Written by Matthew Wright
Companies are realizing the need to invest in their most important asset.
Humble confidence.” That is the answer I was given when I walked up to one of the giants of the medical distribution industry to introduce myself. I simply asked, “What message do you try to convey to your leadership team, and to your staff, every day?”
I heard two words: “humble confidence.” I smiled sheepishly, realizing I had been hiding the humble for quite some time.
Just a few years ago, I was living my dream. Over the course of eight years in my career at a small ($6 million) privately-owned medical distributor serving the Carolinas, I’d gone from sales rep—attempting to call on 15 medical facilities per day, and in the process averaging 35,000 miles per year in my car—to company president. As a distributor, we sold everything imaginable in the medical office, except pharmaceuticals, from disposable supplies (bandages, syringes, gloves, gauze) to equipment (exam tables, stools, blood pressure, EKG machines), and as a regional player, we built lasting success on trust and dependability.
So there I was—a smart, young, highly motivated and hard-working guy with the best of intentions. I knew the company inside and out: the products, the company’s strengths and challenges, the financials, the strategies for growth, and all the relevant metrics. But there was a problem.
I quickly realized that, despite all those positives, I had absolutely no clue about how to lead people. I didn’t realize how lonely it would be at the top of this organization that was so familiar to me, and I came to see I was completely unprepared to truly lead anyone.
As leaders, young and old, we have a natural tendency to think we know it all, and we think demonstrating that confidence will in turn instill confidence in our team. From my experience, that proved to be short-sighted and stunted my (and the business’s) growth.
I had lost a balance physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I had isolated myself from family and friends—which, looking back, meant I was missing opportunities for encouragement and development. I had robbed those closest to me of the ability to offer encouragement and support. I went into survival mode for myself, and upon reflection, I am sure the business struggled for a time because of that.
Fortunately, it didn’t take long for me to put my pride and ego aside and go in search of some outside expertise. In typical fashion it took me observing some of the most successful and influential leaders in our industry before I recognized the need to jump into action.
I had been invited to a private round-table discussion with some of those leaders to discuss new trends, technologies, and industry innovations. I was honored to be there, and I prepared for the meeting as if I should be the expert on all subject matter. Rookie mistake… I quickly learned that this setting was an opportunity for these individuals to share confidentially about issues involving specific employee scenarios, employee engagement successes, managing difficult personalities, talent retention, generational gaps, and more. I realized my seat at that table was an opportunity for me to listen, rather than talk—to absorb every word and apply it to my organization. I also realized that the more vulnerable each of these highly respected leaders became, the more I naturally appreciated them.
I was so profoundly moved by this experience that I used my own funds to hire a coach to help me identify and develop my own leadership skills. We started with aligning my personal vision and our company’s vision. I discovered that once those two factors aligned, I could begin the development process. It was a tremendous experience. The coach was someone I could complain to, be vulnerable and let down my guard with, and someone I could talk with confidentially about business concerns. The coach also offered insight on my ideas about restructuring the company, and ways to communicate with and empower my employees to take ownership of changes we needed to make.
Most importantly, by working on developing my own leadership skills, I was able to lead the company through a critical change in management process and help this mom-and-pop, relationship-based business find its niche in a highly competitive market. The results spoke for themselves; by the time I left the company in 2014, it was turning a profit after three previously unprofitable years.
Fast-forward two years; I now find myself in a very different place, in an entrepreneurial role with a large organization that is continuously striving to develop and retain talented employees. I welcomed the chance to return to my hometown and to a company that would keep pushing me to develop professionally.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” [—Proverbs 27:17]. As humans, we need encouragement. As leaders, we need even more. If we do not hear encouragement from our board of directors, our colleagues, our family and friends, we will naturally go in search of it. In many cases professionally, that results in employee turnover. Companies of all sizes are realizing the need to invest in their most important asset: their people. The job market has gained momentum, and talented employees are being gobbled up quickly by those organizations that seek to surround themselves with dynamic, highly motivated staff. Companies are shifting their focus to tap into the strengths of their employees, rather than cramming employees into roles that don’t quite fit.
Western North Carolina has a thriving entrepreneurial initiative in motion. Leaders in the region have created a plan to attract new jobs and new business, and to keep business here in our backyard. Even the best and the brightest leaders need consistent encouragement and coaching, inside and outside of their organization. My vision is that leaders from all kinds and sizes of organizations will seize opportunities to tap into local expertise. My hope is that no business leader has to scramble, like I did, to get help developing themselves and their people.
Bottom line: Learning how to communicate more effectively with your employees will strengthen you, it’ll strengthen your staff, and you’ll see a significant return on investment both personally and professionally as you lead with humble confidence.
Matthew Wright is Director of Retail Initiatives & Growth Strategy for Mission Health and their Center for Leadership & Professional Development. To contact Matthew, or inquire about a program for your organization, contact email@example.com or (828) 213-4242.
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