Follow these six principles, and you’ll develop strong leadership skills

Editor’s note: This is another installment of “Ask Mal.” Mal Mixon, former chairman of Invacare Corporation and a well-known entrepreneur, will regularly share his business advice and experience with Smart Business readers. Ask him a question at [email protected], and your inquiry could be the inspiration for his next column.

Q: I’ve just been promoted into management and would like to ask what you consider the most important principles of leadership?

The leadership principles I learned in the Marines and from my experiences are timeless. They are:

  • Set yourself as an example. Don’t ask your associates to do more than you do. In business, if you are unwilling to take the red-eye to California or to confront tough problems, how can you expect your people to do that?
  • Develop loyalty downward; care about your people first and not yourself. Listen to what all your associates want to say — usually their opinions are quite different. The important thing is to listen. Get their input before you make important decisions. You are only as good as your team. Become interested in your teammates and their families as people. You have to understand them and individually deal with any issues.
  • Make integrity a priority. Never make a promise that you do not intend to honor or keep. That is simply a matter of ethics. Never lie to them. Sometimes we agree on a matter and it may not work out the way we had hoped, but I think it is important to follow through. Sometimes, it is persistence that causes it to happen.
  • Keep your tenacity and resolution strong. Cultivate an unfaltering determination to achieve your plans and goals. Some people may become discouraged easily when something doesn’t quite go right. They may think, ‘Well, I can’t do that; the competition did this.’ You really have to have a killer mentality about getting it done. If you think you can or think you can’t — you are probably right.
  • Become an expert in your profession. A snow job never works. When a new associate is hired at a company, if that person is a phony, within 30 days everyone will know it. You can’t fool people very long. I’ve always advised people to become an expert at something; become a great marketer, a great engineer, a great operating person.
  • Emphasize courage and honor. Face difficult problems and circumstances squarely and lead where others may be apprehensive or unsure. Leaders have to tackle the tough problems and not the easy ones like those you get off your desk right away. You have to have the mentality of ‘I like to deal with problems. I like to fix things. I know when I fix it, the company is going to be a lot better.’

Top management’s most important function is leadership. I first wrote down these leadership points more than 30 years ago, and I don’t think my views about leadership have changed at all since then. Looking back at the tests my company has had — expansions, acquisitions, trials of running out of money and changing computer systems, which almost brought us to our knees — we’ve always been able to get through them. They made us bigger, better and stronger.

Mal Mixon is the former CEO and chairman of Invacare Corporation. A complete story of Mal’s rags-to-riches journey is told in his book, “An American Journey,” published by Smart Business. It can be found at and on 

Five things every leader should stop doing

It’s official — the countdown is on! The holidays are here, the end of the year is near, and, as a leader, you are likely in the throes of determining how to make upcoming months a success. No doubt, you’re probably considering what you can do to become a more effective leader. Sometimes creating change isn’t about adopting new habits but dropping certain ones that you shouldn’t be doing in the first place.

So challenge yourself to let the following “To Stop List” guide your responsibilities, style, and approach for next year. It may surprise you, but abiding by this list is a proven practice for countless Disciplined Leaders. Give it a try to build a greater focus around what matters most. 

The Leadership “To Stop” List

  1. Stop focusing on the “Trivial Many.” Disciplined leaders make it a habit to ignore or delegate their “Trivial Many” activities and, instead, focus on the “Vital Few.” How can you determine your Vital Few? Use the Pareto Principle, or the “80/20 Rule,” as a guide for choosing the 20 percent — the most vital activities that will drive 80 percent of your results and success. Apply this model to everything you do, including planning, goal-setting, strategizing, decision-making, etc.
  1. Stop overusing the “I” word. Your duty as a leader is to share recognition and put the spotlight more on the team and less on yourself. Start loading up your language with “we” versus “I” (again, 80/20) and you’ll create a more inclusive, empowered culture that shares in accountability and feels more personally motivated to work toward and achieve your company’s goals.
  1. Stop trying to be right all the time. Realize that you don’t always have to be right to demonstrate your competence. In fact, if you’re obsessed with trying to be right and winning every argument, you will reflect a questionable, less confident leadership style. Admitting you don’t have all the answers takes greater guts. What’s more, self-assured, strong leaders will happily change their position if they recognize another person has brought something better to the table. They feel liberated from thinking they must always have the perfect answer to every problem and can better focus on their vital leadership tasks. 
  1. Stop playing favorites. You’re going to like certain people more than others. It’s human nature. But in leadership, don’t give preferential treatment to an employee just because you really click with that person. Nothing will get your team’s attention faster and erode morale quicker than playing favorites. This game of preferential treatment can build barriers and hostilities, create a “mini-culture” of exclusivity among your people, and most certainly damage your leadership credibility. Avoid this leadership sin at all costs by consistently treating everyone fairly, always striving to sustain a reputation for being a leader who doesn’t play favorites. 
  1. Stop being the answer guru. It’s not your job to provide most of the solutions for your people. In fact, you’ll make more progress toward goals if you turn over problem solving to employees. When they come to you with questions or issues, demand that they come up with a few solutions first. This may feel counterintuitive or uncomfortable but go with it. This is a proven strategy for effective problem-solving, one that, again, will allow you to better focus on your vital job: leading.

