Sue Chase: Eight great traits that demonstrate successful leadership

akr_clm_SueChaseThink of the best leader that you have ever known. What is it about this person that made him or her such a great leader? It is very likely that we are all describing someone who is highly passionate, respected, driven, caring, servant-minded, ambitious, motivating, knowledgeable, confident and who gets things done.

What is it about that person that motivated you to put forth extra effort to perform? Better yet, how can we each be leaders or be that person who others want to follow?

Actually, leadership does require those traits described above or those exhibited by the person you thought of as the best leader. Those traits are often inherent, although they can also be enhanced through experience, mentoring and education.

Let’s understand the important qualities and behaviors that demonstrate successful leadership.

Leading by example. Whether it is working hard, making the difficult choices, taking risks or sacrificing personal time, a successful leader needs to consistently lead by example. It’s the key to authenticity.

Integrity. Leaders are honest and dependable. Others need to count on you to not compromise on your principles. Others need to see that you can and do take the tough road through a situation to “do the right thing.”

Solid goals. Know your goals and what you are seeking to achieve. A leader needs to have a solid objective. A successful leader has direction, and when others know what it is, they know the expectations, catch the vision and seek to work with the leader to achieve it. It is difficult to get others to do what you want if you don’t know what you want.

Knowledge. Know and understand your obstacles, competition and risks. You need to leverage yourself and your group for the best chance of success. This may mean that you need to consult an expert.

Provide for autonomy. Those working with a leader need to understand the defined goals and from there, individuals need to have the ability to be creative and have the ownership to decide how to achieve the goal. Successful leaders encourage people to think, innovate and own the solution.

High standards. Leadership should expect a high level of excellence. People want to be proud of what they are doing. High standards should not be ones where the goal is perfection. The standards should be high but still maintain the allowance and the realistic expectation that people will make mistakes. Good leaders minimize the lessons learned through errors and oversight, although they take optimal advantage of these opportunities to learn.

Humility. Leadership is not about you; it is about others and reaching the goal. As one has more successes, this trait may become more challenging to maintain. Leadership focuses on what was accomplished and acknowledges those who accomplished it. Humility understands that the accomplishment came through those you lead. Humble leaders encourage others and give them credit.

Execution. Execution requires discipline to get things done. Many leaders have the ability to define great strategies but often there is a gap between what is desired and one’s ability to achieve it.

True leadership is a demonstration of all the characteristics listed above. To some extent, they are inherent in each of us and it is our choice to develop them. We each have the opportunity to search ourselves for these characteristics and step up to be the leader for someone in our lives.

Sue Chase is COO of Clinical Research Management Inc., www.clinicalrm.com. She is filling in for quarterly columnist Victoria Tifft.

Soaring to new heights

Daniel W. Sedor Sr., CEO, Voss Industries Inc.

Voss Industries Inc. is a vertically integrated, employee-owned business composed of three divisions: Clamp Technology, which serves the industrial marketplace; Voss Aerospace, which serves manufacturers of airframes, jet engines and space vehicles; and Voss Technologies, which serves high-tech markets such as hydrogen fuel cells, medical technology and telecommunications.

Key product lines include extensive prototype and OEM components, sheet metal and machined V-retainer couplings and mated flanges, band clamps, strap assemblies, sheet metal ducting, bulge-formed shapes, custom-welded fabrications and specialty fasteners.

In order to effect continuous improvement in its manufacturing processes, Voss, led by CEO Daniel W. Sedor Sr., has developed benchmarks for performance that specify relative goals and expectations. Through this process, the company has gained a better understanding of its capabilities and has created a focus for training programs to meet the needs of its employees and customers.

The focus on continuous improvement in virtually all of its processes utilizing lean manufacturing concepts has provided advantages to Voss beyond the shop floor. Through the implementation of lean principles in every aspect of its business, the company consistently exceeds its customers’ expectations by providing added value to its offerings.

