Speakers included Ann Hall, retired president of First State Bank in Monett; Chris Fuldner, retired chief executive officer of EFCO Corporation; Jack Prim, chief executive officer of Jack Henry and Associates; and Ed Mareth, founder and owner of 3D Corporate Solutions in Monett and Project Genesis in Purdy. Joel Thomas, instructor for Drury's leadership class in Monett, served as moderator.
Hall said she has seen changes in her own leadership style over the years. Unlike Old Red, the cow who head-butted anyone in the herd on her childhood farm, intimidation is not leadership. Hall said some follow, others walk alongside and others need a push. A good leader recognizes what his or her people need and leads accordingly.
Hall cautioned against doing too much of someone else's job in trying to provide direction.
"You're wasting both your time and theirs," Hall said. "Most employees can and will do a good job if you let them, Don't be a micro-manager. You may be surprised at the time saving things your staff do."
Hall charged the audience not to be afraid to make decisions. Rather than procrastinate, she advised doing research and taking a position.
"Not deciding is not leadership," Hall added.
Fuldner, who started at EFCO in February 1974 in charge of sales and retired in August 2007 as chief executive officer when the company sold to Pella, said the CEO is the person charged with having vision for the company.
"Where are we going? How are we going to do it? What are we going to do if it doesn't work?" Fuldner said are a leader's prime questions.
EFCO shifted its business model over time from residential to schools and hospitals, later refocusing on industry. Fuldner said EFCO had thousands of products and developed a strategy of being great as a small batch manufacturer.
To succeed, Fuldner said his job was to bring understanding of corporate goals to the employees. The leader also has to listen to staff reaction, even if the message isn't given nicely.
Fuldner's father, EFCO found Terry Fuldner, had an autocratic style, insisting on his way, but also had a personal charisma that enabled him to sit down with people he'd just argued with and reassure and reaffirm them.
"I just made people mad," Chris Fuldner said. "Working in fear is not nearly as motivating as liking what you're doing."
Fuldner said a leader needs to be able to delegate to managers and allow them to make decisions. He cautioned against leading too much, preferring to be persuaded why a decision was made rather than making the choice.
"If it's the wrong decision, fix it," Fuldner said. "Change whatever you've got to do. Stand up and say what should have been done. That's when you bring value to your company. The worst thing is trying to force it to work or you won't admit it's wrong."
Ethnics in leadership means admitting mistakes, Fuldner continued. In a construction job, with millions of parts and many opportunities to make mistakes, customers expect the job to be done right. Fuldner said a business will be remembered much more for how it responded to a mistake than if the job was done right.
In his 35-year career, Prim worked for Burroughs and for Broadway and Seymour before the company was purchased by Jack Henry and Associates (JHA) in 1996. Prim became JHA's chief operating officer in 2001 and now serves as the CEO.
Prim said leadership means learning. When a former boss told him Prim made a better blocker and tackler than a "Hail Mary" passer who might win the game. Prim considered the comment a compliment.
"You're going to win more games that way than on a wing and a prayer," Prim said. "Do the hard stuff, the fundamentals."
A leader is never "off the clock," Prim said. One's demeanor and manner reflects on the company, including those whom the leader tolerates who do not share the same values.
Prim particularly likes JHA because the company is focused.
"I'd rather be good at one thing than mediocre at several," Prim said. "I always tried to do a job as good as I could."
When Hurricane Sandy recently flooded JHA's data center in New Jersey and the company had to move operations to Oklahoma City, Okla., Prim said he applied Dwight Eisenhower's statement, "Farming looks easy when your only plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field."
Prim went to Oklahoma City himself and spoke of the heroic efforts he witnessed, people working 46-hour shifts. Managing the situation from Monett would have been misguided. He gained the confidence of those working by seeing their efforts first hand, and had the chance to say "thank you."
A "social style," describing ways people interact, is also important. Prim said his people like the "platinum rule": "Do unto others as they prefer to be done unto." Prim advised making the effort to learn how people want to receive information, whether it's with enthusiasm or with lots of data.
Leadership is also a choice, Prim cautioned. Not everyone wants the responsibility or the duty of making decisions with limited information.
"Life is too short to work at something you don't enjoy," Prim said.
Passion in leadership
Mareth spoke of leadership in terms of passion. His passion, in founding 3D Corporate Solutions, is for pets. Having served as a district manager for Purina and a sales and marketing vice president for Tyson Foods, Mareth learned the pet food business. His approach to leadership is knowing a subject better than anyone and drawing followers who trust that knowledge and passion.
"If you want to be a leader, serve everyone. If you serve people, they'll follow you," Mareth said.
Leadership is most effective, he continued, when people are willing to sacrifice for a greater benefit in the future. Leadership can promote good or evil, and can be very subtle, such as the low-key example set by Mother Teresa. Leaders develop other leaders.
Mareth encouraged seeking out people with the skills the leader may lack. He said a leader must be driven by the right motives, and should be directed by ethics and morals.
In the question period that followed, the speakers were asked how they worked their way out of a bad decision. Prim said at some point a determination has to be made that a choice is not working and it's time to move on.
Fuldner said some of the most difficult mistakes can be made in hiring executive staff, and in firing people. In the end, a decision has to be made, however painful, for the good of the company.
Hall said she had probably made every mistake possible. In banking, the choice for First State to pursue auto financing like "the big boys" proved to be bad for the bottom line. In the end, the bank had to pull back and return to its core business.
Mareth said trust can cover up bad judgments. Keeping trust requires rectifying problems, or the loss of trust may be catastrophic.
Prim said his hardest challenge was firing the person who hired him. His definition of success is seeing a plan come together.
"It's not the home runs but the base hits you get to see every day that I really enjoy," Prim said.
For closing comments, Prim urged the audience, "Take care of your people. A lot of companies don't walk the talk. Once you damage credibility, you may never get it back."
Fuldner urged establishing and maintaining trust in a business, which can be lost in a single day.
"You must be true to your word," Fuldner said. "You must have the integrity to do what is right. Be known more for how you deal with mistakes."
"Don't be afraid to admit when you made a mistake," Hall concluded. "Don't try to bluff your way through it."