Building Great Leaders

Creating a Mindset for Effective Leadership at ELM

Some think you can’t create talent; you’re just born with it. Others think that after 10,000 hours of training, you’ll become an expert at anything. While a multitude of different leadership styles exist, we’ve chosen servant leadership as our goal. And in terms of servant leadership, we think it’s both, in that order.

While valuable leadership skills can be developed through training and practice, a servant leader is born with a high level of compassion and empathy, as well as a desire to learn. By bringing into our company people with a humble growth mindset and developing their leadership skills through RIDE (Relationship, Instill Meaning, Development, Execution), we’ve created a culture of servant leadership, and it works.

We’d like to share our leadership development process with you—from hiring to training to ongoing mentoring and coaching.

Raising up leaders begins with hiring

“It’s important to not only instill meaning in what we do, but to hire folks who find meaning in what we do and their role in particular. That way, their passions are aligned with everyone else in the organization and the meaning of the organization as a whole.” – Andrew Fayad, CEO

The critical point where we start establishing leaders happens right when we hire, at the very beginning. Organizations often wonder why their leadership and management teams aren’t producing quality work and satisfied employees. Hiring is where it all starts. At ELM, we don’t set out to specifically hire ‘leaders,’ that is, people who demonstrate natural authority or self-assurance. What we look for are people who value and cultivate healthy relationships—in other words, servant leaders. Servant leadership works especially well for the learning and development industry. Our goal and purpose are not only to train one another but create a culture of continuous growth, learning, and development. Our hiring process really sets the tone for our organization. By intentionally seeking out people who value other people, we set ourselves up for organizational success.

Why the traditional hiring process doesn’t work

The traditional process of hiring is archaic. In most organizations, it’s not done objectively, nor is enough emphasis put on reviewing for potential personality conflicts. Applicants check the boxes for certain skill sets and then undergo an entirely subjective interview process fraught with the potential for failure. Interviewing, in that sense, is similar to dating. You usually don’t see the total person on the first, second, or third date. Dating and interviewing are complex impression-management rituals involving creative uses of half-truths and lies of omission. 

To counteract this, many modern organizations use data from personality assessments to better hone in on potential candidates. From the beginning, we use as much information as we can to determine whether a person fits into our organization with the personality traits and behaviors we consider culturally responsible. What we found with the assessment tools we initially tried was that it was too easy to ‘cheat’ on them, and none of them were aligned with our company culture. 

The PAT from Positive Leader, LLC

Positive Leader’s Personality Assessment Tool (PAT) is a digital questionnaire that all potential hires take so we can determine whether their personalities match up with successful servant leaders within our organization. Paul Fayad and Professor Chak Fu Lam created this assessment in 2012 based on data accumulated from the results of over 4,000 participants. The PAT has about 114 questions and takes 25 minutes to complete. We have tested and used those results over the years, and it works, as we now know what traits have been successful at ELM. When an applicant’s results mesh with those traits, they’re invited to go through our interview process.

The PAT’s 5 measurements of a servant-leader mindset:

  1. Personality: We suggest different scenarios and ask how candidates would respond. This gives us an understanding of whether or not a candidate has a positive personality, i.e., are they compassionate and empathetic individuals who enjoy relationships with people?
  2.  Leadership behavior: Do they focus on mistakes? Are they forgiving? Do they foster a higher learning environment?
  3. Customer service mindset: We measure how they will meet the needs of the customer. Are they positive during unfavorable outcomes—e.g., if a customer has just received a product they ordered online, but it arrived damaged but the damage was likely due to the shipping carrier’s mishandling of the package.
  4. Change champion mindset: They don’t have to want change to occur, but do they support it when it does? Are they open to it? Change occurs—always. People that have an overall aversion to change might slow down the process, and we won’t be nimble as an organization with a staff that consistently resists all change.
  5. Honesty score: This is a series of questions we ask to determine whether the person is answering honestly or using impression management to give us the answers they think we want.  

The 70-20-10 rule to successful leadership training

“Relationships don’t come naturally; you must work at them. We should always be working towards being better. The wrong kind of leader takes all that for granted by saying, ‘You should listen to me because I have experience.’ No. Every day you become less of who you are unless you become better at who you are.” – Paul Fayad, CAO

Leadership at ELM is an ongoing process that can be best summarized with the 70-20-10 Rule:

  • 70 percent of leadership development occurs on the job in a self-directed process. Most of what we learn as leaders and managers occurs daily in the interactions and decisions we make involving our staff, clients, and finances.
  • 20 percent of leadership development occurs through mentors and coaches. We give everyone at ELM the opportunity to have both an on-the-job mentor and a coach, and we grow them into a mentor and coach for others.
  • 10 percent of leadership development occurs through education. This includes classes, seminars, business books, journals, online learning courses, and other formal learning tools.

4 steps to putting a servant-leadership development plan into action

1. Select mentors and coaches in your organization.

At ELM, we have a training process for both leaders and mentors. Mentors are informal volunteers. They choose to welcome someone and provide help to make them more comfortable with the social aspects of the organization and culture. They preserve and perpetuate the culture of an organization. Coaches are a formal part of the leadership team. They have expertise in their professions and can give solid answers based on life and professional experience.

2. Hold leadership team check-ins, workshops, and team-building activities.

Coaches have an open-door policy for quick questions and advice. They also have one-on-ones between coach and employee, usually over coffee every week or two. Teams have formal weekly Pulse meetings where they talk about potential issues and review problems/solutions. Workshops are held as needed during onboarding and any time a task force comes up with a new solution (more on that below). We hold quarterly All Hands  where we discuss large topics like customer service and team-building activities.

3. Allow decision-making to come from everybody.

“Who wants to have change forced on them that they weren’t a part of or don’t understand? Most organizations make decisions from the top down. That is the farthest away that ELM wants to be.” – Paul Fayad, CAO

At ELM, we use task forces to solve issues and to allow the opportunity for anyone in the organization to be a part of the higher-level decision-making process. The benefit is threefold: 1. Everyone receives on-the-job leadership training; 2. Buy-in to new processes and ideas comes easier when decisions are democratic; 3. Organizations are more nimble when the people responsible for implementing change have a hand in determining the changes. 

4. Foster a company culture that celebrates mistakes.

At ELM, we get really excited about mistakes because mistakes are opportunities for growth. We aren’t afraid of them because we have humility built into our culture. Mistakes allow us to learn and share our learning with our team so we all continue to improve and evolve.

What does a servant-leader organizational structure look like?

“We are led by the people that work for us. We provide support, as leaders, to empower them. We give them as many tools and opportunities as possible to create a stronger company. Therefore, it is a team that creates a better company, as a collective, not individuals who are deemed to do that because of their titles.” — Andrew Fayad, CEO

Traditionally, corporations are run in a hierarchical format, where all of the decisions come from the top of the pyramid, or board of directors and the C-suite. But 90 percent of US CEOs are concerned about finding employees with strong problem-solving skills and 88 percent are worried about the lack of leadership abilities in their current workforce. At ELM, we have a traditional structure hybrid, which we call the ELM New Order. We want our structure flatter in order to make decisions faster, but also somewhat traditional in order to have experts in the form of the leadership/coaching team in place to ensure that thoughtful decisions are made. 

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