The latest Unshakeable session took on a town hall format, featuring an incredible group of entrepreneurs from St. Louis. The speakers included Bob Chapman, CEO of the Barry Wehmiller group, Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of World Wide Technology, Chris Zimmerman, CEO of the St. Louis Blues Hockey team, Alaina Macia, CEO of MTM, Inc., and Andrew Martin, Chancellor of the Washington University in St. Louis. I was thrilled to hear their thoughts about what it takes to be a responsible leader.
Bob Chapman said we often view leadership as a responsibility, but it’s also a privilege. In other words, we have the responsibility to give our workers grounded hope, but we have the privilege to watch that hope turn into growth. As the world changes around us, it’s our responsibility to provide stability to our businesses and workers. Jim Kavanaugh insightfully notes that a balance of rigor and innovation will successfully lead us through change.
In order to adapt, we have to help our workers engage in a positive work culture. Chris Zimmerman has learned through experience what it takes to build a great work culture. Often times, we allow a culture of complacency to take hold, perpetuated by the notion that any individual problem can be passed onto some other worker. Nobody wants to deal with it themselves, and everybody has a reason why a problem that affects everybody is really somebody else’s problem to solve.
Leadership is necessary to fix that. It’s our job as entrepreneurs to break down silos and redefine the work culture into something that encourages everybody to be successful. Breaking down silos is easier said than done, of course, but we’re all gifted with the one tool necessary to make it happen: communication. By talking to our workers, we can provide clarity of purpose.
Bob recommends that instead of talking to our workers about winning, we should talk to them about playing their positions. All of our workers are on the same team, and we’re all responsible to the team’s success. That’s how we all earn our livelihood!
Of course, not all workers understand that team mentality. Sometimes, we have to let the workers know they’re not carrying their weight. “It’s not about being nice; it’s about doing the right thing,” said Bob. It can be difficult to balance your loyalty to old employees with the rising talent of new employees, so we’ll have to lean into those difficult conversations, and create a culture with a “spirit of no surprises,” as Jim calls it.
We have to allow that communication to go both ways, however. Alaina Ma
cia has had such success in her business because she listened to her employees. She used to feel the need to rush. But if workers view you as a sort of taskmaster, they will give you the bare minimum in return.
Andrew Martin noted that some areas require excellence, while others require proficiency. Often times, a B+ job is good enough. But “leadership requires creating leaders below you who can do the job in case you get hit by a bus,” and that requires excellency. By listening to our employees, and then staying intentional as to who we are investing in, we can create successful work cultures where leaders are created, workers are productive, and everybody feels cared for.