15 Keys to Effective Leadership
At last year’s Hawaii Business Leadership Conference, four local leaders discussed ways to listen, grow, collaborate, inspire and adapt.
SCOTT BARBER – President and CEO, Hawaiian Telcom
MARY ANN BARNES – President, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals, Hawaii Region
WAYNE KAMITAKI – CEO, HouseMart
SCOTT SIMON – Executive coach and consultant, Simon Leadership Group
STEVE PETRANIK – Editor, Hawaii Business
1. It’s crucial to know your leadership style. What’s yours?
Barber: I like to think that my style is steady and as transparent as possible. And, more than anything since coming to Hawaiian Telcom, I’ve tried to be approachable. In my opinion, there’s nothing worse for a leader than to have employees fear you. They may fear you because of your title, or of what they have to say to you, but I don’t want them ever to think they can’t approach me about any topic.
Petranik: When I was young, a boss was someone who yelled a lot. Did you have bosses like that?
Barber: I’ve had all sorts of bosses, including yellers and screamers. Every now and then, the boss does need to show what he’s passionate about. Once, I was in front of an outside crew and a bunch of techs, and they were asking, “What’s the one thing you want us to work on?” Then we got on this discussion around vision and mission, and we actually had a mission statement on the wall of this small room. I said, “I’ll give $20 to anyone who can tell me what the mission statement is?” The mission had been on the walls of that room for years, and no one could say it. So I went to the wall, and I ripped it off the panel. And I broke the board over my knee and I threw it in the trash. I do think there is a time when you need to show what you’re passionate about. The way you do it is important. But if yelling is your regular style, it definitely doesn’t work in this day and age.
Barnes: I’ll start there: I’m definitely not a boss who yells. I would say my leadership style comes from a core purpose of mine: I want to help people and I want people to be healthy. So, I try to be very approachable and collaborative. I talk about partnership a lot; partnership is that we are all 100 percent accountable, not 50/50. And really look at what helps people be the best they can be, in everything they do.
As a leader, one of the major responsibilities I have is my problems are not your problems. That I need to show up, be reliable, consistent, approachable, collaborative, and how I show up is how people respond to me. If I want to see a collaborative, partnership environment, where people speak up and work with other teams, then I’ve got to show up that way, and be positive and energetic.
Kamitaki: I have had only one boss in my life and it was my dad. While working for him as a young person, I never got along with him, didn’t want to listen to him. But as I got into the real work, little things he trained me to do in leadership, are the things that have come back to me. Simple things like, “When you lead, the people who are working with you, they are not working for you. You’re working for them. And if you’re going to be a good leader, you have to create that understanding in their mind.” You know, my dad was right.
Simon: I think one important realization is that we all have a leadership style. It’s important to be authentic to that style, not try to change too much. But, where I try to work with my clients, is to develop situational leadership: styles and techniques. That means broadening their tool kits, building self-awareness to understand how they present, what their triggers are, how they are impacted and how different external triggers can impact the way they communicate and interact with others. So it’s first knowing self, and then secondly, to be a little more savvy, more sensitive and adaptable to the situations and people around you, whether they are customers, employees or other stakeholders.
I always watch as a manager steps in and becomes a leader. One common mistake is feeling, “Because I’m the leader now, I’m supposed to know everything.” And they start presenting themselves as all knowing, and they start giving orders. I always tell people, “No one knows everything and the best thing you can do on your first day on the job is open up your coat and say, shoot me with all the arrows that you can, because you’re going to find out how much I don’t know.” Don’t forget the people you are leading are way smarter than you give them credit for. Once you start pretending like you know, they know that you don’t know. And then you create this game where now they’re going to pretend that you know, and you think that you know. You are much better off just saying, “This is who I am. I don’t know a lot of things. Help me out.” You are going to be surprised that nine out of 10 people will go to bat for you when you are not there. And the one that you are afraid of, is the one who you really don’t want to deal with anyway. But most leaders block the nine to protect themselves against the one.