Final note: If you’ve just read these five points and think it’s going to require some grit, know you’re not alone. It’s often tough to break old patterns and commit to different strategies. But here’s some good news: Lots of leaders have found that the “To Stop List” works. The key, however, is discipline. To really get the results you want, only you can discipline yourself to adopt these habits and create the impact you want and need.

John Manning is the president of Management Action Programs Inc. , a general management consulting firm that’s helped 170,000 leaders and 15,000 organizations nationwide create breakthrough results. Manning is author of the newly released book, “The Disciplined Leader.”

How gratitude can make you a better leader

They say it isn’t happy people who are thankful but thankful people who are happy, so why not apply that to your career?

With Thanksgiving just behind us and more holidays quickly heading our way, this is the time of year we reflect on the nature of gratitude. But why do we only focus on thankfulness for one Thursday in November when we should be showing gratitude in all things throughout the year?

As a business leader you may not think about how gratitude plays into your ability to motivate your team and spearhead successful projects, but these things go hand-in-hand.

How to create a culture of gratitude

The primary reason to be a more thankful leader within your organization is to create a culture where everyone is grateful. Simply saying the words, “thank you,” will help boost morale and encourage everyone from employees to clients to be more fulfilled in their work. Why? Because the culture-at-large has practically abandoned gratitude in the workplace. An employee is expected to do the job they were hired to perform, so why would a manager thank them for doing what was asked? But you’ll be surprised by the results when you begin offering your thanks daily.

Other ways to encourage gratitude in your business include:

  • Sending thank you cards to your employee’s home.
  • Encouraging your staff to pay it forward.
  • Leading by example.

A gracious leader is a strong leader

The most important lesson is to learn that gratitude starts with you. When you are gracious enough to understand that you couldn’t be a leader without strong, skilled people to lead, you no longer take their contributions for granted. Humility is something that even the most successful leaders need to embrace.

Being humble is not a weakness in business, even though many leaders have become successful because of their confidence. There is a difference between confidence and arrogance. Employees who recognize that their managers are humble and gracious are more likely to experience job satisfaction than their counterparts that are managed by aggressive, authoritarian leaders.

The trick is, the people you work with don’t need grand gestures. They just want your gratitude to be genuine and heartfelt. If they feel that you’re simply going through the motions, your actions won’t be recognized as gratitude but rather as something you read in a leadership handbook and are implementing to see what happens.

Give yourself permission, and by extension, your staff, to accept and provide feedback whenever necessary. If the only feedback you give is negative in nature, or corrective, your team will begin to feel a sense of dread whenever you ask to speak with them. So liberally express positive feedback along with your gratitude as well. This will make constructive criticisms much easier to handle when they are needed.

Just remember, in your personal interactions you’re much more drawn to those who are open, gracious and thankful. The same is, and should be, true of your professional relationships.

DeLores Pressley, is a motivational speaker, international keynote speaker, author, confidence coach and the CEO of DeLores Pressley Worldwide and Founder of UP Woman; a movement to empower women leaders. She helps individuals utilize personal power, increase confidence and live a courageous life.

She is the author of “Oh Yes You Can,” “Clean Out the Closet of Your Life,” “Believe in the Power of You” and “EMPOWER.” To book her as a speaker or coach, contact her office at (330) 649-9809 or visit her site at

Promoted to manager? Making the SHIFT

Moving from individual contributor to manager can be both rewarding and challenging. Many employees have not been given the tools they need to manage successfully and deal with employees’ challenges. The SHIFT Process™ is one way a new manager can plot a roadmap for helping employees (and their own career) to be more successful.

Whether one of your employees brings you an issue, or you are driving your team toward their goals, or you are struggling with how best to manage under difficult circumstances, these five steps will help bring clarity and focus for you.

Specify the desired outcome. Start by defining what you do want — the success definition. Many managers know what they don’t like or don’t want. They know what they want to move away from. But few have determined what success should look like and how they will measure a positive outcome. Take the time to write out both quantitative and qualitative measurements. Paint the picture of what you want.

Highlight the obstacles and categorize them. Too many managers shy away from talking about the things that get in the way of success. “Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions” is a common management mantra.

But if you don’t highlight the obstacles and gather them, how will you know what plans you need to make to get around them? Doing a laundry list of obstacles is unhelpful, though, unless you also categorize them: What can you control? What can you influence? What’s out of your control? Focus on those things you can control and influence, and put the non-controllable ones to the side.

Identify the human factor. What derails most well-laid plans? The human beings putting them in place. People who don’t get along or don’t understand what’s asked of them,or aren’t skilled to do what’s required. A good manager has best allocated the human resources. Knowing each person’s strengths and areas for improvement and how best to deploy them is critical.

