Who gets ahead in the firms they work for?

Aug 13, 2023

These are the most important qualities that decide who gets to move up as firm leaders, managers, and future owners.

Anyone who knows me can tell you I have been working with owners of AEC businesses and other businesses throughout my entire professional career.

The individual decisions firm owners make on a daily basis of who to move up and who not to affect their companies and every single one of the people who work in their firms. I personally had to make these kinds of decisions in every business I ever owned or ran. These decisions get even more difficult if you are trying to decide who you will let buy into your business.

These are the qualities I look for in people I am going to depend on to be leaders, managers, and future owners:

  • Character. Does the person try to do the right thing? Do they pay their bills on time? Are they ethical? Any evidence that they are “ethically challenged” is a huge problem for me. It’s bound to cause problems later if someone doesn’t know right from wrong. Even the smallest indication of lying or cheating in even a small way is a problem. For example, more than once I have had people tell me about a car they owned that I know never existed (like a “Ferrari 304,” or a Chrysler product with a “427 Hemi”), and I know I am dealing with someone who is a liar.
  • Respect for other people’s time. People who are routinely late for meetings or appointments and don’t mind keeping other people waiting show a lack of respect for other people’s time. That’s unacceptable. I vastly prefer those who get there early and are prepared and don’t keep other people waiting.
  • Engagement. I saw a poll on LinkedIn this morning that asked whether or not you checked your work emails over the weekend. Only 33 percent of respondents to the poll at the time I answered it said they always do. I was blown away by that. Anyone who wants to be a leader in the firm they work for better not completely shut down over the weekend. Sorry. That is not acceptable. Emergencies could come up. Right or wrong, I look for a high level of engagement in my top people.
  • Intensity. I’m not sure I can adequately describe what I mean by “intensity” or how to differentiate it from “engagement,” but I know it when I see it. It’s how much the person is thinking about the business as much as anything else. When I get articles with information, emails with ideas, or phone calls at night or over the weekend from people in the business, I see that as a good sign. That intensity is probably going to serve this person well when they encounter problems or see opportunities in the future.
  • Commitment/follow through. People who don’t give up are incredibly valuable. Most entrepreneurial people know that you never fail if you never give up. So that kind of commitment is a really big deal and a great quality for leaders and managers to exemplify.
  • Relaxed. Those who don’t get rattled and stay calm no matter what bad things are happening make really good leaders and managers. Bad things will happen, and those who can stay calm and figure out a way around the problem will inspire others to do the same. It truly is a gift to be able to seem relaxed when everything is going wrong.
  • Low ego. Those who don’t need special parking places or a better company car than anyone else, and those who don’t seek out glory at the expense of their teams, are just bound to be better leaders and managers than those who need their egos stroked every day. They will be able to build up the other people!
  • Nice. Everyone likes working with nice people. Everyone dislikes working with people who are not nice. Most anything worth doing takes a team and cooperation. So people who demonstrate they are nice and considerate and caring about other people and their feelings are the ones I would move ahead.
  • Will sacrifice when needed. I remember several people (besides myself) who would forgo their paychecks if we were hurting for cash when I first rejoined Zweig Group after our lender took it back from the private equity firm we sold it to. Or those who would voluntarily take a pay cut if times were tough and cash was strained. That means a whole lot to me. A true sacrifice for the company should be rewarded.

I could probably go on here if I had more space. But these are the things that mean the most to me when it comes to deciding who is going to move up and who isn’t. What kinds of qualities do you look for? Drop me a note and let me know!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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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.