2. How do you lead people in different locations?
Kamitaki: One thing I learned watching my dad was that when he got up to four stores, he literally ran four stores and then six stores, and ran around like crazy. As I got involved, I realized I couldn’t be in four places at once. I learned that, as a leader, I’m never going to be able to run any single store to the level of what I think it should run. The best thing to do is train the lead person in the store and the staff to understand that it’s their store. They own it. And my job is to support how they run the store. It is their community.
3. Was your leadership style an outgrowth of your personality, and did it evolve over time?
Barnes: As a leader, you continue to grow. So it’s partly personality and a lot about your experiences. I was the oldest of seven kids and we moved all over the country. Four different high schools, so I had to be adaptable. The most important thing was learning from the diversity and the different areas I lived in. Now, I can go into an area and connect with people in a different way because I’ve learned that through the way I grew up.
Also, I started as a registered nurse. I had very clinical confidence and the most important thing for me was to be great at taking care of patients. But when you go into leadership, you have to step back from that. Because leadership is about learning and growing every day and it’s how you work with people.
Petranik: When you’re in middle management, there’s the temptation to just grab the task and do it.
Barnes: Yes, there is. But I would stand back. One of my first leadership jobs was as a critical care manager – I was upgrading the skills of the nurses – and I would stand outside the patient room and clap when they did it, rather than go in and do it myself. There’s the temptation of, “I can do it better than you.” But then you don’t have a team and it doesn’t move on. If you are going to affect larger and larger work, and lead in a bigger way, you’ve got to step back and trust and build your talent.
Kamitaki: If you want something done 100 percent, only you can do it 100 percent in your mind. In leading people, you have to accept 70 or 80 percent of what you would do. I tell people, “If they can hit 70 percent of what you would want done, take it and go with it. Having 10 people do 70 percent is way better than 1 percent trying to do 100.” Part of letting go is allowing someone to hit 70 or 80 percent, and saying, “Great job.” Because they’re going to get better and better as time goes. And you have to allow that process to happen.
4. How do you get executives to evolve and acquire new skills?
Simon: Earlier, I mentioned self-awareness, and many coaches, myself included, use self-assessment tools. I favor one called the Birkman. Many of you have gone through Myers Briggs. There’s validity in those, but it’s limited, because they’re based on what you’ve answered.
So another piece of the puzzle is finding out what others think about you. I primarily use a model called Stakeholder Centered Coaching. It involves in-depth 360 interviews. It’s about preparing the leader I’m working with to receive honest feedback. We identify six to eight people who are going to give candid, useful, productive, constructive feedback. We hope. I sit with them for a half an hour and we share, I ask questions and we try to go deep. “What does the leader do well? And what could they improve on?” On a whole variety of different particular skills. It’s about understanding self and then being open to realizing that, as a leader, you are only as effective as those around you think you are. So those two pieces, self-awareness and getting broad, honest feedback, have proven to be a productive combination.
You want to get insights about the leader from the people who know best, even if they are resistant to share those insights. But when the leader I’m coaching puts forth the ask, and says to the people around, “I’m trying to get better,” and shows vulnerability, then it’s my job to sit down with these people and create a situation of trust, where I assure them that what they say will be kept in confidence as to who said it. Themes emerge and then it becomes a base for constructive planning.
5. Overcoming the fear of failure
Kamitaki: When I started, I feared making a mistake. I struggled with that for a long time until I asked different people, some were very successful businessmen, if they were in my shoes, what would they do? Each gave me a different answer to the same question, and I realized no one knows.
Then it became, “If no one knows, somebody’s got to decide.” And that fear of failure slowly diminished. I asked my dad and he said, “In 10 decisions, you’re not expected to make all right ones. As long as you make six out of 10, you’ll survive and you’ll be OK. If you do all 10 out of 10, you don’t belong here. You belong at some big company” (audience laughter). I asked, “What happens if I make four out of 10?” He said, “You’re not going to be here.” He said, “Don’t sit and think about it: Make the decision, right or wrong. If it’s wrong, fix it and keep moving forward.”