Take time also to identify your stakeholders. Who can help you and who can hurt you in the process of getting to your goals? Be sure to involve them as appropriate.

Find the alternatives. There is never just one way to get to a goal. Some managers get fixated on how it has to be instead of dealing with the variety of options they have. First set criteria for decision-making — how will you know which alternatives might get you to the success outcomes and overcome the obstacles? You will need to measure them against criteria such as costs, human capital, ease of implementation, etc.

Once you have the criteria, you want to brainstorm your options. Which one best meets your criteria?

Take disciplined action. Once you know the option you want to pursue, create a clear step-by-step plan. Document exactly what needs to be done, who will do it and when and how much each step might cost. Delegate steps to people and be clear about deliverables.

Beverly D. Flaxington is the author of Make Your Shift: The Five Most Powerful Moves You Can Make to Get to Where YOU Want to Go and creator of the trademarked S.H.I.F.T. Process ™. She is a three-time bestselling and Gold-award winning author, a management consultant, a successful entrepreneur, a former COO and managing director and a college professor at Suffolk University. Visit; find her books on Amazon and

Jack Ouellette shares leadership lessons from the military and American Textile


There’s an enormous difference between intelligence and wisdom, says Jack Ouellette, chairman of American Textile Co.

“When you’re first learning leadership skills, you can intellectualize, but over time — and unfortunately that’s what wisdom requires — you take the rough edges off of the ideas,” he says.

Ouellette, who retired from his CEO duties at American Textile in 2013 after 39 years at the company, hopes his leadership style is like a vintage wine that got better over time — becoming more mellow and self-confident.

During his time at American Textile, he increased sales from $8 million to $200 million; oversaw expansion from a 100,000-square-foot facility to four U.S. facilities and one El Salvadoran facility with a combined total of 850,000 square feet; and enhanced brand and product development.

But when Ouellette looks back to his days as an officer at West Point and in the Army, he sees a few leadership lessons that were true then, and even more so now that he’s seen them applied again and again in business. He served for nine years, achieving the rank of captain, and flew reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam.

Ouellette shared five of these lessons during his keynote speech at the Nov. 10 Smart 50 Pittsburgh event, which recognized some of the city’s smartest CEOs and their companies.

Take care of your people and they’ll take care of you

When Ouellette was a battery commander, he participated in a live training exercise in Germany. He was supposed to lead the six howitzers in his command to a position so they could start firing.

He found a spot, had the guns set up and performed some complicated math to ensure he knew their exact location.

Then, the first sergeant, who had 30 years experience in artillery, came up to Ouellette and said, “Sir, all the guns are facing north. They are supposed to be facing south.”

Ouellette asked for help, and the first sergeant promised to take care of it.

He went to the guns, and called all six gun leaders and said, “Gentlemen, the battery commander was not happy with the way we performed this. What I want you to do is to follow me and the battery commander will get a new target. And let’s come back here like the professionals I know you are.”

Don’t think you’re the smartest guy in the room, says Ouellette. You need to create an environment of credibility and trust so your employees can let you know when something is wrong.

“Take care of your people and they will take care of you,” he says. “The best leadership examples that we’ve ever observed come from the people reporting to you, rather than the other way around.”

Jack Ouellette was only one of the executives at our Smart 50 Pittsburgh event who offered their perspective on leadership. In this short video, CEOs from some of the top companies in Pittsburgh share their thoughts on the role of a leader and how they can create a positive, productive culture.


You need to recognize your team for their successes and allow them to breathe in times of failure, Ouellette says.

Over controlling rarely gets the best results

When Ouellette was in flight school on his first time up in an airplane, he had trouble keeping the plane at 4,000 feet as he was ordered. He kept going above and below — porpoising — his target.

His instructor told him: It takes a light touch, several iterative corrections and patience for the corrections to take.

Ouellette has also found that to be very true with people, which is the currency of leadership.

“The best leaders are those who are outwardly focused. And by that, I mean they are not thinking about themselves all the time. They are thinking about two things: the mission and the people on the team,” he says.

People in leadership positions who make it about them all of the time are just not as effective.

“Good leaders always get the best possible result,” Ouellette says “but it’s great leaders who get the best possible result and leave nobody behind.”

You need courage to trust others in your organization, while realizing that some of them are better equipped to handle a certain situation than you, Ouellette says.

There’s a fine line between controlling and over controlling. And there can be adverse effects on your staff when you cross it.

He also recommends learning how to control yourself before you try to control others.

When good enough is good enough

When Ouellette was in U.S. Army Ranger School, he and his buddy finished the final grueling exercise.

They hopped on a truck to go back to base and were finally able to get a little bit warm. But they decided to take it one step further.

They lit a sterno can and fell asleep with it under their ponchos — burning a hole right through.

