Motivation and commitment come from the top.
Regardless of their industry, personal backgrounds or company size, executives and managers often share one thing in common: a strong belief in effective leadership. Even today, when many employees no longer build their careers within a single organization, the best leaders still recognize the pillars to leading efficiently, inspirationally and successfully.
For Richard Jaffray, co-founder and president of the Cactus Club restaurant chain, good leadership – and good business – is all in the details. “It’s about making sure that you look after the details yourself, and that the people you delegate to are looking after the details,” he says. Jaffray recalls an early business deal in which one of his mentors showed him the importance of being detail-oriented. “As a young entrepreneur, I wanted to get this new restaurant open and wasn’t concerned about the lease and all these little details.” He continues, “When Jim helped negotiate my first lease, there were some clauses that helped save the day; the value that I eventually created would never have been realized without them.”
Even 25 years later, this shapes how Jaffray runs Cactus Club. “I look for someone who looks after the details,” he reveals. “I can tell when they’re more concerned about the details than I am; then I know I can sit back.”
Another quality of a good leader is the ability to manage a crisis effectively, but Jaffray’s approach to chaos is perhaps surprising. “Preparing doesn’t work; getting caught up in that big moment never really works,” he believes. “It’s about all the little things, doing a good job and caring about doing a good job every day, that leads to future success.” This philosophy permeates all areas of his life: “The way I do anything is the way I do everything. If something outside of work is chaotic, it’s going to affect my work, so my career, my personal life, family – all of those things have to be in order.” Jaffray also believes that healthy, happy employees perform better at work: Cactus Club staff members are given a learning allowance and access to fitness programs.
Jaffray also personally enrols in an educational program every year. “In order for me to live up to the responsibilities and expectations, I have to invest in myself, too,” he reasons. “The opposite of good leadership is someone who doesn’t learn, who isn’t open-minded. An important part of leadership is never thinking you know it all. That’s a dangerous position to get into, and a sure sign that someone is setting themself up for a big fall, that they’re underestimating the time and resources required.”
Finally, leaders have to be able to take criticism and feedback – and learn from it. “The hard part, as my business and profile has grown, is that I forget how people can take every little thing you say or do as very important,” admits Jaffray. He recounts an incident 12 years ago when he entered the office unsmiling, preoccupied with something unrelated. “The staff thought something was wrong,” he remembers. “You have to remember that everything you do can have an impact.”
For others, the concept of good leadership is harder to pin down. Take Robert Meggy, president and CEO of the Great Little Box Co., which manufactures and distributes storage systems, for example. “It’s an automatic thing,” Meggy says when asked what makes a good leader. “It’s just about being able to organize a group of people to achieve a common goal.”
For Meggy, this ability has translated into creating a corporate culture that is inclusive, transparent and communicative. “The most important thing is having a friend at work,” he declares. And, just as a true friend tells you when you’ve got broccoli in your teeth or your fly is down, Meggy believes in disclosing everything: “the good, the bad, the ugly – I don’t believe in hiding stuff,” he says. “Most people don’t know what’s going on at their company,” he continues. “We run an open-book style management here, which is rare for private companies.”
Each year, Meggy invites a cross-section of his 160 employees to a meeting where they can ask any questions they want about the company. The result of this openness? High morale, a culture of trust and respect, good retention (turnover at Great Little Box is virtually zero) and a staff that feels personally invested in the company’s success. “If you’re open with them, your employees take an interest, they work harder, they care more and they’re happier,” he finishes.