In the last few years, Voss employees have traveled extensively in North and South America, Europe and Asia to meet with companies and discuss their requirements and needs. These visits have enabled the company to develop stronger relationships with distant customers. Voss plans to continue these travels with cross-functional employee groups representing its engineering, development, manufacturing, quality and sales disciplines.

How to reach: Voss Industries Inc., (216) 771-7655 or www.vossind.com

Growth and vitality in its mix

Jodi Berg, president and CEO, Vitamix

Vita-Mix Corporation, privately owned and operated by the Barnard family since 1921, manufactures and markets blending and mixing products to the public and to the restaurant-hospitality industry. During the past four years, Vitamix, led by President and CEO Jodi Berg, has experienced tremendous growth and demand, with production volumes quadrupling. Not only has the volume increased, but the number and types of customers that Vitamix serves has grown as well.

Growing quickly over a short period can create challenges for manufacturing procedures. Fortunately, Vitamix has been able to turn these challenges into opportunities to improve operational capabilities. Vitamix first attempted to implement a lean manufacturing methodology in 2006, only to find that when business activities ramped up, it was unable to sustain the initiative.

Attempts to implement lean methods continued through 2011, when Vitamix recognized the need for a more formal lean and continuous improvement structure to ensure lasting improvements.

In addition to the lean tactics, there are currently three large-scale projects under way in the areas of standardized work, 6S and managing for daily improvement, which have had a positive impact on safety, quality and daily production rates. In addition, eight kaizen events have been completed; these events have focused on quality improvement, production line layout and a warehouse Kanban program. Each of these projects has been completed by cross-functional teams, with production, quality and warehouse personnel playing key roles in the efforts.

Vitamix plans to stay on the same path to continue improving its processes and achieve its lean manufacturing goals.

How to reach: Vita-Mix Corporation, (800) 848-2649 or www.vitamix.com

 

Steve Klingel: A premium offering

Stephen J. Klingel, president and CEO, NCCI Holdings Inc.

Few issues have gained more national attention over the past few years than the rising costs of health care and the importance of a healthy workplace. More businesses and families are struggling to afford higher insurance premiums as they engage in a tremendous national debate about the government’s proper role in health care and health insurance.

In this environment, businesses that provide health insurance coverage for their employees are confronted with two critical tasks:

  1. How to find the most comprehensive health insurance plan with the least cost.
  2. How to educate and engage employees in a cooperative effort to improve their health on an ongoing basis.

The first task is appropriately specific to each organization and its insurance carrier. But the second priority — identifying and implementing effective employee education and wellness programs — can be universally applied to employers of almost any size.

NCCI recognizes that keeping employees healthy is an important means of controlling workers compensation costs, specifically in regard to the detrimental effects of obesity and the rising costs of treating injured workers.

As a self-insured corporation, we are faced with the same rising health care costs and need to control workers compensation expenses just as every other American business has to. But after looking at the research showing just how effective wellness programs could be, our firm determined to implement our own companywide push for employee wellness in 2008.

The mission of the initiative was to develop a multifaceted approach to assisting and educating employees in making behavioral changes designed to reduce health and injury risks, improve their ability to make healthy choices, and enhance their productivity and well-being. We also wanted wellness to extend beyond the physical to include mental wellness, financial wellness and more.

Get your numbers

The first step was encouraging employees to participate in annual biometric screening and online health assessments. We’ve sponsored the screenings — designed to raise employees’ awareness about their personal health numbers — since 2009. Just knowing their critical health care numbers gives employees the information they need to begin taking better care of themselves.

Choose a theme

A successful wellness program includes programs and activities around clear goals. One way to clarify the goals is to use themes. In 2010, our firm embraced the theme “Mission Nutrition,” which included offering a weight-loss class and nutrition counseling plus retooling our on-site cafeteria and vending machines to provide healthy food options.

The following year our focus was “Get Moving,” and we improved our on-site fitness facilities — adding additional exercise equipment, expanding hours and offering free membership to all employees.

