With continual challenges like U.S.-Chinese relations, tariffs, Brexit, cyber security and implementing a new enterprise resource planning system, as well as dealing with customer and supplier issues, industry consolidation, foreign exchange fluctuations, lawsuits, patents, etc., you can’t do it alone, Lesker says.
“I actually love it because it makes the job so interesting,” he says. “Yeah, it’s stressful. If you have to do all by yourself, it’s horrible. When you have a group of competent people working with you, when they say, ‘Kurt, here’s the problem, we’re dealing with. This is what I started to do. Here’s the team of people working on it. This is our proposed solution. Let’s talk through it,’ you know you can get through anything,” Lesker says.
Leadership development, such as KJLC encourages, comes easier when there’s trust, which is why the company takes teams through a program based on the book “The Speed of Trust,” by Stephen M.R. Covey. Lesker also makes sure his trust in the employees is apparent.
“I don’t know how leaders would operate in their businesses without high levels of trust, especially growing, global businesses,” he says.
At all times, KJLC employees are aware of and dealing with issues. They are solving customers problems, and designing, making and shipping products.
“I have full confidence that while I’m asleep, all is going well,” Lesker says.
That trust was on display when the company decided to pull out its values, he says. KJLC didn’t create these values; they were already part of the corporate culture.
The business, which had about 300 people at the time, had each person come up with three values. The 900 original ideas were paired down and eliminated through a bracket system that led to a Sweet 16.
Then, a group of people from all different locations and job functions hammered out the final five — sustainability, passion, integrity, respectful and innovation. Kurt Lesker III added the final piece, team, to spell “spirit.”
The SPIRIT values have been used to make decisions and find the way forward, including Lesker’s succession into the president and CEO role.
“We give an award every year now called the Kurt J. Lesker III SPIRIT award, and it’s really helped to make that transition easier,” Lesker says.
Taking a stand
Today, Lesker also is more comfortable making decisions that aren’t popular or that others may not see as the best way forward.
“That, to me, just takes time,” he says. “It takes confidence. It takes starting to know what you believe in is actually the right thing.”
Sometimes decisions must be for the greater good of the company over one person’s interest, such as terminating someone, even as you imagine how it will impact them and their family. Lesker says those decisions aren’t easy and should sit with you for a while afterward.
“When I first came into the company, my mindset was, ‘I’m going to keep business and personal completely separate,’” he says. “That didn’t last that long. I quickly developed good relationships with people. I became friends with my co-workers.”
Leadership is often about making hard choices, and it’s always about leading the way. One way Lesker is helping lead KJLC is his passion for sustainability.
“I am hell-bent on becoming a more sustainable organization,” he says, adding that it isn’t as clear-cut as you might think, because sometimes sustainability goes against the bottom line.
But he knows sustainability is the right long-term move for the company’s customers, suppliers and employees.