Sector News

How do you know someone has true leadership qualities?

October 15, 2018
Borderless Leadership

In my continuing efforts to clearly demonstrate how love–the most powerful human emotion on the planet–is generated and leveraged for business results, I’ve interviewed several high-profile human-centered leaders to answer the question, “How do you love your people well?”

In the end, that’s what exceptional leadership boils down to: love. More specifically, so we don’t make the HR and legal folks nervous, love here is actionable and noble: creating psychological safety, connecting with employees, caring for their well-being, and not just managing their work performance.

While not many people are calling it for what it is, actionable love shown in how employees are treated has been proven to raise performance and increase value, loyalty, and engagement. This is what every company should be after.

For this interview, I reached out to a loving leader–Kyle Slager, CEO of San Diego-based Raken, the top-rated daily reporting app and field management software for the construction industry. Back in June, Slager caught my attention when he was named 2018’s Most Admired CEO for a small, privately held company by the San Diego Business Journal.

I dove in to find out how Slager is wired as a human leader, and how he demonstrates love in action for business outcomes at Raken. I came away with three outstanding takeaways.

Love your employees by growing them as people.
Slager has based Raken’s leadership philosophy on a “holistic approach, in which we support each other.” Holding true to servant leadership form, holistically supporting employees can be a scary proposition and, in Raken’s case, extends beyond where most companies are willing to venture: helping people achieve their personal goals as much as their professional goals.

As Raken’s team reaches the 100-employee mark by year’s end due to fast growth, this mindset of developing people’s potential is a highly attractive quality for transitioning Millennials.

“One of the things we’ve done to formalize this is make it part of our review process. For example, we’ll set personal goals for the year the same way we would professional goals, and we do everything we can to help each other achieve those goals,” says Slager.

Love your company by fiercely protecting its culture.
Peter Drucker famously quipped, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” The premise held by Drucker is that a company’s culture will trump any effort by a management team to enforce a strategy that is incompatible with that culture. In the end, it’s culture that wins.

Raken holds true to that form by having processes and principles in place to ensure their servant, customer-centric culture of love is sustained. Slager described it in two distinct ways:

1. The inverted pyramid.

The traditional top-down hierarchy is flipped upside down in how Raken operates as a business, with customers at the top and team members (employees) that serve those customers right below. Slager says, “The rest of our team is here to support the people on the front lines interacting with our customers every day. Customer success = our success.”

2. Guiding principles.

Culture is defined by guiding principles and shared values by which Raken hires and lives as a company. “All expectations we have at Raken are based off agreements. That goes for business goals, personal goals, and our culture,” says Slager.

Before anyone joins the Raken team, they have to agree to Raken’s high cultural standards. “They agree because that’s the culture they want to be a part of and that’s how they want to show up every day,” Slager told me. They are:

  • Be Yourself: You are unique–bring that every day.
  • Assume Positive Intent: Everyone here wants the best for the team and that’s where they’re coming from.
  • Do What You Say and Say What You Do: Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results.
  • Be on Time: Everyone’s time is equally valuable.
  • Display Bias for Action: Break a plan down into a small step you can do right away.
  • Act With a Sense of Urgency: Without it, desire loses value.
  • No HIPPOs (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) Allowed: Everyone’s opinion is equally valued.
  • No Brilliant Jerks: Play well with others or go home.
  • Treat Others With Respect: Zero tolerance for gossip.
  • Have Fun: Celebrate all wins big and small.
  • You Get What You Give: And you can only give what you have, so take care of yourself and make sure your tank is always full.

Love your customers through empathy.
Slager shared with me that Raken was founded on the rare virtue of empathy. What that means in a business sense is that, to provide more value than anyone else in the construction market, Kyle’s team learned to first understand their customers on a deeper level than ever before.

And for that to happen, they had to spend more time with their customers–at the jobsite and in the office. Reaching down to a real human level of understanding about their customers’ true needs, Raken’s mission evolved with great clarity “to create the fastest, easiest-to-use solutions for the construction field.”

Slager told me that the vast majority of companies in his industry have failed because they didn’t “get” their clients and were more focused on adding bells and whistles to their product than providing real value.

“I think it’s very hard to succeed if you’re more in love with your product than your customer in any market, even more so in construction,” says Slager.

Slager’s definition of loving customers well goes back to empathy, which requires a lot of receptive listening, honesty, and two-way feedback to understand customers on a human, emotional level.

Their first client became convinced to sign on with Raken because they felt Slager and his team were genuinely interested in rolling up their sleeves to solve their biggest problems. Soon after, 120-plus other companies joined Raken, and they were off to the races.

“All of this happened because we led with giving, and over time, it grew into a long-term relationship,” says Slager.

By Marcel Schwantes


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