Today’s business environment requires a different kind of leader. Changing dynamics within internal environments and external landscapes are forcing leaders to think and act differently with increasing regularity.
Today’s leader is required to be agile, responsive and innovative, collaborative, thoughtful, and capable of thinking outside of the box. To accomplish this is no easy task.
The following will explore how leaders can employ a three-pronged approach to leadership through discipline, networks and mentors, and new frontiers. We will look at how two business owners and one association executive use these tools to improve their leadership skills and work toward common business goals, including:
- Reshaping the way leaders think about leadership
- Shifting company culture and engaging teams
- Driving growth and long-term success
Discipline means different things to different people, and not everyone assigns the same meaning to discipline, or subscribes to the same type of discipline. For example, making your bed, exercising, reading, meditating, and skipping breakfast are all types of disciplines that any one of us could subscribe to as part of our daily or weekly routine. However, it would be difficult to find anyone who would argue that employing a certain degree of discipline to a personal leadership style is important.
Deputy Executive of Operations for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Elena Gerstmann, is very conscious of what discipline means in her daily life and how time management and discipline intersect within her leadership style.
“My discipline is my focus on time. I am not great at time management, but I am always aware of time … I have six timers in my office,” said Gerstmann. “These are inexpensive, sand hourglasses with 30-second, 1-minute, 2-minute, 3-minute, 5-minute and 10-minute intervals. I sometimes use these when I’m on the phone. For example, if I want to kick off a meeting, but want to make sure I don’t talk for too long, I may flip over the 2-minute timer. I use them in staff meetings when my team and I go around the room, each person providing their own 2-minute update.” Gerstmann says the timers are a constant reminder that time never stops and to always use her time wisely.
For Andy Rodenhiser, owner of Rodenhiser Home Services in Holliston, Massachusetts, his discipline centers on ongoing personal and professional development— a “research and implement” approach.
“I constantly look outside of my industry for ideas and trends in what clients might want and what their expectations might be. I have always turned to trade journals for market intelligence, but now it’s also nontraditional news feeds, blogs, TED Talks, and audiobooks,” said Rodenhiser. “I also love reading a hard copy of the Harvard business review. The July-August 2018 issue featured an article on developing a ‘purpose-driven’ organization that was of particular interest,” he said.
Rodenhiser points out that it’s not always only about reading or listening for new ideas on improvement. “I look for the practical application of what I’m reading, to see how it might apply to what I’m doing as a leader. I also try to be self-aware and cognizant of my biases or fears and seek expert opinions from outsiders and industry professionals for a reality check when I feel unsure.” Rodenhiser says his company employs a discipline around experimentation and pushing the envelope. “Those ideas come from an unwavering focus on personal and professional growth, idea generation, and taking calculated risks.”
At Mazza Mechanical Services of Olean, New York, discipline at the top is directly connected to advancing the organization’s culture. Owner and President Dan DeRose said, “I try to stay out of the weeds and focus on the goals we have set, which can be difficult for me, as I tend to get involved and micromanage.”
DeRose cites that by staying disciplined to stay out of the weeds, and by allowing teams to work within themselves with a high degree of autonomy, he continuously cultivates company culture by honest evaluation and sets an example of living it himself. “I believe the culture is what defines a company, whether you recognize it or not,” said DeRose.
“Without purposeful intent, the culture of a company randomly chooses itself and this can be dangerous.” DeRose says it took him a long time to realize it, but the culture of his company is more important than any tool, strategy or process that they might create. If the culture is off or left to chance, all of these initiatives are likely doomed to fail.
Identifying and practicing self-discipline is an important factor in modern leadership. These personal practices allow leaders to create structure around their own approaches to leadership and, perhaps more importantly, it provides them with the opportunity to curate their own leadership style. Rodenhiser’s research and implement strategy has done well for his business and has led to increased employee engagement, higher traffic and views on the company’s YouTube channel, and year-over-year growth.
