Choose to lead

Conducting yourself with integrity is a matter of practice

We really can’t have too many leaders in our business world, our communities, civic life and families. While it is true that more than one authority could create confusion, this is not the only means of leadership. A person can be a leader without being the authority figure.

John Quincy Adams defined leadership best: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
If you think about who inspires you, you think about actions one demonstrates that you wish to emulate. Whether a family member, business colleague, or friend comes to mind, the qualities they practice are likely to include being smart, fair, considerate, honest and principled. The common thread of these characteristics is integrity.

Warren Buffet and Thomas Jefferson both said in their own words, two centuries apart, that estimating a person’s value rests first in integrity. Both men place integrity above intelligence and talent when it comes to the singular quality defining a person’s character. I know that people in my life who exhibit high integrity are the people whose example I want to follow. They are true leaders.

By being a person of integrity, you can be a leader. But how can you be a person of integrity? Many believe integrity is something with which you are born and that some are ‘wired’ for it. But integrity is not like intelligence or talent. While not everyone can be an inventor, writer or professional athlete, everyone can have integrity. Integrity is self-selecting — you decide to have it. You can decide to be a leader.

While you can choose integrity and it is within the reach of all, this doesn’t mean it is simple to attain. Take a look at the people in your life who have it. While they come from varied backgrounds, personal experiences and intellect, they didn’t come to it overnight. The acquisition of integrity lies in developing and practicing good habits of honesty, trustworthiness, and strong moral and ethical principles.

To enhance and strengthen your business integrity, create a code of ethics for yourself by which you conduct business. This will serve as the guide for the habits you practice. Each day, ask yourself, “How did I do?” Were you true to your code? If not, how can you improve?

Share your intentions with a mentor whom you respect. Meet regularly and talk through the challenging moments. Discuss ways on how to better respond.

You don’t have to be in an authoritative role to be a leader. Your personal integrity makes you a leader in any environment. You can decide to become a leader by strengthening your integrity through the development and practice of good habits. Easier said than done, but monitor your efforts and give yourself credit for daily progress. You will ultimately discover you have made a decision, and you will find you have decided to be a leader.

Anthony J. Margida is an accomplished entrepreneurial ecosystem architect specializing in tech startup programing, business accelerator and hub design, equity investment, organization sustainability, and funding.

The emperor has no clothes

Don’t expect your team to tell you you’re wrong

If you want to hold authority gracefully, you need to work extra hard to understand how your subordinates are feeling. How you’re coming off to people might only be reflected in the subtle cues in their responses. That’s because they’re very reluctant to tell you directly what they think, preferring to avoid conflict and quietly resent you rather than risk an open confrontation that could lead to the loss of their job.

It’s hard knowing that people are leaving your meetings and having sidebars about something you said or did. It can lead to feeling misunderstood, unappreciated and ganged up on. Most staff members do such a good job concealing their dissatisfaction with you that it’s hard to adjust in real time. All you can do is watch your people head off to lunch together and know that you’re on the menu.

CEOs like to say, “People can disagree with me all they want, but outside this room we speak with one voice.” Not true. People are not going to leave a meeting through which they fought passionately with you for their ideas or were subjected to a ridiculous rant and then just fall in line. People don’t work that way and any leader who expects them to is naïve. You don’t get to have authority, open debate on ideas, and opinions of your own without at times ending up with annoyed, hurt and resentful subordinates. If you want your relationships with people who report to you to work, you have to own up to the fact that in their eyes, you’re gonna suck sometimes.

To be respected by your people as a leader, you must develop highly tuned perceptions of staff discomfort and annoyance. The worse a leader is at listening and recognizing these cues, the more strained relations become with their subordinates. The more strain there is, the less honest feedback they will receive. The less honest feedback they receive, the more they will remain convinced they are right all the time. The more convinced they are that they are right all the time, the more egotistical (and perhaps maniacal) they become. And, like the emperor with no clothes, they are totally unaware it’s happening.