Make it an ongoing effort

This year — as part of our “Choose Well” theme — we are building upon the foundation we’ve started by offering employees increased support and education around health and financial issues that may arise, adding programs including:

•           one-on-one nutrition counseling

•           on-site smoking cessation program

•           free annual flu shots

•           fitness center programs

•           celebration of national employee health and fitness day

•           participation in the local corporate fun run

•           financial workshops

•           a holiday weight loss program

The result? Employees have not only responded enthusiastically to the wellness offerings and our goal to improve overall health, they’ve taken action. Our company’s biometric screenings show that blood pressure and blood sugar results are better. Employees are increasing fitness levels, eating more nutritiously and smoking less.

In fact, many screening participants have moved from a medium- or high-risk category to a low-risk category since the original assessment.

Even as health care costs continue to rise with inflation, many companies are steadying overall expenses by taking this proactive approach to corporate health. In the end, making wellness a company priority not only makes for healthier, happier employees — it supports a healthy bottom line.

Stephen J. Klingel, CPCU, was appointed president and CEO of NCCI Holdings Inc. in 2002. Before joining NCCI, he was a leader with the St. Paul Companies for more than 25 years.

 

David McKinnon: Why great ideas mean nothing without effective communication

David McKinnon

David McKinnon, co-founder and chairman, Service Brands International

Effective communication is the vehicle to bring board meeting decisions, annual strategies and initiatives, and support programs for your constituents to fruition in business.

Without a plan to communicate their importance and implementation, time spent participating in daylong retreats, creating charts, finalizing objectives and enduring the wearisome budgeting process are a waste of your time — and who has time for that?

Today’s technology has created myriad options for sending messages across varied time zones and locations inexpensively. I don’t know any business leader or CFO who doesn’t love to see expenses cut, including me. The challenge for all business leaders is to evaluate your communication approach, considering your audience, budget and desired outcomes using the following four topics.

Media

I love my iPad, and in fact, that statement is included in my email signature. Skype is another way I try to tackle communication when my schedule is filled with frequent travel, days with back-to-back meetings and a to-do list with more items than hours in the day.

I appreciate the iPad’s mobility and Skype’s two-way video capabilities to stay connected when I need to.

At the same time, if I have an important point to make or am communicating a new change from an expected direction or have bad news to share, I prefer to pick up the phone or visit the person directly rather than send an email. The immediate connection allows a more substantial exchange with the other person, allowing us both to have a clear understanding of the message, its expectations and to discuss the outcome.

Use a variety of media to ensure the business-building information your team sends is well received.

Frequency

Service Brands International has three home-services franchise companies under its umbrella. Each brand creates six-to-eight annual objectives agreed to by the home office team and its franchise advisory council during a series of planning sessions. If those initiatives were communicated only once, the opportunity for success is small.

A communication is like a marketing message — the sender or the brand will tire of it long before the audience does. If you’ve invested the time and resources to put a plan into place, keep your audience engaged by sharing it at a consistent frequency and with progress updates.

Simplicity

Whether it’s the technology you select to communicate or the written word itself, don’t lose your audience by overcomplicating the message. Use words that are clear, concise and memorable.

I have sat through hundreds of meetings, and I have received thousands of letters and emails throughout my career. I am most impressed by the well-prepared speaker or writer who shares their key points and leaves out unnecessary data and words.

Call to action

A fabulous message that you share across many media channels is not yet complete unless you consider what you’re asking your audience to do with the information. As the leader, it’s your job to create the map to success and make sure your team has a copy of it, understands it and knows what to do with it.

During your strategic planning session, it’s likely you identified specific, desired outcomes of your initiatives. Consider each communication carefully, and decide on your purpose and end result before you begin writing or speaking. Your personal call to action is to measure your results to ensure your communications are being well received and to adapt to your audience if they are not.

These techniques have helped me and my leadership teams manage businesses across state lines, country’s borders and a wide range of tenure and experience. What legend will your vision create?