When I counsel people coming into leadership, I say, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everybody makes them. It’s how you fix them and move on that defines you.” Too often, I see people stop short of making decisions, for fear of a mistake. It’s frustrating for me, because I would rather people make a decision, make a mistake that we can fix, than no decision at all.
6. Getting out of your comfort zone
Barber: It was important for me to get out of my comfort zone at different points in my life, even when I was just scared to death. One story: I was working as a line-crew foreman for about three years. A hot day in August, I get a knock on the door and it’s the plant manager.
He comes in and has small talk with me, and says, “Are you going to the Christmas party?”
“I don’t know. It’s August. Yeah, I’m going to the Christmas party, sure.”
“Do you have a suit?”
“Well, I think I have a sport coat, but I don’t think it fits me anymore.”
“If you don’t have a suit, I’ll buy you one. But I want you to show up at the Christmas party in a suit, and I want you to walk up to the board of directors and shake their hands, and have small talk. Talk about the weather. Talk about something.”
He leaves, and my wife is like, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m not going to do that. That’s stupid. The guys would give me a bad time forever. There’s no way that I’m showing up in a suit.” Then I debated, “Do I wear a sport coat with no tie? What if I do no coat but a tie with my shirt?” Anyway long story short, I got a suit and I showed up and, of course, the guys are giving me a bad time. But I did it, and it wasn’t because the board needed to remember me; the plant manager was trying to get me to believe in myself, that I belonged with them, and it really had a profound effect. Because there was no way in hell that I belonged talking to the board of directors in my mind. Let alone wearing a suit. By the way, that’s one of the reasons I love Hawaii.
The second story, I was actually doing Dale Carnegie public speaking class and I was like 28 years old. And I was going to planning commission meetings, because I was an engineer at the time. And I wanted to know where subdivisions were going and just to get ahead of the growth. And at the end of this four-month class, you had to tell the class what you were going to do with your new found skills. So I said, “I’m going to run for city council and win.” And I’m thinking, “Whatever. They’re not going to remember.”
A year and a half ago goes by, and the teacher of the class calls and says, “Hey, Scott. This is Mark Roberts. I hear the election is coming up. Do you need me to knock on doors or what do you want me to do?”
There’s no way I’m running. I was scared to death. But the next thing I know, I ran for city council, and then ran for mayor and I became mayor of this small town at 31 years old. “What the hell am I doing?” (audience laughter).
Don’t be afraid, try it. Every time I’ve listened to somebody who has pushed me, it’s always worked out and improved me.
7. A crisis can help you become a better leader
Barnes: I call them breakdowns, and they can make you stop and ask, “Is this really in touch with my mission, with who I am and how I want to lead?” An example was when I was in Santa Clara, California, opening up one of Kaiser Permanente’s first new hospitals in a long time. I and everybody was on a mission to open this hospital perfectly. Nothing would go wrong.
About six months before we were to open the hospital, there was a patient care incident that was not good, and it became very public. So I went to the media and apologized. I remember it raining on a Friday night with all the media there and I said, “You can feel your family is safe in our hospital.”
That forced me to stop and say, “If you’re really about safe patient care and keeping people healthy, and that’s your mission, then you moved from that. You moved to the glory of opening a new hospital perfectly.” When those things happen, I always ask, “Did I sway from what my purpose of leading and health care?” Those are strong things that can really shift you.
Simon: I think the best practice in a crisis is first to catch your breath. While it is important to be decisive and take action, you must first pull yourself together. Think quickly: Are there resources that you should tap into? Folks who you can turn to for help? Crises require other people being involved and, if necessary, pulling together a crisis-management team.
But the first step is to get your bearings. Because too often, we lead and then we regret it. Then it’s much harder to fix afterwards. And remember – this is going more to the PR side of things – the cover-up is always way worse than whatever the original issue was. Your reaction might be to hide it and cover up, but, as we see every day, the cover-up is going to unravel.