After years of working with my team, I can tell within the first 30 seconds of a meeting if something is bothering them — there’s a lack of eye contact, the timing is slightly off, they’re too quick to agree — and they can do the same with me. Sometimes these are indications of things happening outside the office, but just as much they are cues that the work relationship is off. I can either lean into it, care about it, learn from it, and adjust, or ignore it and plow forward with the agenda. Ignoring the signs that something is wrong leads leaders to make lots of mistakes, which no one will tell them about, which traps the organization in a descending feedback loop.

No one is going to tell the emperor he has no clothes. He needs to recognize it himself.

Under the leadership of Dan Flowers, the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank received Feeding America’s 2012 Food Bank of the Year award, the highest recognition achievable by food banks.

Current leaders are best positioned to develop future leaders

Your company’s long-term strategic advantage relies on strong leadership at all levels. But as veteran baby boomer leaders retire, you’re losing decades of priceless leadership experience. In CLG’s recent study of 54 large corporations across seven industries, a majority cited leadership talent pipeline gaps as a critical issue. Many chief human resources officers and global talent executives acknowledge they’re lagging in this area, and it is hurting them.

Gen Xers have patiently waited to assume leadership, and behind them a tidal wave of potential millennial leaders is swelling. So, the challenge is to accelerate upcoming talent development. HR departments are rushing to do so, but many organizations have a five-to-seven-year leadership development time frame, and companies can’t wait that long.

Fortunately, you already possess your “secret weapon” for developing leadership talent: your current leaders. They have direct knowledge of what is needed for the job. They are available daily. They interact with high-potentials throughout their progression. They already track performance and coach individuals with in-the-moment feedback. This places these experienced leaders in an optimal position to help HR and the organization develop talent, in place, right now. It is the coaching, feedback, and learning opportunities they create that can accelerate development of emerging leaders.

A study of HR professionals at 20 leading international corporations confirmed that the most successful organizations make “development of leaders” central in their culture, and take concrete steps to align their leaders’ behaviors to support the talent pipeline. Competitive advantage doesn’t just come from best practices and standard talent management. True competitive advantage comes:

  • When leaders are selected not only for their technical skills, but also for their ability to grow the next generation of leaders.
  • When observing and coaching others is made a core part of each leader’s role, and observing and coaching is rewarded.
  • When leaders are held accountable for identifying and developing talent.

Leaders at every level can — and must — drive leadership development, because it’s not just a staffing issue. It’s about having the right leaders in place to execute strategy. When new leaders are ill-prepared, their teams suffer poor focus and misalignment, and execution falters.

Unfortunately, leaders often struggle with observing, coaching and supporting emerging leaders, which creates inconsistency in how effectively they develop their direct reports. Some leaders don’t realize it is part of their job. Some lack the skills or awareness of how to do it. Many need to be shown what specifically to do — what their behaviors must be. HR plays a critical role in assisting with the effort.

Leaders who excel at talent development leverage five critical capabilities:

  1. Strategic talent mindset — they’re naturally focused on strategic talent.
  2. Talent identification — they’re good at spotting leadership talent.
  3. Creating development opportunities — they proactively seek/create opportunities that stretch the emerging leader’s capacity.
  4. Coaching skills — they provide feedback and guide emerging leaders through key learning experiences.
  5. Interpersonal awareness — they listen well and understand what drives the emerging leaders.

Reflections on effective leadership

Most of us have read numerous articles and books about leadership. Organizations collectively spend billions of dollars on leadership development. By now we likely think we know all about what leadership is and what leaders do. But in this time of great change in many industries, let’s take a second look at defining effective leadership.

Qualities of great leaders

Great leaders are never satisfied with traditional practice, static thinking, conventional wisdom or common performance, writes Mike Myatt in his 2011 Forbes article. Having a mindset focused on pursuit (of excellence, of truth, of change, of value, of knowledge and service) is so critical to leadership that lacking this one quality can sentence one to mediocrity or even obsolescence.

According to McKinsey, four kinds of behavior account for 89 percent of leadership effectiveness:

  • Supporting others through building trust and inspiring action.
  • Seeking different perspectives.
  • Solving problems effectively.
  • Focusing on achieving results.

