It’s that time of year again. Time to make some more resolutions we’ll never keep. Time to buy more exercise equipment we’ll never use. And it’s a good time to look back on the past year, and sort through all the lessons we learned: some good, some bad, some painful. But they’re all valuable lessons in our development as people with responsibility for leading and caring for others.
Wouldn’t it be great if someone could take his or her years of leadership experience, condense it, and pass it along to future generations? Well, that’s what this month’s article seeks to do. We asked business and civic leaders in our community to answer the following question in their own words: What do you know today about management and leadership that you wish you had known when you were just starting out? Here’s what they told us.
- Joseph Henderson, president, Commerce Bank: “Leadership requires active participation and open dialogue about goal-setting with your team. Leveraging your team’s individual abilities will lead to improved performance. My advice is that you begin your career by keeping focused on long-term goals and reconfirm that your activities align with your company’s objectives.”
- David Johnson, president, Advanced Systems Design: “The secret to a good company is good people…people who genuinely care about other people. A manager’s job is simply to enable people and let them run. In my opinion, if you have good people in your company, a manager’s job is really a servant’s role.”
- Jim Despain, vice president, Caterpillar Inc. (retired): “As a new supervisor, my thoughts were about how I felt, how I might be judged by my leaders, or how I could achieve recognition. It took many years—a lifetime—to discover that true leadership is about others and not about self. It’s about trust and not about power. In a single word, leadership is one of the highest forms of giving—giving people the tools they need to perform well, giving them the encouragement they need to test their limits, giving them meaningful recognition for their contributions, and giving them confidence through visible caring and concern for their well-being.”
- Peggy Arizzi, executive director, Catholic Charities (Diocese of Peoria): “I have learned that recognizing and building on people’s strengths are the keys to a successful organization. A good manager identifies what people are good at and assigns responsibilities to maximize each person’s potential. A good leader then provides the level of guidance and coaching needed to keep each employee growing professionally.”
- Dick Blaudow, president and chief executive officer, ATS: “Leadership is about caring for and serving others…helping them be the best they can be. It’s about listening. Character, integrity, and treating others like you want to be treated are absolute. I now realize how important my attitude and behavior are to leadership…people will do what I do more often than what I say.”
- Carl Niemann, vice president, Waste Management: “Effective management requires the highest moral standards regarding business ethics and integrity. The ability to lead people is a function of one’s ability to connect with his or her team and compel them to achieve outstanding results. This can’t be accomplished without the team’s 100 percent trust and respect for their leader.”
- Jim McConoughey, chief executive officer, Heartland Partnership: “My advice is that you go to the people you need to…and talk to them. Don’t rely on another’s interpretation of what that person might say or do. Sometimes, it takes courage to pick up the phone and call someone you don’t know. It’s the only way to get to the center of an issue. Reach out and make the call.”
- Mark Moehlenkamp, vice president, Peoria Chiefs: “I’ve learned that empathy and empowerment are the true measures of leadership. When you understand the feelings, motives, and situational awareness of those within your organization, you’re on the path to empathy. When you give people the ability to solve problems and implement solutions, you’re on the path to empowerment.”
- Dave Ransburg, mayor, City of Peoria/chairman, L.R. Nelson: “Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of truly enabling people—giving them the freedom to realize their full potential.”
- Jane Converse: What have I learned in my long life? Many of the lessons mentioned by others above. But, like Dave, I’ve learned the importance of giving people freedom. And for me that means the freedom to fail. The best leaders give people the opportunity to fail, without letting them. They create environments where people feel safe to try new things and where mistakes, when they happen, are viewed as important ways to learn and grow.
So, happy New Year to all—to the leaders who are just starting out and to those of us who are working to hone our skills. Let’s take this advice and consider ourselves years ahead. IBI