“Have you found yourself in a situation where you are searching for perfection, instead of good enough?” Ouellette says. “Patton once said, ‘A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed tomorrow.’”

Stick to telling the truth even when it’s difficult

Unlike the torturous battles our leaders faced in the Vietnam prisoner of war camps, most of the battles we face as leaders aren’t physically painful. But the emotional and mental battles to get results may seem equally challenging. Want to know the guiding force that kept my comrades and me unified while the enemy was trying to systematically divide and disable us?

It was the bond brought by our efforts to live up to the Military Code of Conduct, six articles articulated on a single page. Most of us had memorized this code in our early training, and it was a powerful reminder to choose the harder right and serve with honor.

Over the years, I’ve created my personal honor code — a set of articles that helps guide my life and work. Article 1 of my Honor Code is, “Tell the truth even when it’s difficult. Avoid duplicity and deceitful behavior.”

Truth is foundational for science and law; without absolute truth in these disciplines, we couldn’t maintain or achieve more as a society. Most people grow as adults wanting to be known as honorable and trustworthy. Having an awareness of this short list of common “lie generators” will help us guard our character:

  • Fear of negative consequences. Consider the many headlines of politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, doctors, lawyers, judges, pro athletes, media personalities and literally every role in society that lie when caught in a transgression.
  • Fear of not looking good or good enough. Insecure people will lie to enhance or protect their image. The tendency to stretch or shade the truth is a commonly used protective strategy. The root issue is pride.
  • Fear of losing. Using lies to promote oneself and smear others has become an accepted tactic in many areas of our society — especially in politics. Where is the honor?
  • Ideological spin. This problem uses a half-truth or lie to advance a cause. Our communist captors boldly declared that, “Truth is that which most benefits the party.” And on that basis, they routinely tortured POWs to sign false propaganda lies.

Regardless of the daily opportunities to misrepresent the truth or lie, we must all remain vigilant and choose the truth to get the best results for us, our teams and our society.

Here are three things you can do to master Article 1 of the Honor Code:

  1. Set the example by telling the truth even when it’s hard.
  2. Talk to others about why the truth is so critical to trust and organizational effectiveness.
  3. Bring out the truth to expose those who are telling lies.

Lee Ellis is president of Leadership Freedom LLC and a former Vietnam War POW.

How local business executives lead their organizations to success


It’s awards season for Smart Business Columbus.

We have four winners who were honored at our inaugural Smart Women event from a group of strong finalists.

Three specialty award winners were selected for the 2015 class of Smart 50, which were announced at the end of October.

Junior Achievement is inducting two business leaders into its Central Ohio Business Hall of Fame this month.

And the Medical Mutual Pillar Awards for Community Service are just around the corner.

So, what makes these business executives rise to the top? They are leaders — leaders who promote gender equality, spark innovation, nurture business continuity and more.

They might do it differently, but they each know how to inspire their employees, structure their organizations and work with their clients to generate long-term success.

Leadership is a term that can be overused in business, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. Let’s take a look at what these business executives have to say about their organizations and leadership.


col_HallOfFame_logoCentral Ohio Business Hall of Fame

2015 Inductees

col_cs_BillIngram_HOFEdgar W. “Bill” Ingram III
Chairman of the Board and CEO
White Castle Systems Inc.

White Castle Systems Inc. is going to hit the 100-year mark under its fourth generation of leadership.

E.W. “Bill” Ingram III will step down as CEO at the end of this year, while staying on as chairman of the board. His daughter Lisa Ingram will move up from president to CEO.

He’s not sure what his grandfather’s expectations were for the company, but Ingram says he would probably be surprised. In fact, for many years, Ingram was the only family member with White Castle; now they have more than a dozen of family members involved.

Ingram says they’ve heard from others who have attempted it that it’s very difficult to keep up that kind of sustainability.

“We understood that if we were to do that, it would be very unusual, and that it was important to put a lot of thought and work into that idea. So we did start, a long time ago, working toward that goal,” he says.

A family atmosphere

Looking at it realistically, if they sold the business, the shareholders would make a lot more money. So Ingram worked with the shareholders to make sure management understood their concerns and that the shareholders were on board with maintaining White Castle as a family business.

It’s certainly something that many of the employees have come to expect.

“All of the team members who have worked here for years and years — this is the only thing they’ve known,” Ingram says.

White Castle has a reputation for retention, because the family atmosphere is something that many people want in an employer, he says. The company annually celebrates employees who have been with the company for 25 years, and this year around 85 people hit that mark.

In addition, in a family business, Ingram has found that it’s very important to set an example as a leader.

Ingram says he used to visit every restaurant and factory once a year. His employees just wanted him to acknowledge that it was important to visit them.

“When I started doing that, I’d meet people, team members, who this was their first job working behind the counter and now they’re in high management positions within the company,” he says.

