Leadership Can Sometimes Come from Where You Least Expect It

post from Scot Hunsaker:
Back in
2000, my company, Counsilman
Hunsaker 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
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
As we began
to have authentic conversations at Counsilman
Hunsaker, 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 Counsilman
Hunsaker 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. A
players 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.
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 Counsilman
Hunsaker, 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 100
yearold 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 Counsilman
Hunsaker, 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
, 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.