About 500 people have gone through leadership coaching offered by Leading by Design, a Zeeland-based business that Rodger Price formed in January 2014 to groom a new generation of business leaders in West Michigan and help existing executives improve. Believing the region can become a “hotbed of the best leaders in the country,” Price aims to graduate 1,000 people from the year-long program by 2027. He recently spoke with MiBiz about his outlook on future leaders.
As the millennial generation moves into leadership positions in their careers and a younger generation enters the workforce, and they look at work differently than prior generations, how have leaders had to evolve?
I believe over the last 20 to 30 years there’s been a shift away from the classic command and control, some would call it the ‘great man’ model. Back then, it was mostly men that were allowed beyond the ‘glass ceiling,’ so to speak. There was this ‘great man model’ that the great man had the answers and people went to ‘him.’ It’s now becoming: Let’s get aligned. There are people with amazing talent, they can do amazing things. What we have to do is be aligned, so now it’s: Let’s get clear about our purpose and where we’re going, but then turn people loose. It’s very participative and the millennials who aren’t so interested in being part of a corporate thing, it’s much more important that people figure out their own purpose.
How does a leader today strive for that alignment?
We like to talk purpose, vision and values. Purpose is why you exist, whether you’re a company or whether you want to talk about you as a human being. And then where are you going? What’s on the horizon? What’s the thing you’re pursuing? That’s again both personal and corporate, and you’re looking for alignment. Then what are the values that govern your personal life, and what are the values that govern our business? What we’re really looking for these days is alignment between those things. We’re looking for people that do align around purpose, vision and values, and then it’s not about command and control. It’s inspire and feedback, and where there are disagreements, let’s figure out how to talk about them really well.
What makes a leader?
In our year-long program, we focus on three things that make up what leadership’s about. The first of those three is the most important, and that is to be a person worth following. We never answer that for someone, but in month 11 they write a paper on, ‘Here’s what it looks like for me to be a person worth following based on my beliefs, my values and everything else.’ Then the other two things we hit on are how do you build an amazing team and how do you create clarity around purpose, vision and values? We think that if you are a person worth following, you know how to build and you do build amazing teams and you create clarity. That’s 80 percent of what being an amazing leader is all about. So it’s simple, but it’s hard.
How can a leader get better?
It’s really important that they find the courage to take an honest look at, ‘How am I doing?’ Sometimes the way to find that courage is to have someone that you know is on your side, but will also lovingly be open and honest with you. That’s a huge piece, to be able to have a safe place to go and take an honest look at, ‘How am I doing as a leader? What do I do really well?’ By the way, most leaders don’t realize what they do incredibly well. They also don’t understand their blind spots and where they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
What’s one trait all leaders must possess?
Being able to listen. There are two great things that come out of listening. When people are listened to, they feel connected to you and they think more clearly. You can ‘listen’ someone to great thinking and to clearer thinking. You learn a ton when you listen well about what’s really going on, and then you build this relational connection with the person you’re listening to.
What’s a leadership lesson you’ve taken out of the pandemic?
I really do believe that about 80 percent or more of people, the thing that scares them the most is the unknown. When the pandemic hit, it was: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen.’ When we were coaching people we’d say, ‘You know what, your company’s going to go out of business, you’re going to lose your job. Could you handle that?’ They would go, ‘I would hate that, but I would survive.’ You could just feel the anxiety come out of them by naming the worst-case example. I have a belief that if you name it you can tame it. Even though it’s a worst-case scenario, it’s still not as scary as the unknown. One of the things leaders have to do is have a faith that, ‘We’ll be OK. I don’t know how, but I just really believe. We’ll get through this.’