8. Dealing with your leadership weaknesses
Barber: I love new ideas and asking for new ideas. But, when I’ve done a job or played a role in the past, and someone brings up an idea that I’ve already tried and it failed, sometimes I’m not as open-minded. But, sometimes the best idea is the idea that’s been tried before, but it just didn’t happen before. So I try to be more open minded: “Just because I tried it and it didn’t work, doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t work. Maybe I wasn’t very good at it, or maybe the timing was wrong before.”
I know too much about the business, so I need to be careful that when I say I’m empowering you, I’m truly empowering you. “You’ve got it. You’re running with it. Go for it.”
Barnes: When we have key openings that are difficult to recruit for, I can be, “I know how to do that job.” But I know it’s so much better to invest the time in finding the right person to be on the team, than to think you can manage it for a while. You can’t.
Kamitaki: I thoroughly enjoy working with people, and I tend to think strategic and long term. I don’t look at short-term results. As a result, I think my weakness is I’m sometimes not very detailed. I tend to gloss over them and sometimes it comes to bite me down the road. So the key is to empower people to fill in those details, or come tell me about the important details.
9. Getting people to accept and learn from criticism
Simon: Here’s something we can all use in giving feedback: Start with something positive. First, I gather all this feedback, and I don’t email that list of feedback, because if I did, the person would open it and go straight to the negative.
Instead, we sit down and talk through it. There’s a long list of positives and, many times, it’s things they have never heard. So when they start to hear that, the defenses go down. They realize this is a good thing and they’re more open to hearing, and it definitely softens the blow of criticism.
Petranik: The leadership metaphor I learned was that you’ve got to make lots of deposits, because you’re going to have to make withdrawals at some point. You can’t make a withdrawal from your bank account if you’ve never made deposits, so, if appropriate, compliments should come first and often.
10. Does your organization’s values affect your leadership?
Barnes: The values of Kaiser Permanente are why I have been with them for 42 years. It always comes back to people being healthy, about healthcare and putting the patient at the center of everything you do. I started as a staff nurse on the night shift in critical care, and never aspired for any of the leadership roles. It was always, I gave great patient care and when I looked at the next role, it was always, “How can I affect people being healthy at the next level?” That’s how I do my pros and cons about the next role. So the personal value matched the values of the organization, and that allowed me to be courageous and bold and be able to deliver on the mission of the organization and my personal mission, too.
Kamitaki: From a young age, it was drilled into me that the purpose of a business is to provide a service. When I got into college, I got into an argument with a professor who said the only purpose of a business is to generate a profit. I raised my hand and said, “I disagree. The purpose of a business is to provide a service.” He and I got into a heated argument. At the end of the meeting, people comforted me, because I got beat up by the professor.
I told my dad about the argument, and he said, “Wayne, in the end, the purpose of a business is to generate a profit, because if it doesn’t generate a profit, it won’t exist.” But to this day, I have told myself, “No, the purpose of a business is to provide a service. If you provide a good service, you’re going to be profitable.” Profit is really a by-product of providing a good service.
Barber: At Hawaiian Telcom, I was very fortunate to come to an organization where they have what they call “Fast Values,” FAST. F stands for fierce resolve. A stands for Aloha spirit. S stands for superior service and T stands for trustworthy. And so really trying to make sure that everybody has a fierce resolve to get the job done. That we treat each other with respect and aloha. That we provide, not only internal customers with superior service, but external customers. And that we are trusted team members. That’s the basis of all of our stakeholder feedbacks that we do on supervisors and managers. When we do the 360s, all questions are based on how they do those four letters. It’s in all of our meetings. If somebody messes up, someone will say, “You don’t have good FAST values.” And it’s so profound in the company that I think it drives how most of our supervisors, leaders and executives in the company treat employees and treat their customers. I’m very fortunate that Eric Yeaman, my predecessor, put that in place.