2. Networks & Mentors
We live in a connected world—one that affords access to other people in a variety of different ways, and not all of them are driven by technology. Modern leaders must leverage and embrace this opportunity, not only by accessing their networks, but also by engaging in mentor-based relationships that allow them to grow both personally and professionally.
The team at Mazza has learned the importance of cross-industry collaboration. Owners Dan and Ledgie DeRose belong to a peer group within their industry, the importance of which cannot be understated. “It has been priceless. As business owners who are always focused on growing our business within our market, we live in a closed environment with limited exposure to other ways of conducting our business,” said Ledgie DeRose, vice president at Mazza. According to Mazza President Dan DeRose, “The peer group provides us access to a resource of best practices within our industry outside of our competition, as well as verification in many cases, that we are on the correct path. With the peer group, innovation is no longer limited to our own abilities, but instead that of a much larger group that has a similar drive to be great.”
For Rodenhiser, relying on a network of mentors helps to shape his approach to leadership. “I have several mentors; some are formal relationships, while others less formalized. I also have an executive coach to help guide me through governance, general business and leadership development issues,” Rodenhiser said. “In addition, I work with a strategy development coach. These relationships have a long history, and there is significant trust between us, which allows me to be my authentic self.”
Rodenhiser says his network of both formal and informal mentors allows him to address different areas of his leadership style, affording perspective from inside and outside the industry. In addition, this year, Rodenhiser is exploring the possibility of an in-house mentoring program to connect various segments of his leadership with emerging leaders within his company. The goal is to enable cross-generational collaboration, exchange knowledge and learning, and break down cultural silos that may exist within a company. The intentional employment of networks and mentors in shaping leadership styles plays a key role in how leaders actually lead. “It’s lonely at the top” rings true for most leaders, but it doesn’t have to.
3. New Frontiers
Several years ago, when life was less complicated, I had an opportunity to drop everything and backpack through Western Africa with a close friend. We spent 31 days traveling and photographing various tribes, regions, cultures and events. That trip left an indelible impression on me and taught me one of the most valuable leadership lessons I’ve ever learned: If we are not constantly placing ourselves in new, and sometimes uncomfortable, situations, we are inhibiting our growth as individuals and as leaders.
Challenging ourselves and our teams in new and different ways is essential to growth, and one way to challenge ourselves and our team is to continually introduce new experiences that drive individual, organizational and cultural change. Two years ago, the DeRoses traveled with their leadership team to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to take part in a leadership challenge. This provided an opportunity for individual growth through collaboration and new perspectives.
According to Dan DeRose, “Specifically, it opened my eyes to how critical communication and vision are to the success of any team or mission. As a leader, I realized that I need to share my vision for the company [with my employees], open myself up to accept and seek input from my team, and encourage my managers to do the same with their team(s).” It was at this event that the DeRoses began to define the meaning of success for their company.
While any one leader may use leadership in a number of different contexts across a variety of situations, it is an incredibly personal journey—one that is shaped by experience, intent and those who are closest to you. Following the critical elements to becoming a modern leader can help put you and your teams on a path toward success. As you continue to grow as a leader, consider the ways you can assign discipline to your life, better engage your networks and mentors, and challenge yourself in ways that push the boundaries of leadership as you know it.
At the end of the day, no leader can do it alone. Here are a few tools to help you prioritize and organize long- and short-term goals for your business:
- BestSelf SELF Journal—Use this journal from bestself.co to keep track of daily activities and appointments
- The Full Focus Planner by Michael Hyatt—Designed for high achievers seeking intentional, fulfilling lifestyles, this planner helps leaders keep priorities in clear view and achieve what matters
- Harvard Business Review’s “Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization,” by Robert E. Quinn & Anjan V. Thakor (July-August 2018 issue)—This article offers tips for transforming an organization and finding a higher purpose
- The Gettysburg Leadership Experience—A leadership experience that integrates tailored, core learning modules with game-changing case studies to engage leaders and encourage dialog. Learn more at gettysburgleadershipexperience.com.