David McKinnon is the co-founder and chairman of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Service Brands International, an umbrella organization that oversees home services brands, including Molly Maid, Mr. Handyman, 1-800-DryClean and ProTect Painters. To contact him, send email to [email protected]

Natasha Ashton on the art of managing workplace noise

Natasha Ashton

Natasha Ashton, co-CEO, Petplan

No matter what size your business, your employees probably rub elbows a bit in their workspace. It’s both a fact of life and of space limitations. If you create the right company culture, they’ll become more like a functioning family than a bunch of bickering siblings.

But even the most collaborative colleagues will wrestle with pet peeves from time to time. Whether it’s impromptu office social hours that are too close for comfort or phone chatter happening at a few decibels too many, noise pollution tops the list of many workers’ gripes about their neighbors.

At Petplan, we’ve tackled this topic head-on, as our employees share an open workspace that encompasses a call center, claims adjusters, a marketing and creative team, a sales force and managers alike (not to mention our four-legged office mates).

With so many people working for so many different facets of the business, it takes a delicate balance of tolerance and consideration to keep varying noise preferences in check. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned — loud and clear — about sounding off at work.

If you love them, set them free

Setting up your staff so everyone has the option to “go mobile” will help ease tensions when exuberance reaches intolerable proportions for quieter folks. At Petplan, all of our employees have a laptop they can take to less high-traffic areas, such as meeting and conference rooms, if they need some serenity during the day.

Carving out a few quiet places within the workspace gives your employees the option to retreat when they need to nix the noise and get down to business.

Open Pandora’s Box

Streaming music or white noise can greatly reduce the stress of a noisy co-worker and help increase focus and concentration, so we’ve adopted a permissive policy regarding headphone use by employees.

Drowning out the distraction is sometimes enough to manage the situation and keep frustrations in check, and studies have shown that music in the workplace can actually boost motivation and increase productivity. If bandwidth is an issue and you need to block Pandora or other music-streaming sites, radios (with a headphone jack), iPods and CDs can still do the trick.

Communication is key

Create opportunities for regular social interaction among your employees, across all departments. At Petplan, we host a handful of employee outings throughout the year, but we also encourage everyday mingling, with perks like picnic lunches and Friday cupcakes.

Fostering friendships — or at least friendly acquaintance-ships — can help workers manage differing noise preferences themselves. After all, it’s much easier to ask someone you’re friendly with to keep it down than someone you don’t know well.

Practice strategic eavesdropping

At Petplan, being able to hear everything has at times been beneficial. Our marketing department overhears our sales force answering common questions, which has helped shape some of our prospect communications. Our claims manager can hear our “happiness managers” servicing policyholders with pending claims, which has given her better insight into the customer experience.

Never underestimate the power of strategic eavesdropping — mining the melee for useful information can often turn up gold.

As the saying goes, you can’t please all the people all the time, so no matter how you try to accommodate your employees, there are bound to be issues around noise levels in every office. Acknowledging and making allowances for varying preferences can help solve some of the discord, but if all else fails, consider adopting an officewide noise management policy.

As part of an overall approach to providing a positive working environment, an official policy can help make sure everyone’s noise concerns are — ahem — heard.

Natasha Ashton is the co-CEO and co-founder of Petplan pet insurance and its quarterly glossy pet health magazine, Fetch! — both headquartered in Philadelphia. Originally from the U.K., she holds an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]

Terry Cunningham: Hire better, fire faster!

Terry Cunningham, president and general manager, EVault, A Seagate Co.

One of the questions I wished I focused on earlier in my business career is, “How do I ensure my company remains a great place to work?” The answer: You consciously craft its culture.

What is culture? Try to think about your company as a person, with a specific personality. Do you like it?

You may be thinking the personality (culture) of your company happens organically, or that it’s simply an extension of you. Most founders I’ve met start their companies with a strong vision and a passionate belief in what they’re doing.

When a company is small, it often adopts the personality of its leader because the leader is in direct contact with every employee daily. His or her personality is so dominant that it outweighs all others.