An evolving workforce

The following statements highlight an important change needed in approaches to leadership effectiveness:

“Our emerging workforce is not interested in command-and-control leadership. They don’t want to do things because I said so; they want to do things because they want to do them.” Irene Rosenfeld, immediate past CEO, Mondelēz International.

“Whether you are the president of a country or a CEO, your title does not make you a leader — all the title does is make you a senior executive. Leadership happens when people allow you to influence their lives. You become a leader when your influence causes people to work towards a shared vision.” George Ambler, Gartner Executive Programs partner and blogger (Helping Leaders Grow).

These comments are pertinent given the results of Deloitte’s study Global Human Capital Trends 2016, The new organization: Different by design, which concluded that today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure, shifting from a functional hierarchy to a “network of teams” that must be coordinated and aligned with shared values, transparent goals and projects, and a free flow of information. The team-centric model of work places a new emphasis on learning and skills development, rewarding employees for their contributions, not their “position.”

According to the report, positional authority, which is based on title and rank, is giving way to earned leadership based on skill sets, including the ability to collaborate across generations, geographies, functions, and external and internal teams.

Robin Sharma, author of “The Leader Who Had No Title” and founder of a global consultancy, tells us: “Leadership is not about a title or a designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration. Impact involves getting results, influence is about spreading the passion you have for your work, and you have to inspire teammates and customers.”

Smart organizations will succeed with teams built and sustained by collaborative and inclusive leaders at all levels who are rigorous about self-development, care deeply about the work and are grateful for the opportunity to serve.


Becky S. Cornett is a member of WELD Impact Committee, and Barb Smoot is president and CEO of WELD. Women for Economic and Leadership Development desires to increase the number of women in business and government leadership in Central Ohio.

30 minutes a week

A strength and conditioning routine for a healthier leadership team

A few years ago I, decided we needed to add a strength and conditioning program at work, but not for physical improvement. I wanted our leaders to grow and become stronger. That was the start of our weekly, 30-minute Strength & Conditioning meetings.

The results have been outstanding. From these meetings, we’ve:

Created a common language.
Improved communication.
Facilitated team building.
Built trust.
Fostered individual growth.

The most powerful outcome has been the creation of a common language. For example, during one of the meetings a story was shared about a university that underwent a major renovation, adding several new buildings, but no sidewalks. Instead, they planted grass and waited. After a year, the routes people naturally took to navigate the campus wore paths through the grass. They used those paths as a guide to create the sidewalks. Now, when a situation arises during the course of business that needs action and not over planning, all I have to say is “sidewalks” and everyone gets it.

Our S&C meetings have been effective because the intent is not to solve current or urgent problems. The intent is to create an environment for learning, for questioning, for debating perspectives, and for growing individually and as a team. Executing this weekly, for 30 minutes of focused effort, allows a deep dig into the “messy” concepts found in all businesses with employees and customers. It’s not always easy, but just like a personal workout regimen, it is worth it in the long run.

To put this idea into practice:

  • Commit to a set day and time for a 30-minute meeting each week.
  • Create a safe environment for open discussion.
  • Find a book with concepts that fit the most effective ideas to grow your company’s leaders. We have used:
    • “The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business” by Patrick Lencioni.
    • “The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything” by Stephen Covey.
    • “Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard” by Chip and Dan Heath.
  • Assign 10-12 pages to read per week. Have everyone contribute their takeaways.
  • When appropriate, split into groups and dig deeper using situational exercises.
  • Send a recap.

Our businesses are only as strong as our people. Having a healthy, vibrant team will prepare your company to excel in whatever game of business you are playing.

So, what are you waiting for? Get down and give me 30 minutes per week!

Harvey Nelson is co-founder and co-CEO of Main Street Gourmet, a custom manufacturer of frozen bakery products with distribution throughout the U.S.

Branding yourself as a leader

Leaders are defined by how they connect and relate to people

“Do you know anyone who has decided to do business in a particular city based upon the city slogan or logo?” That was the question asked this spring by the leader of a consulting group hired by the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce to help it define our region’s brand.

