession and jobs were hard to come by for everyone, let alone recent graduates.

“A lot of my peers couldn’t get an interview and my biggest challenge was deciding where to go,” he says. “I had plenty of offers and opportunities and so forth.”

But instead of joining a company, he made the bold to move to start his own company. If he thought he knew everything about business before taking the leap of being his own boss, he soon found out he had a lot to learn.

“I realized that I needed to lead, I needed to sell, but I needed to work, too,” he says.

In the morning, Cardoso would dress in a suit trying to make sales, and by the afternoon, he would change into working clothes and make what he was selling a few hours earlier.

That experience was a wake-up call for the young entrepreneur. He thought he could do it all himself, but he soon realized he needed to surround himself with people to support him. Also, because he came from more of a process-oriented and scientific type of training background, Cardoso didn’t have a “soft side” and had to work on that aspect of his leadership.

“That’s a humbling experience, being 23 years old,” he says.

Today, Cardoso can look back on that experience and use what he learned to help guide Kennametal Inc., which posted almost $2 billion in fiscal 2009 sales.

“My belief is that, first of all, when you stop learning, you stop living,” says the chairman, president and CEO of the manufacturing company. “I really believe that. I also believe that you can learn from everybody that you meet at any one point, at any class, at any background, if you give yourself an opportunity to listen — just talk and listen. That has been a model for me that I try to learn from everybody I come across every day.”

Delegate

Because Cardoso learned at a young age the value of delegation, he didn’t have to go through those growing pains at Kennametal.

But there are young leaders out there right now who live under the idea that they can do it all. Save yourself some pain and just start the process of delegation.

“Your chance of succeeding is much higher if you delegate more,” he says. “A leader is only as good as the people that they have working for them.”

But don’t just begin to pass off everything that comes across your desk. You have to evaluate what is necessary for you to do and what you can delegate to others.

“It comes with prioritization and where your strengths are versus the strengths of your team,” he says. “One of things I encourage people as leaders to do is surround themselves with people that have different skills than they have.

“When you are a young leader, you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know. So, getting more people involved helps you be successful because it helps you with your blind sides and brings different core competencies that you may not have that you learn.”

You can also use delegation as a learning process for the people below you.

“You’ve got to be opportunistic and understand when is the right time,” he says. “By the way, you have to have the right courage and the confidence that sometimes you delegate to a person who is probably not going to get the job done. It’s part of teaching. You’ve got to make sure the risk ... is very low when you do that. Sometimes you have to let your people fail and you’ve got to be ready to come pick them up.”

Picking them up means using the moment to teach and not to criticize.

“When they fail, you can’t clobber them,” he says.

However, he has been surprised by employees who actually succeed and reach the goal.

“Sometimes I say, ‘I didn’t think you would be able to pull it off, but you did it so kudos to you.’ So you have to reward that,” he says. “You have to reward creativity in the company, as well.”

And you aren’t just delegating to help in the present but for the future, as well.

“Every leader has an obligation to grow their people,” he says. “It’s part of the leadership position. If you don’t delegate, the people underneath you are not going to grow, they’re not going to get better. Ultimately, your department is not going to be any better because everything relies on you.

“If you don’t delegate, you’re not going to be able to be promoted because there’s not going to be a successor to you and the company is going to look at you and say, ‘Your position is critical and we need you there because we don’t have anybody else to take your job.’”

Recognize imperfections

Cardoso is a firm believer that you will go a lot further as a leader if you recognize your blind spots, compared to someone who, well, turns a blind eye to those imperfections.

It’s what he had to do as a younger leader, and he wants those in his organization to take the same approach to improving themselves.

The organization uses 360 reviews to help managers realize their weaknesses, and it’s something Cardoso wants his organization to believe in.

“That’s what leadership is all about is that the people that need to do it and don’t want to do it, you have to, in a way, be forceful about it because it’s in their best interests ultimately,” he says.