5 tips for being a better leader

Vistage, Great Lakes region

Leadership is something that seems to be a bit esoteric. Some are of the opinion that there are people who were just born to be natural leaders. Others hold to the theory that anyone can be taught to excel in positions of authority. The reality is that there is no right answer and both statements can be true.

To achieve business success, an organization or group will only go as far as the person put in the highest position of leadership can take it. There have been countless studies on the qualities that an individual will need to possess to be successful when placed in an authoritative role. For those who didn’t enter the world with the ability to lead people or companies into greatness, there are ways to brush up your skills in this area.

1. Communication is key

While it’s important to lead by example, leaders must also be vocal. Entrepreneur writes that the best leaders are always those who can be heard and whose instructions and directives are easily understood.

It’s also important, however, to be good at listening. Communication goes both ways and leaders should be effective at both delivering information and taking it in.

2. Imitation is the best form of flattery

Those individuals who weren’t born with the natural ability to lead should model their behaviors and actions after someone who is, according to a Forbes article by Alex McClafferty. By mimicking the behavior of someone who excels at leadership, these traits can be quickly adopted and help make you stronger in this area.

3. Keep emotions in check

Being placed in a position of authority, at times, can be overwhelming; triggering an emotional response that isn’t always positive and can diminish one’s standing as a leader.

Entrepreneur suggests that individuals always be mindful of their thoughts and feelings. At the core of leadership are relationships. An emotional outburst triggered by external pressures can have far reaching consequences, such as diminishing one’s standing as an authority figure.

4. Be someone others can trust

With leadership comes a massive amount of responsibility. People placed in this role must be conscious of the fact that there are people who look up to and trust them.

Switch and Shift writes that it’s important for leaders to always keep their word. If errors are made, own up to them. If you commit to something, do it. If you happen to disappoint someone or can’t follow through, be sure to apologize.

Being trustworthy can often be an overlooked aspect of leadership, but it shouldn’t be. The more that people trust you as a leader, the easier it will be to get them to accept your role and follow directives.

5. Understand that you can always be better

After being placed in a position of power or authority, some people adopt the mindset that they’ve reached the pinnacle and, therefore, there’s nothing more for them to learn. This attitude and mindset can be dangerous.

Entrepreneur writes that there are always new skills that can be mastered or some area of leadership that can be worked on. Keeping an open mind mitigates stagnation and helps personal growth. For those who have been tabbed as leaders, this is critical.

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but authority figures should never feel that they know everything and have no need to gain new knowledge.

Knowing when to quit

One of Ingram’s biggest lessons from his long career leading the family business is that you have to be flexible and change with the times.

“We try experiments from time to time, and sometimes they don’t work,” he says. “And just because it doesn’t work in one instance doesn’t mean it’s not going to work a decade in the future.”

One of the most successful has been selling its restaurant products in grocery stores. White Castle was one of the first to do this, and now the frozen food cases are stocked with restaurant products.

The hardest part about trying something new, however, is realizing when to let go. If it’s not working, Ingram says you may want to stick with it, and often that’s not the right thing to do.

Many of your experiments are going to fail — sometimes more than once. White Castle has fooled around with the concept of two brands under one roof, Ingram says, a couple of different times, but it really hasn’t worked very well either time they’ve tried it.

“In my experience, you should probably quit sooner than you did,” he says.



col_cs_CurtisJewell_HOFCurtis Jewell
Chairman and CEO
EXCEL Management Systems

At age 72, Curtis Jewell, chairman and CEO of EXCEL Management Systems, is going strong, but he’s stepped back from the front line. He’s coaching, but doesn’t want to be the No. 1 sales person.

Over the years, he has made connections and tried to walk the walk. Jewell grew up in the country, in a southern household like television’s “The Waltons.”

“That integrity and taking care of your neighbor and you know, being involved in the community was just natural with us always,” he says.

“That’s the good news of being an entrepreneur all your life and coming from an entrepreneur family — you don’t have to hedge, you don’t have to lie, you don’t have to sneak, you don’t have to take shortcuts,” Jewell says. “Because you learn that you’re going to win more than you lose by telling the truth.”

Win more than you lose

To Jewell, leadership is setting an example by taking risks and giving more than receiving. He doesn’t try to litigate everything or get every little piece.

“You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some,” he says “But you’ll win far more than you lose if you approach life, and people the right way. It’s all in style. It’s all in integrity. It’s all in honesty and openness.”

Jewell gives his employees space, trusting them to do the right thing and complete what needs to be done, because people are basically trustworthy, he says. He also expects his executives to own their area of the business within the enterprise.

“We are in the problem-solving business, so I expect whatever the issue is we’ll solve it,” Jewell says. “So I try to encourage my employees always to not be shy of telling me what’s been going on, regardless of what kind of day they’re having.

“I don’t run emergency rooms. I don’t run surgical suites. I don’t run operations where one mistake will kill somebody. So you can make a mistake, and we’ll correct the mistake and go on and learn from it.”