But before you know it, you’re on the road to success and it’s time to hire more people to grow your business — and this is when culture can get away from you.

New people bring new attitudes to work that may be different from yours. But in the spirit of working together, accommodations are made to try to keep people happy. Soon, the company isn’t what you imagined. People aren’t handling customers with the same care you would. Going to work every day isn’t fun. You find yourself thinking: How did we get here?

Assessing an individual’s fit is always a challenge. We all want to hire smart, hardworking, creative individuals. A touch of genius is nice too. Yet if you’ve ever hired anyone, you know that the hiring process is tricky. All kinds of personalities show up for interviews. One candidate arrives with an extensive skill set or impressive resume but a questionable work ethic or flat personality. One shows up with a great personality but less-impressive resume. Whom do you hire?

Use the ultimate test

A friend of mine, who had a successful career as a venture capitalist, once told me about an ultimate test he would apply when investing in a company, called the “Toledo Test.” Here is a variation: Imagine a massive snowstorm in Toledo, Ohio, and you and your hiring candidate are stranded. The airport is closed. You must spend the weekend sharing a hotel room with this person while the storm passes.

If the thought of being with this candidate in this situation strikes fear in your heart, do not hire the person. If the thought sounds fun, evoking images of the two of you solving the world hunger problem over a few drinks, then hire the person.

We can’t always accurately assess someone right off the bat, and that’s OK. Mistakes happen.

Admit your errors

The other key to building and maintaining great culture is admitting when you’ve made a mistake and fixing it. The greatest mistake I made in all my years of business was not firing people fast enough. A bad fit negatively affects the business and also the good hires — employees who are killing themselves for the cause, sacrificing family time and vacations while they watch others goof off.

Now some of you may feel this sounds a little harsh. However, I’ve learned that firing a person who is clearly a bad fit is not only good for the company, but it’s good for the individual. Don’t believe me? At a wine tasting in California, I ran into a woman whom I had fired years earlier. Now she owns the beautiful winery and is so much happier.

So the answer to crafting a successful culture is hire better, fire faster. Spend more time finding the right people so you make fewer mistakes hiring. And when you discover you’ve made a bad hire, remove the person as quickly as possible, before they affect the “personality” of your company.

Terry Cunningham is president and general manager of EVault Inc., A Seagate Co. He founded Crystal Services, which was purchased by Seagate in 1994 and integrated into the company’s software division, which then became Seagate Software. His accomplishments include serving as president and COO of Veritas Software and founding, building and leading two other successful software companies.

 

How Larry Feldman keeps Subway ahead of competitors

Larry Feldman was living a double life. As assistant minority counsel of the House Banking Committee, his day job was dealing with Capitol Hill’s most pressing issues: the Chrysler bailout, alternative fuel sources and cradle-to-grave health insurance. But come lunchtime, he headed across the street to oversee an operation pretty much as critical to Washington’s well-being. Feldman, you see, managed the local Subway.

“I would do congressional hearings in the morning, run across the street, take off my jacket, put on my apron and stand behind the counter to make sure the operation was going well,” says Feldman, CEO of Subway of South Florida and Subway Development Corp. in Washington, D.C. “These lobbyists would look at my face and say, ‘You look very familiar.’ And then after lunch, I would run back, take off my jacket and do hearings.”

Since opening up his first Subway location 35 years ago, Feldman has grown his territory of restaurants to approximately 1,500 locations and 1,600 employees throughout Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and, most recently, South Florida. But his success hasn’t just earned him respect in the franchise world — it was Feldman who helped pioneer Subway’s development agent growth model in 1979 — it has also earned him a nickname: Mr. Subway.

By eliminating company-owned stores and empowering entrepreneurs to grow territories through franchised locations, Subway has become the largest fast-food chain in the world, surpassing the iconic McDonald’s with more than 37,000 locations worldwide. Here’s why the growth model is still viable and successful decades later. 