Petranik: One thing that I noticed between the three of you talking about values, that they were simple. They weren’t hard to remember, and that’s crucial. Because I see these mission statements and they’re two pages on the wall, and nobody knows what they are. Because there’s too much.
Simon: As a leader, you need to have vision. You see the path ahead and help people see there is a future, how they fit into it and see meaning in what you’re doing. You really need to own it, live it and demonstrate it. That’s what people are looking for you to do. Gone are the days of the boss of command and control. It’s about seeing ahead and helping people develop and learn as we all grow together.
One of the most popular TED talks is by Simon Sinek. His book is “Starts with Why (How Great leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action).” Powerful stuff that gets to what really matters to people. Understanding that can help you make more meaningful connections with people.
11. Traits that hold Millennials back.
Barber: They have a lot of pluses. They are tech savvy, multitaskers, team oriented. I think what’s probably on both sides of the fence for Millennials is their ambition. Sometimes their ambition doesn’t give them the patience to wait for the right time or spot to be recognized or rewarded. That’s something all companies need to wrestle with: How do we find ways to reward Millennials more quickly, more obviously, more often, rather than the once a year review. But that ambition also makes them think of new ideas and challenge the status quo. So it’s good and bad.
Barnes: Millennials want relevance. “My work needs to be relevant.” There needs to be purpose that matches with my purpose in life, which is good. So it is absolutely critical that they pick the right organization. But on the negative side is the notion that, “If you don’t solve it, I will.” Not having the patience to work to help everyone create the solution.
Kamitaki: I think that Millennials’ strength is they are bright, quick, they use technology at an extreme level and are able to get answers to all kinds of problems quickly. I’m going to go a little old school on the drawbacks: work ethic. When you come to a task that you have a passion for, you don’t measure your time in how many hours you’re going to work this week. “I only want to work five days or four days. I want to have my time off.” When you find something you’re passionate about, something you enjoy, it’s going to take up way more hours than I think. When you get stuck in that situation, don’t feel bad or try to shirk it, because if you’re going to be good at what you do, it’s going to take something out of you. More than what you see the next person is doing.
Simon: I’m contacted by a lot of businesses asking, “Can you help us connect with our Millennials? Because the work ethic is poor.” Nothing against Wayne, because I know the old school is you guys work hard. But I’m somewhere in between in that. When I started my career, it was in engineering and in law. There was definitely a culture, both here and on the Mainland, of showing face. Being in the office on Saturday for a certain time. Millennials are not going to stand for that. You need to give them meaning and why they are doing it, and if you give them some latitude to come up with solutions, they can be powerhouses. Instead of putting in 60 hours in the office to do 40 hours of work, but actually do it in the shorter time. They’re cranking out way more than we did back in the day. So it’s being open to what they bring, but then also realizing as managers and leaders of Millennials, you’ve got to meet them halfway. And help them see what the end game is.
12. Does leadership require 60-hour work weeks?
Barnes: This is an important issue. I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve said, “We’re all leaving at 6:00.” I’ve sent an email saying, “Are you still in the office?” It’s about knowing that you have to refresh yourself and get away, because you are better when you come back after that week or long weekend or whatever. Really, having those conversations: “I’ve seen you haven’t taken any time off. You’re working 60/80 hours a week and that’s not healthy.” I come at it from a health standpoint. Let’s be as healthy as we can, and rest and relaxation is important for you to be healthy.
13. Helping employees cope with change
Barber: When the company has to change, it is crucial to explain to employees the why. Not just saying, “Hey, our numbers are X and because of our competition now, we’ve got to do this.” But really trying to focus on explaining the why. If you do that, some of the people will say, “I don’t necessarily agree with it, but now I understand why you’re making that decision.”
Petranik: And you can’t just say the why once.
Barber: Over and over and over again.
Getting back to employees working 60/80 hours a week: Those people are carrying the load and you’re asking them to change. But they don’t even have time to think about change, because they’re carrying the load. So find ways to offset some load from them, so they can actually think about and implement the change.