Mentoring others

Jewell likes to mentor aspiring entrepreneurs, because so many people helped him. For example, Robert Lazarus Jr. of Lazarus department stores first brought him to Columbus in the 1970s to head up a community substance abuse treatment center. Lazarus had Jewell serve on numerous community boards, and he enjoyed rolling up his sleeves, serving a higher purpose.

So, what are some things that Jewell advises younger people?

He says youngsters must understand whether they are trying to build a business to have a job or wealth. It’s two separate approaches to life and business.

At the same time, he doesn’t advocate young entrepreneurs bringing in investors. In Jewell’s opinion, it’s better to use loans and lines of credit.

“The first thing they want to do is get a partner with their friend, or their cousin or somebody,” he says. “And the next thing, they go under, because (the) two personalities are different.”

As someone involved in wider community leadership, particularly children’s causes, Jewell exposes his employees to activism because he believes you don’t need to build wealth to start giving back.

He also tries to connect organizations, so they aren’t rolling over each other trying to get donations.

The same goes for people. Jewell says that race relations are still stove piped in Columbus, but as a businessman he travels in all circles and he wishes more people would get out of their comfort zone.

“It’s not necessarily due to malice,” he says “It’s just people are historically moving in the circles that they’re used to, and they are overwhelmingly one black and one white. I don’t like that.”


When, how to expand your leadership team with a company senior leader

As a business owner, I’m always looking for ways to get the best performance out of my company and team.

We’re rigorous in finding ways to continuously improve, and I try to hold that standard from the top to the bottom of my IT consultancy, Lazorpoint.

Striving to thrive

When we started missing some of our ambitious growth and service goals, I knew it was time to make some changes for us to perform better. I wasn’t sure what was missing from my company, so I chatted with the friends who have companies of a similar size and have experienced their own growing pains. I wanted see how they approached growth and building their teams.

Between those conversations and a lot of reading on what makes great companies tick, it became clear that Lazorpoint was missing someone whose sole focus was to connect our strategies with our tactics.

I’ve always believed that truly great companies have a visionary and an integrator. Apple had Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak; Microsoft had Bill Gates and Paul Allen. In the 18 years since I founded Lazorpoint, I transitioned from a sole proprietor to leading a team of more than 25 professionals. I had developed a clear vision for where I want my company to go. Now I needed someone to help me manage our growing team and improve our processes. I needed a COO.

Getting started

Adding a senior manager to a small business is a daunting task. The wrong hire is a costly mistake that can set a company back for years. I again tapped my network to see if they knew any viable candidates. I also engaged two outside consultants to both source candidates and help with the process. Finally, I built a team consisting of our current senior managers to oversee the process.

We first developed exactly what we wanted out of the COO. We clearly defined the position with a detailed job description and built benchmarks for the role. We outlined the key competencies required for success, and we considered where we wanted Lazorpoint to go in the next several years and how the COO would help us get there.

The right fit

Even after filtering out applicants who clearly lacked the skillset required, we spent hours with our finalists. We ultimately spent 40 hours with our new COO, Russ Klein, prior to hiring him. This provided time for him to demonstrate and prove he had the right capabilities while also enabling him to ensure Lazorpoint was a great fit.

Why it’s worth it

We had spent more than 200 man-hours over a seven-month period to find the best fit. That’s a staggering commitment for a small business, but it is a small price to pay if we meet our long-term objectives.

Without reinvesting in your company, you’re likely standing still or backsliding. If your company is not going where you want it to, consider adding some muscle at the top. The right executive can be a game changer.

David Lazor is the founder and CEO of Lazorpoint, an IT consulting firm based in Cleveland.

Are you a boss or a leader? Both are effective, but only one offers long-term satisfaction

There are two kinds of managers in the world: bosses and leaders. Both can achieve results and get things done, but only one truly inspires people to greatness.

■ A boss drives employees, depends on authority, places blame, takes credit and says, “go.”

■ A leader coaches employees, generates enthusiasm, develops people, gives credit and says, “let’s go.”

Leaders are committed to making their people better, which encourages them to go above and beyond. Employees feel valued and want to do a better job. They are committed to a team and want to help achieve the goals of the organization.

When people work for a boss, they tend to feel like parts of a machine that can easily be swapped out. They don’t feel their opinions are valued, and as a result, put in minimal effort, limiting the potential of the organization.

Leadership is a privilege, not an entitlement, and each of us should strive to be leaders, not bosses. Only by being leaders can we feel true fulfillment as we help inspire those around us. While being an old-school boss can yield results, it isn’t the most satisfying position to hold. Do you want people who are motivated and want to take initiative, or do you want to have to monitor them to make sure the job gets done? Trying to prod people into doing what you want can quickly become a tiresome chore for a boss, so why not become a leader?

Employees should feel like part of a larger family, where the leader gives direction and encouragement and doesn’t punish mistakes, but instead uses them as a teaching tool. If people fear punishment, they will always play it safe and never take risks. As CEOs, we know that taking risks is part of the journey to finding success. If no one is willing to take risks but you, progress toward your goals will be painfully slow and the big breakthrough you are hoping for may never happen.