Predictably, no one answered “yes.” As the facilitator shared later, relying on a logo to solely promote a brand won’t work. You must start with deep assessment to determine a message and brand that will, ultimately, rally communities, visitors and businesses.

This thought process led me to think about my role as CEO of the Akron Global Business Accelerator and president of The Bit Factory. In these roles, I am continually assessing myself:

  • Do I set a good example of leadership?
  • Do I represent my organization in an effective manner?
  • Am I cognizant of others’ needs and act to address those needs?

Many of our client entrepreneurs would admit that leadership is one of the areas in which they still need to grow. There are four key areas I recommend to entrepreneurs as I help them develop their leadership capabilities.

Be authentic and genuine

A strategy and implementation plan is important. However, the messages and actions of leaders need to be authentic and genuine. Your character is revealed in all your relationships. Stay cognizant of your behavior. Ask for and be fully open to feedback from staff, peers, superiors, family and friends. They will likely be willing to provide it if they believe you will accept it.

Stretch beyond your comfort zone

I was inspired by the recent TEDx Akron speakers who offered their perspectives on making a difference in our communities. They promoted getting outside one’s comfort zone, living in the moment and practicing bravery. The more successful leaders look to expand their horizons.

Practice empathy

Many of the TEDx speakers experienced tragedies that were transformational. As leaders, we shouldn’t have to wait for a transformational event to force us to care for and support our people. You can be a strong leader and care for your team at the same time.

Support givers and encourage staff to ask for help

Research has shown that the highest-performing staff members tend to be givers, or they can be the lowest performing if they are taken advantage of. As a leader, you can make your organization more effective and higher performing by creating an environment recognizing the performance of the givers who make it easier for everyone to succeed. Encouraging teams to seek help when needed will improve productivity and strengthen relationships in your team.

A strong corporate or nonprofit brand is based upon more than just a logo or tagline. It is what is under the surface — strategy, message and communication style — that makes it most effective. It’s the same with a strong leadership brand. It’s more than just being well-versed in your professional field. Having soft skills such as the ability to connect and relate to people on a variety of levels is what defines the best leaders.

Anthony Margida is CEO at Akron Global Business Accelerator

Steady leadership helps The Belden Brick Co. to 133 years in business


The Belden Brick Co. is the sixth largest manufacturer of bricks in the U.S. by production volume and the country’s largest family-owned-and-managed brick company. With a 133-year history, it’s also one of the oldest companies in Stark County and employs the fifth generation of Beldens.

“Our motto is that we’re the standard of comparison since 1885,” says CEO Robert F. Belden. “We try to live up to that every day to make sure that we’re providing the very best product and the very best service we can.”

Since its inception, the company has survived massive fluctuations in market conditions that have reshaped the competitive landscape. Many families in the brick-making industry sold their companies. Other than Acme Brick, owned by Berkshire Hathaway and one of the biggest players in the field, others in the industry are, for the most part, owned by foreign entities. Because of this, growth, in terms of acquisitions, is not easy.

Nonetheless, Robert says the company is opportunistic in its approach to acquisitions, and has explored every brick operation that has been for sale for the past 35 years. It bought Redland Brick Co. and its three locations outside of Pittsburgh, in Connecticut and Maryland, in 1996; and in 2011, acquired the assets of Lawrenceville Brick, a Virginia-based company, which it folded into the Redland entity.

Feeling the impact

One market ripple still being felt in the company was caused by the recent recession. Belden’s product mix had typically been around 55 percent nonresidential and 35 percent residential. But as the effects of the recession reverberated through the market, Belden’s mix shifted to 80 percent nonresidential as the rate of new residences being built collapsed.

Leading by example eliminates ambiguity

One lesson I learned early in my career: there’s no ambiguity when you lead by example. If there’s a difficult assignment, volunteer for it. If there’s a deal to be done and it requires working over the weekend, roll up your sleeves and work with your team to make it happen. If you’re committed to developing a diverse workforce, hire, coach and build a pipeline of people with diverse backgrounds, experience and perspectives.