Productivity fastest in two years, labor costs subdued

WASHINGTON, Wed Dec 5, 2012 — Nonfarm productivity increased at a much faster clip than initially thought in the third quarter as businesses held the line on hiring even as output surged, with unit labor costs falling at their fastest pace in almost a year.

Productivity increased at a 2.9 percent annual rate, the fastest since the third quarter of 2010, the Labor Department said on Wednesday.

It had previously estimated that productivity, which measures hourly output per worker, rose at a 1.9 percent pace in the third quarter. In the second quarter, productivity had increased at a 1.9 percent rate.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast productivity being revised up to a 2.7 percent pace in the third quarter.

The upward revision to productivity growth reflected an upward adjustment to the estimate for third-quarter economic growth to a 2.7 percent pace from 2.0 percent.

But most of the pick-up in GDP growth

Roger Slade: Saving the holidays

Roger Slade, partner, Boyd & Jenerette

Imagine that you are sitting at the holiday dinner table with your family — aunts, uncles, cousins and distant relatives from out of town. Someone at the table cavalierly brings up the November election. Next thing you know, World War III breaks out, as your family members debate the merits of the candidates and the future of the country over turkey and mashed potatoes.

Now, imagine that these same people are shareholders and employees in your family business. If these people cannot agree between the two politicians, how will they be able to agree about the joint management of their financial affairs? The answer is only with great difficulty. This is one reason why so many family businesses, and so many families, end up in costly litigation.

Here are some observations from someone who has litigated many intra-family disputes, about what might have been done to avoid a nasty and expensive lawsuit.

Sign a contract

It may seem elementary, but the fundamental concept of a contract is often ignored by people in business. Should you really sign a contract with your brother about the maintenance of a family business? After all, isn’t this the person that you grew up with, shared a room with … your best friend? Of course, you should.

The interesting thing about the negotiation of shareholders’ agreements among family members is how absolutely divergent the views are of different family members about how to run the business and make it profitable. These views often manifest themselves in the negotiation process.

Imagine, however, that there was no negotiation process, and instead, the business began without a written agreement. The likelihood is that chaos would ensue, profits would dissipate through disagreements and nothing of a material nature would be accomplished. Thus, this basic point — the execution of a contract — is a fundamental and necessary component to founding a family business.

Establish a hierarchy

Someone has to be the boss. Historically, it has been Dad. However, in “modern families,” other people can be asked to assume the mantle of leadership. Generally, it is wise to choose the person with the most business experience, the best education, and the most obvious leadership skills.

In any family, the appropriate candidate should be obvious. If the parties cannot agree on this, it is generally a bad sign. Leadership is essential to any business; and a family business is no different.

Treat it as a business

The family business is a real business. The family business should not be run like a family. The conversation between the leaders in the family business should not mimic the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Rather, family businesses should conduct regular meetings, where notes are taken, minutes kept and tasks assigned. It is a good idea to retain an outside lawyer to help administer the affairs of the business.

You should also be able to judge the potential success of your family business by determining how easy it is to apportion tasks among family members after the Thanksgiving dinner is concluded — who will wash the dishes, the pots, clean the tables, fold the linens, and take out the garbage?

If the parties cannot agree, following dinner, how to clean up, how will they be able to run a business?

Establish an advisory board

Working with a family member during the day and then having Thanksgiving dinner with that family member the following weekend presents some challenges. Issues regarding the family business are more likely to arise at inappropriate times — during holidays, on weekends or after work hours.

If Dad or Mom is in charge of the business, this is even more likely to occur. One suggestion for taking Dad or Mom “out of the loop” would be to establish an advisory board. These are individuals you’ve retained for the purpose of dealing with sticky business issues that place Dad or Mom in an awkward position.

Let the “advisory board” take the heat for a difficult issue. That way, you can explain that the controversial decision — which may negatively impact a family member — was made by the advisory board and out of your hands.

Roger Slade is a partner in the law firm of  Boyd & Jenerette, P.A. and chairman of the firm’s Commercial Litigation Department. Reach him at [email protected]