Three Leaders Discuss Leadership

May 26, 2006
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HOLLAND — A strong team mentality, passion and communication are at the core of business leadership, according to three of Holland's business leaders.

Haworth President and CEO Franco Bianchi, Hope College President James Bultman, and Brian Kessler, group vice president and general manager of  North America for Johnson Controls, addressed members of the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce during the Lessons in Leadership luncheon May 18.

The three panelists answered questions about the keys to success, their personal leadership experiences and even their failures.

Kessler said his key to being a successful leader was making a commitment to hard work and to the members of his team.

"Don't ask any member of your team to do what you wouldn't do yourself," he said. "Don't ask your team to put in the hours if you won't."

Kessler also attributes his success to his family.

"Make sure you've got a good team at home," he said. "It's hard to be successful at work if you're not successful at home, and vice versa."

Hope College's Bultman said he strives to inspire others to reach their full potential, an important part of which is praising publicly and critiquing privately. Another secret to success has been to surround himself with people who do their jobs better than he ever could, he said.

"I think that's the way an organization gets strong," he said, "when you have people who can do things better than anyone else can do."

As the leader of a Christian college, Bultman said he takes the values to heart, including taking time to reflect on decisions, following the advice to "never make a decision today that you can make tomorrow."

"I do delay decisions until I have to," he said of the choices he has to make that may affect more than 3,000 students at the college, as well as the faculty and staff. "I like to bathe this decision in prayer."

Haworth's Bianchi said being open, approachable and clear are traits that are important to being a successful leader.

"We all have one opportunity to leave a great, memorable, positive experience in the people that we meet, or else," he said.

The other key is being passionate about his work and having a good team.

"We could have the best product in the world, but people make the difference," Bianchi said.

Bianchi said his greatest challenge right now is learning how to tap into and share his passion for the work that Haworth does.

"Haworth is at an interesting time," he said.

With changes in leadership, an expansion and a new global perspective being among the most obvious issues, Bianchi said the company is working to deal with all those changes.

Kessler said change is also an issue at Johnson Controls, and trying to make changes that are sustainable is his greatest challenge.

Bultman said his challenge is a little different.

"Our greatest challenge is getting the right people," he said, finding the teachers and staff that are right for the college, as well as attracting students who will flourish there. It is his goal to "articulate the distinction of Hope in a compelling way."

When looking for new team members, Bultman said he looks for competence and passion. "I'm interested in passion — passion for the mission of what we're trying to do," he said.

Bianchi said he looks for people who are able to communicate well and express ideas with a clear understanding of the issues at hand, while Kessler looks for a winning attitude, humility, integrity and customer focus.

The panelists differed on how to prepare for a management position.

Bultman's advice was to make oneself indispensable and always do one's best, while Kessler advised always asking for new opportunities. Bianchi's suggestion was to act like a leader.

"Demonstrate to your team that you make a difference," he said.

When it came to past failures, Kessler said they can be the best learning experiences. Bianchi, on the other hand, said not to focus on the past, but concentrate on what's happening and what's ahead.

"Part of leadership is not to focus too much on the failure," he said, advising that the key is to just keep trying. "This step today, next step tomorrow. Just as long as I keep walking … If I stop, I fail." 

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