During the course of my nearly 25 year career in banking, with close to 20 of those years at U.S. Bank, I’ve held a range of increasingly senior positions across multiple businesses, including leveraged finance and corporate banking for the energy, media and communications, and technology sectors. When I look back, it’s clear how my own aspirations and opportunities have been shaped by watching those who have come before me. Those role models — smart, hard-working and successful — have played an important part (sometimes unspoken) in encouraging me to lead and accept new challenges.

Ongoing career development has always been important to me. In a world defined by accelerating economic change, it’s more important than ever to stay a step ahead. For me, this began when I was chosen to participate in a training program that consisted of five six-month rotations in different locations around the world. I was not only exposed to different business lines, but every stop involved immersion in a new culture, a new manager and new colleagues. This opportunity helped me develop not only a broader perspective on the financing needs of diverse clients, but also a deep appreciation for some of the more underappreciated aspects of leadership, such as building consensus and the value of protocol.

My time overseas helped me further appreciate that every culture has its own way of getting things done. In Japan, there is an indirectness to communications that can be challenging to an American. One interesting example: after arriving in the country and settling in, I asked my colleagues whether I could scale nearby Mt. Fuji. My queries were mostly deflected. Over time, I came to learn that my co-workers were too polite to tell me that they didn’t think I could do it (I guess they didn’t see me when I was helicoptering back and forth to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico in a driving rain storm).

The key takeaway for me: there’s more than one way to get an idea across. Back in the U.S., we come from many places, cultures and backgrounds, and bring a wealth of different skills and experiences to our jobs. As such, it’s important to encourage contributions from all perspectives and to create a framework that allows for cooperation across departments, seniority lines and businesses to get things done.

From the start of my career, I’ve been fortunate to have women around me who served as a very visible reminder of what was possible. In college, it was the president of the university. Here at the bank, there are women leaders right up to the vice chairman level, including Leslie Godridge, co-head of Wholesale Banking, of which I am a part. In our day-to-day work with technology companies, we’re starting to see more women in leadership roles as well. Seeing them there, leading by example, is a powerful motivator to all of us, especially the next generation.

When I took on the role as head of the Technology Banking Division for U.S. Bank, I was again charged with building a diverse team and fostering a culture that would allow that team to excel. Our group competes in a dynamic marketplace, providing lending and other financial services to a broad array of technology companies. Moving fast is paramount, and teamwork is critical.

A paradox of successful team building is that it inevitably begins with the individual — identifying strengths and creating roles that give team members the opportunity to have their unique abilities recognized, and to realize their potential. You also need to know when to ask more from the team, and then give them the encouragement to leverage those abilities and make that extra reach at critical times.

A recent example of this is when my team received a call from a major client late on a Friday afternoon — a request for a substantial loan. The entire team worked together through the night and we were ultimately able to approve the loan by Saturday afternoon. This extra effort led to an expanded relationship with an important client.

A key takeaway from this: the need to be ready to act when a client makes an “out of the box” request and to find a way to say yes. To make that happen, you need to have the structure in place ahead of time. As a leader, it’s my role to help the team by communicating with internal stakeholders about the needs of current and prospective clients, often and well in advance, so that they can be prepared to make an informed decision quickly. And, when the clock strikes midnight on a Friday night and the client needs a response by Saturday, you as a leader can’t phone it in — you have to be there.

Gail Scannell is National Technology Banking Division Manager and Senior Vice President at U.S. Bank in St. Louis.

The secret is to never stop

The theme of this month’s magazine is leadership. While you could argue that every month we focus on leadership, I wanted to highlight different sectors that are leading change. From health care, technology and education to sports, economic development and business, it’s a good mix.

As Nationwide Children’s Hospital pushes the frontiers of genomics, Air Force One makes the bold move to do away with sales commissions and Capital University ponders how the next generation can be trained to collaborate. I hope you are inspired.
Always searching

I talk to CEOs every month about how they lead their companies. While some general principles stay the same, I hear something different from everyone I talk to. For some, it’s all about the relationships. For others, it’s about having the vision and not being afraid to act on it.

But the best business leaders are always trying to learn, improve, grow and find new ways of doing things. I don’t think you ever find all the answers; it’s more important to keep looking.