Recognizing imperfections is part of the Kennametal culture that Cardoso needs managers to buy in to. Certainly, you have foundational beliefs that you want all employees to believe in and practice at your organization. You may not get 100 percent buy-in from everyone, so you have to give people time to adjust.

“You have to have examples,” he says. “You have to tell them what the blind spot is, and if one of those problems is listening, obviously you have a long road ahead of you because he’s not going to listen to you.”

In Cardoso’s case, if someone doesn’t want to admit to having blind spots and then work on them, he’s not going to fire that person at the first sign of resistance.

“Ultimately, culture in the organization drives results,” he says. “I tell people that you must not get the results in the company at the expense of your people. Don’t be successful because you are driving everybody else to leave the company.

“You call that a manager that leaves nothing but broken glass behind them. So you basically have to give the people an opportunity to understand what the issue is; you have to provide help for them to recover from that. Ultimately, if they don’t, I have dismissed pretty high-level executives because they left way too much broken glass.”

Cardoso gives someone between six and 18 months to adjust, giving more time to someone who shows the initiative to improve.

“You will give them more time compared to someone you know has no interest in changing from words or body language,” he says.

If the manager is fighting the idea of improving or recognizing blind spots, it could be a symptom of a much larger problem that they simply don’t buy in to the culture. So, if someone isn’t buying in, no matter how good of a producer they are, you have to let t

hem go if they are bringing others down.

“High performers that are good performers … get discouraged and sometimes even become lower performers when the organization rewards performers with bad behavior,” he says. “You can only lead if you walk the talk. Maybe in the beginning if people know you, they will buy it and give you the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, the bottom line is people listen to what you do, not what you say.”

Know your environment

Cardoso says a good leader is one who has a nice balance between experience, emotional intelligence and IQ.

But of those three, emotional intelligence is something that brings it all together. Emotional intelligence is having self-awareness and knowing when you have to listen to others.

“There is time to talk and there is time to listen,” he says. “There’s a balance. There are times that you have to talk more than listening. And there are times that you have to listen more than talk.”

But it also involves getting a feel for the morale of the people around you.

For instance, with this current economic downturn, Cardoso is taking more of an active role with his leaders.

“It was very important for them to see somebody at the top that was calm, collected and was forming the strategy that we had, believing in the strategy and most importantly believed in the people that I have working for me,” he says.

When you feel something has rattled your organization’s confidence, you need to take action. If you are getting a lot of negativity in meetings or no response at all, there is most likely something wrong.

Cardoso gets a feel for the environment by meeting once a month with random employees to find out what is on their minds. He starts off the meetings with normal conversation and avoids coming across as the boss. If the Penguins or Steelers played, he will talk about the game.

“You have to create an environment that is conducive for people to speak up,” he says. “I believe people should be able to express their opinions and so forth. Obviously you get a pulse from that.”

While you may be tempted to only have these meetings during tough times, try to hold the meetings on a consistent basis.

“My view is you have to be consistent as a leader,” he says. “If you do a lot of these meetings during economic challenges and not during the good times, you run the risk of sending the wrong message. You run the risk of losing opportunities with employees.”

Cardoso began to get the feeling that his leaders below him became stressed out because of the economy, so he not only stepped in but he had to carry himself in a way that told the employees that he knows what he’s doing.

“People lose confidence in environments like this,” he says. “The leader’s job is to provide confidence in the organization. I often tell people if you are the top guy in the company, you have to smile even when you’re hurt. Because, if you are going through a difficult time and you smile while you are going through it, people get a different take than if they see you frowning in the morning because, ‘If Carlos is worried, we should all be worried. We don’t know why he is worried, but we should all be worried.’”

The sooner you take action, the better off you will be.

“If you do that after a bad quarter, then you are just reacting” he says. “That’s not leadership; that’s management. I find there is a big difference between leadership and management.

“Management takes order from top leaders. Leadership is you skate where the puck is going to be. You have to know where things are going.”

How to reach: Kennametal Inc., (724) 539-5000 or www.kennametal.com