CEO’s Corner: Leadership is Listening (and a lot more)
CEO’s Corner will be a quarterly feature based on Q&A with The Chamber’s President & CEO, Larry McElwain. Have a small business question for Larry? Let us know!
Who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person or people impact your life?
I thought about many men and women that I have followed, been led by, taught me, or wrote leadership books that I have read. They are numerous in my life. Far and away the most influential two leaders in my life were my parents, Keith and Donna McElwain. They were the epitome of a working couple, leading our family (in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s) by working together well with different styles of leadership that worked and were not toxic to our family, their marriage, or our small business. They worked side-by-side in a small town grocery store and they each worked probably 50 to 70 hours per week. They worked lots of weekends and holidays. They taught me early by example how to work with others and how to not work on a time clock, because in small business, that could drive you crazy. My mom actually worked outside the home from the early years of my life, before the grocery store. I had a working mom starting in the late 40s, long before most families, with no thought of it being any different. I have always since had valuable working relationships with both men and women. I learned this from watching their example.
What are other things that they taught me working side by side with them?
• How to work hard.
• The concept that the customer is always right.
• Every customer is valuable, so treat them as valuables.
• Every single person that you work with has value.
• Speak to everyone and to especially be kind, listen, and be interested in older people.
• Before Stephen Covey made it “A Habit of Highly Effective People,” they taught me to seek first to understand before being understood. That means to listen first.
• Honesty is always right.
• Invest time and talents back into our community and its people and not expect anything in returned.
• They gave back with their grocery store in a small town, the Lion’s Club, the school board, the PTA, school and athletic events and clubs, etc.
• Mom and Dad practiced humility. They loved to lead by putting each of their employees out in front of them. They were proud of each and every one that they led or set the example for. To this day, I love to put those that make me successful and help me lead ahead of me at the time for congratulations, kudos, and applause. I can write a book (and I will someday) about Question #1, but let’s move on.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
The most important decisions are those that deal with the people you work with and those you serve. At the same time, we must be mindful of the goods and services that we sell and how they are defined, delivered, and how they are priced. We want to create something of value to be bought and sold.
It is important to put good people around you that understand your vision and want to deliver to the customer what they want and need too. Hiring and training the people around you is vital for success and good relationships in the workplace.
It is important to have a plan, a business plan, and a roadmap for your business. Too many times I ran things by the seat of my pants with varied success. Having a good plan and executing it would have created a higher percentage of successes.
What is the one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
I believe that this is a love for people and a willingness to work with them, for them, give them training to help them be successful, and to be able to give them grace when they need it. I am not perfect so none of them are perfect either. Give praise and grace as it has been given to you.
What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?
I would advise a new leader to be humble. Be willing to admit your own weaknesses and possess the ability to laugh at yourself when it is needed. That means not taking yourself too seriously. If you are going into small business, know that every day is a challenge that needs to be met.
Also, as a new leader, you must explore everything and everyone around you. Be willing to listen to everyone. Sometimes you may find genius where you don’t expect it.
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