Thursday, March 22, 2018

Leadership Can Sometimes Come from Where You Least Expect It

Guest post from Scot Hunsaker:

Back in 2000, my company, CounsilmanHunsaker was in need of a receptionist. After our interview process, we found Macy to be the best fit for the position. It would be an understatement to say that when she interviewed with us and was hired, she was inexperienced in the industry. From day one, however, she displayed a natural curiosity for how the business worked and, most importantly, how it could be improved and what role she could play in that improvement.

Very quickly, Macy’s role within the company began to change. Within a couple of years of joining us, she was helping us manage events and customer experiences. She had a real talent for spotting ways that the customer experiences could be improved and then working to implement ways to make those improvements happen. She did this with little need for instruction or oversight despite her lack of experience.

As we began to have authentic conversations at CounsilmanHunsaker, we saw the need to formalize the process of finding emerging leaders in the organization. There were people who excelled at thinking about the future of the company, so we needed a place for them to have influence – not because of their title or tenure, but because they demonstrated the will and ability to lead. My partners and I decided that the strategic planning process was the best experiential way that emerging leaders could shape the future of the organization.

In one of the first conversations about our new strategic planning process I had with my partners, we identified Macy as one of those emerging leaders. She had a sense for finding the ways to continuously improve processes and she cared enough to follow through on that as best as her current role would allow. And we felt she was ready for a seat at the table. Just five years after she was hired to be our receptionist, Macy became part of our strategic planning team. Through her research and dedication to helping us grow, she helped to formalize our strategic improvement and management processes. Perhaps less obvious on paper, but unavoidable in experience, Macy had a tendency to be optimistic – to expect the best of herself and others. In short, she was inspiring. This kind of artful leadership ability was not a theory. We could see it on full display. She leaned into leadership situations that likely caused her some discomfort. But she did them with a kind of passion that made every interaction with her meaningful and engaging.

Little did we know at the time that was just the beginning of the leadership role at CounsilmanHunsaker for Macy.

Allow for Leaders to Emerge

It is not lost on me that we were lucky to have a person like Macy in our company. Aplayers like that are hard to find. And that is just the point. How often do we overlook people who have the leadership ingredients but nowhere to go with them? This does not happen because we don’t care, but because there is no set structure or path to a leadership role outside of pure instinct.

This matters in the context of building a legacy for your organization. No matter what you may decide you would like to do with your business, there is a need for knowledgeable leaders who know how to make decisions. Pay close attention to your people. You most likely have more potential leader than you think.

To find and encourage the potential leaders like Macy within CounsilmanHunsaker, we built upon the structures we already had in place when we had authentic conversations. We used a combination of the corporate dashboard, SWOT analysis, employee surveys and customer surveys and created a strategic planning group. By using the activities associated with strategic planning, we found a way to engage people in ways that were challenging, but did not set them up for failure.

We found, through trial and error, that strategic planning is best done with no more than ten people present total to promote some intimacy and not a public speaking forum. I also made sure, as the CEO, that I listened more than I talked. This was not easy for me. We wanted to create our collective plan and not mine. And I wanted to observe how they dealt with adversity, being challenged and how they thought through their portion of the plan.

As a concept, strategic planning has been around since before the Great Depression. Using the concepts involved in plotting the growth of a business is at least a 100yearold idea. At this point, there are as many ways to strategically plan as there are privately held companies. It is nothing new. The nuance I want you to grab hold of is using strategic planning as a tool for creating a legacy. It is the why behind the strategic planning. This is the best tool that we found for allowing the cream to rise to the top – for leaders to emerge. At CounsilmanHunsaker, we decided that strategic planning was the most fitting leadership training ground for legacy creation. We did not want to make people feel like leaders. We wanted them to have a chance to really be leaders. We wanted them to put their ideas to the test. Being able to strategically plan for the future is a prerequisite for ownership. So why not use that critical skill as a way to identify your next crop of leaders? 

Scot Hunsaker is the author of the book Heroic Ownership, and leads The Ardent Group, an organization that provides owners with the necessary roadmap to build a team of co-owners and create a legacy.

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