In the first part of our Leader With Courage conversation with Rosemary Swierk of Direct Steel and Construction, we learned how success can be formed from a non-traditional career. Of course, even the best leaders can fall into certain traps along the way – one of the biggest being the concept that they have to do everything themselves. Here’s how Rosemary faced that challenge and responded.
Value Drivers: Let’s talk about self-sufficiency, which can sound really good on its own but for leaders can become a trap of “I can do that myself” or “I know it’ll be done right if I do it.” Did that become a challenge for you at any point in building your company at Direct Steel?
Rosemary Swierk: Absolutely. So many executives can get in the trap of thinking they need to be self-sufficient. Early on, I was doing everything on my own. But I was reliant on trade contractors, which worked out great in most instances. However, when I really started to grow Direct Steel and Construction, I still felt like it was just me and I wasn't relying on my staff enough to contribute.
Things changed significantly when I attended a seminar focusing on a sales method in which every quarter, we meet to identify all the steps from the time someone experiences our brand through sales and marketing to the time a client calls in.
What does implementing that method look like in your work environment?
We go through a spreadsheet every month in which we track the relationship at every point. What’s the customer’s experience been like? What does it take for us to deliver? Where are the bottlenecks and headaches occurring? Through this method, we’ve actually parlayed one spreadsheet into about 12 spreadsheets. It’s a great way to establish the targeted area of improvements.
Good for you. In our own Leading With Courage℠ Workshops, we impress upon participants how important it is to keep the momentum going beyond that half-day, full day or two days to really live it every day. Sounds like you’re doing an excellent job of that.
You have to. It’s what moves you beyond a period of inspiration to implementation, which is huge. The way we do that at Direct Steel, beyond what I just described with the spreadsheet, is that every 90 days, we're charged with tackling those items on the target areas of improvement. It's not necessarily that we accomplish them but we create a strategy to accomplish them. We implement that strategy and it gets evaluated every 90 days, which holds us accountable. That process has really taken a gigantic burden off my shoulders because it's really become a team endeavor.
What a huge advantage that is.
It is because I don't even lead the meetings any longer. I attend them, but I don't coordinate them. I don't assign tasks to people for follow up. People know their roles and responsibilities.
You’re speaking to delegating, which is a challenge that leaders often face as both they and their organizations grow. It can become another trap. It comes down to trusting the people you know you can delegate things to in order to get it done.
I have to admit, that was an error of mine too. I still sometimes fall into that trap to a degree. You find yourself carrying this expectation that everyone has the same knowledge base as you do and the same skill sets. It’s just not the case. So it’s about understanding what people's strengths are and how best to utilize them.
About half of the people we’ve spoken with during our Leader With Courage conversations are women who have not only built a successful business but have done so while balancing a lot of parenting responsibilities at home. You had an extra challenge with taking care of aging parents on top of all that. It had to be extremely stressful at times for you.
Yes – and I can typically handle a lot. Leaders sometimes like to come off as if we’re invincible when we’re really human. I had to face facts at that time that I was pretty well maxed out physically and emotionally. Placing an ad in the Chicago Tribune to bring on new team members turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made. It relieved me of just the right amount of stress and the timing was perfect.
Still, balance is a challenge for any leader building a business. My kids are now grown and I still have a hard time balancing!
Besides the support of a staff you can trust delegating important items to, is there anywhere externally that you turn to regularly to gain insight?
About 6-7 years ago, I was got involved in the AthenaPowerLink® Program, which enables a woman business owner to be awarded a board of advisors for one year. My advisory board consisted of a CPA, a financial advisor, an attorney and other professionals. At the end of that year, I asked if anyone was still willing to stay on and it was all on a volunteer basis. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all of them were willing to stay on.
Since then, what I’ve realized is that in addition to what they contribute, it holds me accountable. It forces me to listen to other perspectives. And it’s a group that’s better than ever because now I have a trade contractor, an attorney who is involved in the construction industry but also is familiar with federal government contracting, a CPA who is connected to a construction manager and so on. These kinds of resources are invaluable and you can’t get enough great strategic partners like this.
As you can see in this conversation, just one workshop or seminar can be a game changer for your business like it was for Rosemary - especially if you’re serious about holding yourself accountable to implement next steps with your team. One great way to do that? A Leading With Courage℠ Workshop. In as little as one day, you can discover more about how to recognize the strengths in other team members and what to effectively delegate to them. In the process, you’ll not only be able to maximize your efficiency as a leader but also elevate rising talent in the organization. Talk about a win-win.