Girls definitely allowed

Women in business is something I enjoy advocating for, and the Greater Columbus Sports Commission, featured in this month’s magazine, has gained a reputation for hosting women’s events. Part of that has to do with having a female executive director, Linda Shetina Logan, which is unusual in her industry.

Logan, a passionate Cleveland Indians fan who didn’t have Title IX in high school, believes she has the best job in the world — one where she gets paid to go to a baseball game.

Columbus also has a focus on women and girls that translates over to sports.

“If you think about our community, our chief of police is a woman, the head of our airport is a woman. We have all these women that naturally are in leadership roles here. It’s not just in name only, but we feel like we walk the talk,” Logan says.

The Sports Commission even started an event, the Women’s Sports Report. The breakfast, which was held in February, honors the athletic successes and achievements — both on the playing field and off — of women and girls in Central Ohio.

HR departments can play a key role in building a strong culture

Meredith J. Guyot was on the road attending a business meeting 30 years ago when she had a profound experience at the hotel bar. She was given a coaster that she still owns to this day with the following quote scrawled across it.

“People may doubt what you say, but they always believe what you do,” reads the quote most commonly attributed to Lewis Cass, an American military officer, politician and statesman in the early 1800s.

The coaster sits next to Guyot’s phone and she looks it on a daily basis.

“That is my brand,” says Guyot, director of human resources and operations at Nesco Resource. “All of us as individuals should have a brand. What do you stand for? It doesn’t have to be a mission statement. It doesn’t have to be a vision. It’s a way to let people know who you are, what you believe and how you approach your life and your work.”

HR departments play a key role in helping businesses build and maintain a strong culture. When employees believe that their company will treat them fairly, it produces loyalty and trust that should lead to happier employees and increased productivity.

Smart Business spoke with Guyot about how to build trust between management and employees in your company.

What are some common attributes to a strong HR department?

Consistency is a good place to start. When employees understand your rationale for making decisions, it eliminates a lot of stress. If you have to make a decision that veers from your typical approach to such matters, the key is to be able to provide a rationale that explains the decision. You don’t want to leave people guessing why you decided to do this or that as it creates unease and can easily distract employees from their work.

Along these lines, transparency is another fundamental trait of companies with a strong culture and an effective HR team. Engage your team in conversation and when possible, incorporate their feedback into your decision-making process. If you have a company meeting coming up, reach out to employees and ask them what they would like the meeting to cover. What do your employees want to learn? What could you help them with that would make it easier for them to do their jobs? When people trust you have their best interests at heart, they will feel empowered and engaged.

What can leaders do who are uncomfortable engaging in casual conversations?

If you aren’t good at small talk and conversing with your employees about things outside of their work, it’s best to find someone who does have that skill to handle that role. On the surface, it may not seem that important to be able to talk to your team about what’s going on in their lives. But it can be of great benefit when an unexpected situation develops.

At our company, we had a young woman whose spouse passed away rather unexpectedly. The couple had small children and he was the benefit carrier for his family, so she was going to have to pick up our benefits. The CEO wouldn’t know that. But as the head of HR, I brought it to his attention and the company did something to ease the burden for her. We did it because it was the right thing to do. It’s not going to make or break the company, but it sends a message about how we do things. Companies are not made up of ‘people,’ they are made up of individuals. These individuals are your customers, so be very aware of their needs.

What other tips can help a company build rapport with its employees?

Talk to each other. Sounds easy. Should someone send you an email that is very in-depth, pick up the phone. Discuss the issue together and ask for their thoughts. Often they have the right solution, but only want it to be verified. By providing this support, you also deliver empowerment. Now send the email, thank them for the discussion and reiterate that their decision was the right one. As our role is strongly that of adviser, adding the word ‘trusted’ as an adjective is what separates the HR role from one who, as an example, manages a benefit platform, to one who builds a platform that best supports the individuals’ needs and company’s vision. Know your HR product. Keep abreast of developing laws and regulations. Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open to all levels of your organization.

Insights Workforce Management is brought to you by Nesco Resource