Leadership Case Study: Put Your Team First For Positive Results

Oct 13, 2023

Put your team first: Leadership in Action

Leadership vs. Management

One of the qualifying questions that irks me in an interview or application is, “Have you ever managed people before?”

It should be re-worded, “Have you ever led people before?”

There are plenty of 18-year-olds managing people at Sonic or Taco Bell.

The corporate world is full of Managers and Directors who run off good employees which cripples their organizations, despite having decades of experience “managing.”


Case Study in Leadership: The Problem

A few years ago, Senior Leadership of Kaiser, specifically the VP of Finance, asked me to lead a project team.

Challenge accepted!

I eagerly took on the opportunity to lead a group of around 10 employees in office locations from Denver to California. The goal was to interview every finance individual contributor in the company to see how the Finance Department could improve. From there, we would collect and present those findings, and recommended actions, to leadership at the end of the year.

The prior year’s team was good, but meetings lacked enthusiasm. TEAMS meetings were quiet lectures from those in charge, and getting people to contribute was like pulling teeth. The project team was extra work that employees weren’t paid to do, so the sooner each meeting was over, the better. I spoke to other Project Team leaders, and their results were the same. Every Project Team was like my Masters Degree teams; a few stars did 75% of the work, while others coasted.

That was the problem I instantly dialed in on, not the goal of presenting our research findings to Leadership at the end of the year.

Before we could reach our goals, we had to work together as a team.


Uncovering the Real Priorities

I focused on three things:

1 – I wanted my team to enjoy what they were doing.

2 – I wanted my team to be recognized by leadership as adding true value.

3 – I needed to offload some work, otherwise I was going to drown.

Step 1: Find an Implementer

My first act as Leader was to hire a #2.

This was most important.

Friends within the group reached out to me, but I knew what I needed – an implementer. In my new Leadership role, I needed someone who specialized in executing. I would create the vision and drive, they would help refine, set up deadlines, and delegate.

She was an easy choice.

You can tell an implementer from a mile away; they’re the ones asking for details, pressing for timelines, and questioning accountability.

Step 2: Find the Motivator

The second task was much harder.

How do I get 10 people from different cities, with different schedules, who don’t want to be here, to get excited and contribute to this 8-month project.

Equally important was, how can I offload this new workload so I can breathe?

I didn’t want to end up like the leaders from last year who had to take on massive amounts of extra work, because many members didn’t produce the same quality output as others. In addition, I was also being awarded new responsibilities as a Senior Accountant as I fought to advance, plus my Masters program homework. If I couldn’t delegate, I would drown.

Money is a temporary driver, but even so, I didn’t have the authority to pass out bonuses. I had no special title. I couldn’t force them to do anything.

I went back to my Business Management roots. What drives people?

Applying Leadership Philosophy – Put Your Team First

I looked within myself.

What would have motivated me to speak up in the project team the year before? What would have motivated me to proactively seek out more responsibilities?

Once I identified the questions, the solutions presented themselves pretty easily.

I wanted recognition.

Not from just from my peers, but from management and leadership.

I also wanted positive reviews to carry on throughout my career. Without a monetary bonus, I’ll take resume accolades. Feed my future, and feed my ego.

With these ideas, I came up with the idea to have three Sub-Leaders. I could offload a lot of my work, and the Sub-Leaders could start their own leadership training, with eventual recognition from Leadership. These roles would provide strong resume highlights as well.

I also made a decision to call on people directly on our calls vs. letting people slink into the shadows without contributing. I gambled on the idea that people WANT to be heard, and WANT to offer ideas…they just don’t want to speak up and risk failing. By stressing that there were no bad ideas, and calling on them directly, I was forcing them to step out of their comfort zone and provide their genuine thoughts on the matter. No more hiding!

The Results

The results were better than I had imagined.

Not only did we have nearly everyone on the call asking to be a Subleader, but everyone started speaking up. They felt valued. They felt like their opinion mattered. Now instead of meeting silence, I had the very welcome problem of too much contribution! It was like a water hose needing to be closed!

I’ll never forget the feeling of accomplishment after that first meeting. Finally, after studying leadership for so many years…I was able to put those tactics to use with tangible results.

So when I get asked the question, “have you ever managed people before?”

I say, “No, but I’ve led.”


How Maui CFO Can Help Your Business

Maui CFO is a holistic fractional CFO company that will be your implementer.

By putting your employees first, they will want to give you their best. Leadership is a skill that must be practiced. Profits and financial strategy are why you bring on a traditional FCFO, but nothing is more important than making your employees the number one priority. This is how Maui CFO is different.

To see if Maui CFO is right for your company, please schedule a complimentary consultation.