I still remember my first real leadership experience.
I was in Egypt and was asked to lead a team of 150 people. Before that, I led a group of 5.
This was a giant leap.
I enjoyed it despite the challenge but I remember how many things I needed to learn and change to be ready for the new journey.
Something similar happened to Iggy Domagalski – President and CEO of a Canadian-based company, Wajax, that serves major Canadian industries as one of the nation’s leading industrial products and services providers for over 160 years.
When I interviewed recently on ‘The World Class Leaders Show”, Iggy sharted his approach when it comes to leadership and the giant leap took from running a much smaller company to being at the top of a major business – starting with people as the backbone.
People First (Literally)
If you look at any major company, you might automatically assume that their successes come down to the product that’s on offer. But what you don’t see is the team that’s working in the background, who are a key cog in the machine – be it customer services, development, or sales.
Every business needs a strong team, but what can set you aside from all other businesses is the effort that’s put into celebrating the people that work for you, and the belief that the people are the most important thing that you have in your company. People who genuinely care about resolving a customer issue can make all the difference.
‘Our competitive advantage isn’t a bunch of computer code or a bunch of really expensive machinery. Our competitive advantage is the 3000 people that we have across the country that serve our customer in their community on the daily.’
Now you may not have a team of 3000 people spread across the country, and that’s fine. Irrespective of size, the people and their desire to do good for your company can make you stand out amongst your competitors. As a CEO, take the time to get to know your team – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it can also drive pretty good business results. Have a clear vision for the company with a clear set of values but build a culture of people first and foremost.
Trust as an Enabler
As a CEO, an essential part of your role is to inspire trust. A mutual trusting relationship between a CEO and their team can lead to high performance. Trust, however, may not come naturally to everyone.
Unlike Iggy, who discovered that he leads with trust after enduring a rigorous interview process for his current position, some people are initially reluctant to give trust and allowing themselves to be vulnerable is not in their make-up. If that’s the case, then build on it – and take the time to do so. It may not happen overnight but working on building that trust daily whether it’s within your direct team, your board, stakeholders, or other people within the company – make sure you as the leader are making trust a priority so that it can be as good as it can be.
‘Trust, not just on a management team, but on a sports team, or any team, is just amongst the most important things you can have. Having a team that really trusts each other, that when somebody says they’re going to do something – they’ll do it, they kind of got each other’s back. If something’s going on, they’ll tell them to their face.’
Consensus is Not Always an Option
As a leader, the easiest thing for you when it comes to running your business is consensus and finding a solution that works for everyone. But the more your business expands, consensus can be difficult to achieve. Not everyone is going to agree with the direction you are wanting to take – that’s when the CEO needs to act as the tiebreaker.
You, as the CEO, will make a decision and provide all the necessary information as to how and why you made it. Whether people agree with it or not, you at least want everyone to walk out of that meeting on the same page – not necessarily always agreeing, but supporting and trusting your decision nonetheless. If not, and people are leaving the room without supporting your decision, it can be one of the most destructive to the culture – so frame it in a way that although your team may not agree, at least they are now supporting it.
‘Once we’ve decided that this is what we’re doing, I need everyone to walk out of that room and say, “this is what we’re doing. And I support it”.’
Make Time For What’s Important
Being a CEO is an incredible opportunity, but it’s one that requires a lot of hard work and time.
In our interview, Iggy acknowledged that his new role meant that he would be traveling a lot more than he did in his previous role. Before committing to this, he had a conversation with his family that although he would be home less often, family time would be intentional when he did return. Be it watching a movie together or playing a board game.
‘It’s a cool opportunity, I’m thrilled to be doing it. But there’s no opportunity that’s cool or interesting enough in the world to destroy your family over.’
As a leader, finding the balance between running a company, whether it’s start-up or scale, and spending time with loved ones can be really difficult, and something that many CEOs can often struggle with and go on to regret in later life. Communicating with loved ones and making time for each other whenever you can is what’s most important.
Wrapping up the interview, I asked Iggy about the one thing throughout his entire career that has been his biggest learning opportunity:
‘I think it’s about people. When you’re young, you’re just dumb. You’re just less self-aware and you’re less aware of others. And so, I think the one lesson that I’ve learned, not over just my career, but of my life is that everybody is going through some massive internal battle that you really don’t know anything about. And maybe will never know anything about it. And so, I think, just appreciating that and trying to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.’
Iggy recognizes that people are at the very core of what it takes for a business to do well. Of course, there are a multitude of other aspects to succeed – but understanding people can make all the difference between a good leader, and a great leader.
‘I mean, sometimes people do things that seem totally crazy and stupid, but they’re not crazy and stupid to them. And so, trying to put yourself in their shoes, and understand why they would have made that decision and seek to understand more than dictate and tell, I think has been the biggest lesson that I’ve learned, as it’s helped me understand things better, and become a better leader.’
Listen to the podcast related to this article: https://www.andreapetrone.com/iggy-domagalski-ceo-of-wajax-on-leading-with-trust-podcast/