Kamitaki: Over my career, change often happens when you’re in trouble. When you’re in trouble, change is easy to do, because everyone’s scared and they realize you are struggling. So you can implement change. The thing I’ve learned, though, is the best time to make a change is when you are doing well. That’s when people don’t want to change. That’s when it’s important to explain change as an important process in the life of the business. And it’s better to do a change when you can afford to do the change, than to be forced to do the change when you cannot afford to do it. And that’s a discussion that just needs to happen every day, over and over. When you have long-term staff, that’s a hard message to get across.
Barnes: The other thing is to plan your changes. Don’t think you’re just going to turn the switch. Build consistent messaging around it, using a lot of time, different forums, different media. And your leadership team has to be really clear with the why, because they’re communicating with the frontline staff. Use whatever luxury in time you have to plan for it. And allow people to speak up about what they like and don’t like about it, so you know what you are dealing with. If you keep it behind closed doors, you’ll never be able to move through it.
Simon: And over communicate it.
Petranik: I agree. As an introvert, I have so many conversations in my head and I forget that some of that thinking stays in my head, rather than comes out my mouth. So, make sure that you use your mouth to explain your thinking to your people.
14. How do you approach your bosses when change is required, but they are set in their old ways?
Barber: First of all, make sure you talk to the leader. Don’t be afraid, and stay at it. If you get push back, it’s usually because, “That’s a great little idea by itself, but it might not fit in the bigger picture.” Then learn what the bigger picture is and come back with a revised idea.
Back to my point about how a good idea is sometimes just waiting for the right time to be implemented. So, if you’re not heard, and you’re still sure of yourself, keep coming back. Listen to the feedback and try to incorporate or change your idea to account for that feedback. And don’t be afraid to go forward: Don’t be afraid to buy a suit, go to the Christmas party and tell them your ideas.
Barnes: I would add: Find like-minded people. There’s power in the team.
Kamitaki: And don’t let that feeling of frustration build up, so that by the time that you go in and talk to the boss, it’s emotional. Do it in small increments.
I agree with Scott, the best thing is when you have something to say, go to the person who you think will be the most effective in making that change and just talk to them. From my role, there are very few times people actually come up and tell me what they think. I think it’s the fear of, “What if they don’t agree with me.” I would love people to come and tell me what they think, even if it’s 180 degrees from what I am thinking, because it gives me a chance to ask myself, “Am I off and is that person right?” You probably can affect more change than you think that you can.
Barnes: If you’ve got a large organization – I have over 4,500 employees – they think I already know. And there’s so much I don’t know. So never assume the leader knows.
Petranik: And even if they have told you once, maybe it was at the wrong time and now you need to hear it again.
15. How do you get better at being a leader? Yoga? Read books?
Barnes: A couple of things. I try to get a little bit of refreshment on the weekends. I try to stay away from work one day of the weekend and not even do emails and such, which is hard. But I do because I do believe you’ve got to refresh yourself. I love reading current business magazines and books. I like brainstorming with people, including people from other businesses. And learning how healthcare integrates across other businesses.
Barber: I’m lucky enough to have a board of directors, many of whom are either current or retired CEOs, and I ask them questions. “What would you have done in this situation?” They’ll tell me what they think, but then say, “Do whatever the heck that you want.” They’re not trying to tell me what to do, just telling me what they think they would do in certain situations. Which has really been very, very helpful to me.
The other thing is a series of books that I am reading by Jason Jennings now, like “Think Big, Act Small: (How America’s Best Performing Companies Keep the Start-up Spirit Alive),” that have been helpful to me. I’ve only been a CEO for about a year now, so you’ve got to pull information in from as many places as you can, including the employees who work for you.
Kamitaki: When you don’t know or don’t understand, ask. Always ask. You’d be surprised that most people don’t ask someone who might help them, for fear they might look dumb. When people are asked, they’re usually going to be more giving than you think.
The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and conciseness.
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2017 Leadership Conference: Thursday, July 27, 2017 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village