Leadership Lessons Learned

Jan 17, 2000

Everything I need to know was not taught in kindergarten! In growing our own business and working with hundreds of firms over the years to help them grow theirs, I feel like I have learned a lot. Here a few lessons I want to share with the readers of The Zweig Letter. The best person for a job is not necessarily the next in line. I can’t tell you how often we see firms that think they need to go outside to hire someone if they don’t think one of their senior staff members is right for the slot. These companies constantly complain about the dearth of managerial talent. And they’re right— if the senior staff is considered the entire talent pool! But it shouldn’t be that way. We often find that one or two levels down there’s a really impressive person with all the motivation, desire, and communication and technical skills needed to grow into the job and handle it well. It’s always better if you can promote from within! Yet too often these possible candidates well down in the ranks are never given serious consideration. That’s a shame. If they’re passed over too often or held back too long, these are the people who will find it necessary to move on to another firm. If you don’t want to be trapped, you have to let go. That is so hard for super conscientious firm principals, many of whom got where they are precisely because they didn’t let go. These people are conscious of details. They are meticulous. They care about everything. All of this makes them indispensable. But if this sounds like you, you’ve got to consider the ramifications of being indispensable. It means you’re stuck. No one else can do your job. That’s a good way to screw up your home life and your health in the long run. No good. If you want any kind of a life outside your business, or if you want to grow your business so it has some value at the time you want to get out, you have to delegate. Sure, those you delegate to may not be that good at what you have asked them to do— at first. But if you pick good people and set clear expectations, I think you’ll find that eventually these people may be even better than you are at the task. That’s the way it’s worked out for me, most of the time at least! You have to be reasonable. While you want people to follow the rules, there may be a reason to make an exception. I think some people worry entirely too much about consistency for consistency’s sake. The important thing is to do the right thing, not just blindly follow a rule or a policy. That said, there are certain guiding principles or rules you don’t want to violate— issues dealing with liability, strategy, or ethics may be unbendable. What we see too often, though, is no consistency applied to the big things, such as what types of people you’ll hire, what types of jobs you’ll do, or what kind of clients you’ll serve. Then we see an unreasonable insistence on following the rules on things such as dress code, work arrival time, or grade of rental car. In other words, the little stuff. Reasonableness should always be the guide for how you deal with every situation. As we all know, sometimes the best way to keep the building from falling down during an earthquake or high winds is to let it sway a little. Being friends with your people is fine. Occasionally, we still run into old-line principals and managers who espouse the leadership philosophy they learned as military officers: You can’t be friends with your troops if, one day, you are going to have to send them into battle to die. Maybe that works in the military, I don’t know. I was fortunate enough to never have to enter the service. But I do know one thing about business: I am not going to ask anyone to go into a battle where they could die! This is a lot different. I think the issue is one of confronting problems. Some people find it hard to confront others when they have a personal relationship. But shouldn’t it be easier to confront someone who knows you care about them personally than to confront a relative stranger? I think someone you have a relationship with is less likely to misinterpret your confrontation of the problem. Think about that. There’s nothing wrong with being friends with your employees. It’s a good thing, not a bad thing to do. So there you have it. Consider my advice. It works. Originally published 1/17/2000

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.