Managing people is a process, not an event. Coaching should be going on all the time, and employees should not be afraid to tell you when you’re wrong. If the only time you are talking to employees is to tell them they did something wrong, then you are being a boss and not a leader.

Tony Hsieh, founder of, focuses on being a leader and creating a culture that encourages others to do the same at his organization. His belief is that what goes around the office comes around to the customer. In Zappos’ case, happy employees led by leaders instead of bosses has resulted in billions of online sales and many happy customers.

A boss might be able to achieve the same thing, but a leader will increase the odds of success and have a lot more fun along the way.


Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc., the publisher of Smart Business Magazine and operates SBN Interactive, a content marketing firm.

Down to brass tacks: 7 leadership keys on how to put into play some best practices

Every successful executive can offer a key to leadership that he or she has learned through experience. Communication, leading by example, a positive attitude — these are among the many best practices that can work wonders.

By incorporating some of these tips from St. Louis area leaders, you can add them to your touchstone of advice and guidance from many sources to help find even keel to guide your vessel.

stl_cs_JimWeddleJim Weddle,
managing partner,
Edward Jones




1. Ask yourself three questions.

Edward Jones set into motion a new corporation following a thorough self-analysis the company performed.

“When we worked on our five-year plan we did so with the guidance and assistance of two gentlemen, one being Jim Collins who wrote, ‘From Good to Great,’” says Jim Weddle, managing partner, Edward Jones. “One of the things that he suggests is that you ask yourself three questions.

“The first one is, ‘What do you do better than anybody else?’ The second is, ‘What are you most passionate about? And third is, ‘What’s your economic driver?’”

Weddle says that Edward Jones’ business model makes the firm better than anybody else in the investment process.

The firm is most passionate about helping its current and potential individual investors live a better life.

And lastly, its economic driver is its financial advisers.

“It’s not easy to get your arms around the answers to those questions,” Weddle says. “We had a lot of answers before we got it right.”

The second adviser that Edward Jones used in its planning process is Michael Porter, a world-renowned expert on strategy, who preaches that strategy is all about a sustainable difference.

“It’s about doing things differently or doing different things than your competition and making trade-offs,” Weddle says. “It’s about making decisions as to what you’re going to offer and what you’re not. Who you’re going to serve and who you’re not. How you run your business comes down to the choices that you make.”

Those two pieces of advice, the three questions and the tradeoffs, are the core of Edward Jones’ long-term plan.

stl_cs_RobinSheldonRobin Sheldon,
founder and president,
Soft Surroundings




2. Have a plan for delegating

Robin Sheldon, founder and president, Soft Surroundings, needed to find the missing piece of the puzzle so her company could grow. She has to accept the fact that it would be OK to delegate.

“It’s a process,” Sheldon says. “You have to put some good planning behind it. But in order to do that, you have to have the right people. You have to have a very clear understanding of what motivates each individual person. They are not the same. You can’t treat them the same.

“You have to learn each person and figure out how you’re going to make them happy in what they are doing, productive and wanting to do more.”

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in business is assuming that with a few brief words in your office, an individual can take a task and run with it.

“You can ruin a perfectly good career if you take somebody who is a super performer for you and you elevate them into a management position and don’t give them any management training,” Sheldon says. “Before you know it, you have a perfectly good person who has such good skills, but now is floundering in the job because you didn’t give him or her any management training.”

Develop a plan for the person you want to give responsibility to and then share your plan with that person. Take the time to see how the person feels about it and go over areas that you’ll need to work on with the person.

stl_cs_RudiRoesleinRudi Roeslein,
founder and CEO,
Roeslin & Associates




3. Empower your people

As Rudi Roeslein, founder and CEO, Roeslin & Associates, looked at his role in leading his company, he began to understand a problem he had getting people more involved in guiding the business.

So as things began to pick up, Roeslein appointed six people who had been department managers and made them directors.

“I assigned specific customers and accounts on a regional and global basis, regardless of whether they were technical or nontechnical,” Roeslein says. “I divided it among them.”

The key to making this work was that Roeslein didn’t just call them into his office, tell them about the change and then expect them to figure out how to do it on their own.

“I said, ‘I will mentor you for a period of a couple of years,’” Roeslein says. “‘I will go with you to these customers, but ultimately, I’m turning these customers over to you. I’m turning these projects over to you. Then you guys figure out how to complement each other. Figure out who is best at construction, engineering and business development. One of you is going to become the president of the company.’”

It was a bold move, but Roeslein quickly knew it was exactly what his business needed.

“We quickly became a $100 million company, which under my leadership and style, probably never would have happened,” Roeslein says. “We would have been stuck at $20 million to $25 million because that’s what I could manage and that’s what I could keep my thumb on and have enough daytime hours to manage.”

stl_cs_AlainaMarciaAlaina Macia,
president and CEO,
MTM Inc.




4. Manage new growth

Despite all the areas of the business Alaina Macia, president and CEO, MTM Inc., has been focused on over the years, her biggest challenge has remained managing the growth of the company.

“We are a high-growth company, but we never want to grow and sacrifice the quality to our existing customers,” Macia says. “So we make sure we isolate those clients so it’s business-as-usual for them while we’re growing, implementing and staffing for new programs.

“Like a duck, we want to appear very smooth to all our clients even if we’re working very feverishly under the water.”

Growth in your core service offerings is one thing, but growing new offerings takes a lot more focus and attention.

“It’s really about prioritizing what you believe you can be successful in and what is going to generate return on investment so you can continue to invest in your services,” she says.

When growing both your core service and a new offering you have to make sure you’re not taking your eye off of either ball.

“You have to have enough energy around the new products that you’re actually going to be successful in making it happen, but not take away so much attention from your core product that you’re diminishing the value to your clients,” Macia says.


Neil Jaffee


Gary Jaffee

Neil Jaffee,

Gary Jaffee,
GL Group Inc. Booksource



5. Assess your team

Leadership is a very fluid process. If you’re not at least thinking about how you interact with your team, you’re not using that team to the best of your ability. That’s what the situation was at GL Group Inc. Booksource when brothers Neil and Gary Jaffee started to move the company into digital offerings.

“You have to make changes with people who don’t listen enough or don’t lead from engagement among the staff,” says Neil Jaffee, president, GL Group Inc. Booksource. “You can either listen too much and not get the feedback and have a problem or you cannot listen enough and have great people giving you feedback, and you’re not moving things forward.”

In Gary’s case, it was the former and that needed to change. Once he made the decision that he had to replace some of his people, he had to determine what qualities and attributes the replacements would need to have.

“It’s the qualities that you are searching for that are most important,” Gary says. “Determine what those criteria are. That’s more important than having the person available that you’ve picked out.

“You’ve got to listen, you have to have this person meet other people and you have to get other people’s feedback and opinions to see if it’s really the right fit,” Neil says. “Get a lot of feedback from a lot of different people. Make sure you look at the criteria and go off the job description. Do all the things you would normally do when hiring.”

stl_cs_JaneSaaleJane Saale,
president and CEO,
Cope Plastics




6. Communication primer

Jane Saale’s thoughts on becoming a better leader and striving for better lines of communication in Cope Plastics of which she was president, first focused on herself.

She was the leader, after all. If she did a poor job of sharing information, the company had no hope of becoming a more cohesive and more informed group.

“You have to have clear and concise directions and you have to make sure your folks know where you’re headed,” Saale says. “You have to be a good listener. You have to understand and know your audience. You have to set expectations, and they have to be clear.”

She says growth in her confidence as a communicator has been achieved through plenty of practice.

“It’s come from experience,” Saale says. “We have trade associations and I’m on several boards in the area. I’ve also gone through some leadership roles and done some speaking. The folks in my community and on the boards that I serve on, they have helped me grow as a communicator and as a leader.”

If you feel like you’re not as effective as you could be talking to your people and delivering information, find ways to practice. Learn what works and doesn’t work, and it will help you improve.

stl_cs_RakeshSachdevRakesh Sachdev,
president and CEO,
Sigma-Aldrich Corp.




7. Unexpected leadership change

Rakesh Sachdev did not see this day coming. Sure, he and Jai Nagarkatti had talked about leadership transition and succession planning at Sigma-Aldrich Corp., but that was years down the road.

Sachdev insists the thought of being CEO of the 7,890-employee life science and technology company had not crossed his mind for even a moment.

“Obviously, this came as a surprise to all of us,” Sachdev says.

The “this” Sachdev is referring to is the unexpected death in November 2010 of Nagarkatti. He had been with Sigma-Aldrich since 1976 and had served as CEO since 2006 and chairman since 2009.

Sachdev may have had a few moments of anxiety about his sudden rise to the top at Sigma-Aldrich, but he didn’t let anyone know that.

“Just being prepared is the mark of a great leader,” Sachdev says. “I look at my own career, and I say this to a lot of the young people here, ‘You have to step out of your comfort zone if you want to do big things and great things.’ I’ve always done that. I’ve changed industries. I’ve lived in different geographies. To me, that’s very fascinating to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and try to wrap your arms around it as quickly as possible. I think that’s helped me personally.”

By putting himself in situations where he didn’t initially know exactly what to do in every situation, Sachdev says he learned to adapt.

How to reach: Edward Jones, (314) 515-2000 or; Soft Surroundings, (800) 240-7076 or; Roeslein & Associates Inc., (314) 729-0055 or; MTM Inc., (636) 561-5686 or; Booksource, (314) 647-0600 or; Cope Plastics Inc., (800) 851-5510 or; Sigma-Aldrich Corp., (314) 771-5765 or