What do you believe is the difference between leadership and management?

Leadership is a quality of influencing people so that the objectives of an organization are achieved, willingly and enthusiastically. Although leadership differs from management, it is, in fact, a primary component of good management.

Leadership works to guide and direct people to be their best and work with others to achieve goals and objectives. It requires a strong vision to think across boundaries and an ability to weigh opportunities and risks.

Management is a discipline; it is the art/skill of getting work done through and with others. It transcends all fields: business, education, hospitality, sports, government, etc.

The magic happens when great leadership combines with solid management. A leader often leads and manages a transformation or other changes that are never easy or perfect and can be complicated and messy. And, change usually takes longer than anticipated. However, with visionary leaders who have the best interests of the company and culture in mind, supported by outstanding management throughout an enterprise, great results are bound to happen.

What were the traits of the best leaders you have worked for in your career?

Great leaders possess a multitude of attributes that move the needle in many different ways, and I have been fortunate throughout my career to learn from some of the best who embodied many different leadership traits.

I believe it all starts on a personal level: A leader must be self-motivated, optimistic, positive, passionate and enthusiastic. That person must have confidence but humility at the same time allowing him/her to be approachable and exude empathy and authenticity. These traits provide a foundation for leadership attributes in the workplace – having a vision and mission, being focused and decisive, building teams, fostering creativity, being persuasive and influential and communicating effectively along the way.

At the end of the day, great leaders are ever-learning – students for life – which allows them to ultimately be accountable and responsible for the actions and decisions of an organization. And, I believe that one of the best traits of anyone is to have a generous spirit and apply that to every facet of life. In the workplace, this takes many different forms, not the least of which is sharing knowledge, expertise and experience to develop people into great leaders.

Are there strategies, traits or characteristics of leadership that are more important during times of crisis or change than at other times?

Having most, if not all, of the traits I just listed, provides a critical arsenal for managing a team and company through a crisis. And having the ability to take a step back, be objective and, importantly, open-minded to see and be inspired by opportunities in everything, even in the worst of times, goes a long way.

It is critical to be flexible at all times so that you can expect the unexpected and have the agility to pivot quickly. As a leader, you also need to be accountable for losses in addition to claiming the victories and then learn from those losses. When it comes to all audiences, you must manage expectations through solid communications. And, you must remain positive but realistic and honest through those communications.

How has your leadership style evolved or changed over time?

I have been involved in three different down-turns/crisis:

  • The repositioning/globalization of La-Z-Boy in 2003 through 2006
  • The great recession of 2008-2009
  • And now, the Global Pandemic of 2020

In each case, I have learned more about myself and my team than in normal or good times. The real leaders of one’s organization stand tall in the worst of times and can be relied upon to help make very difficult decisions.

I continually stress to my team to stay on an even keel.  When things are really good, it may not be directly proportional to what we have done (i.e., it could be outside influences). But the same is true when things are going the wrong way — we did not become ineffective overnight.

The lesson is to not get too high when things are going great or too low when business turns in the opposite direction. Business will ebb and flow, but your principles, beliefs, and approach should remain consistent. You must stay true to yourself when tackling a crisis so that you keep your balance and lead effectively.

What strategies, practices, techniques can be used to help develop/train young leaders?

I believe the best way to develop young leaders is to give them numerous opportunities and responsibilities across a wide spectrum of the business. Too often, and I am guilty of this, we put a young leader in a specific role and they excel, but then we are worried about moving that person to another area to broaden their experiences with the fear that the next person may not be as good.

The more you can expose a young leader to multiple facets of the business, the better opportunity they will have to be a more successful leader in the future. And, the more people you give that opportunity to, the stronger your team will be over time. Easy to say, but at times difficult to practice effectively on a consistent basis.

What do you think people most often get wrong about “leadership” and its role in organizations?

One of the things I have learned over time is too many people believe leadership has all the answers. On the positive side, it is great they trust and believe in you but, on the practical side, many times leaders do not have all of the answers. Some of the best decisions I have made in my career stem from soliciting opinions and listening to a wide range of stakeholders, weighing the various options and then coming to a collaborative conclusion.

That is not to say that leaders are afraid to make the tough decisions when necessary, even if it means they stand alone. But, when you engage the broader team you have the benefit of a “think tank” and will have more buy-in and belief that your decision is the correct one.

Leaders must listen, reach out and ask probing questions.  My favorite question is, “What would you do?”

Who are some of the first names that come to mind when you think “leadership?”

Warren Buffet comes to mind immediately because of the longevity he’s had as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. At 90 years old, he talks of his love of work – that it’s not a job – and the friendships he’s made at work over the years. He loves what he does, has fun doing it and enjoys the people he works with, making him a collaborative leader. He is definitely a “student of life,” which has served him, the Berkshire Hathaway companies and shareholders very well.

Another executive that I admire greatly is Alan Mullaly. He saved two iconic industrial companies – Boeing and Ford – during some of the worst of times. He had the courage and conviction to make hard decisions. He is a great businessman and leader and is globally respected for what he has accomplished. Additionally, he masterminded these massive turnarounds with humility and decisiveness while capturing the hearts and minds of thousands of stakeholders in both cases.

And, finally, closer to home, I have the utmost respect for Nido Qubein, president of High Point University and long-standing member of the La-Z-Boy board. I watched first-hand as he resurrected not only a university, but (also) a community, by bringing progressive and revolutionary business-oriented ideas to academia. High Point University is vibrant and growing as a result of Nido’s “vision and leadership.”

What traits do you look for in others that mark them as potential future leaders?

I believe our business is primarily “people” driven as we deal with a vast array of consumers every day. We look for certain traits that we have learned over time work well in most organizations; things like communication skills, aptitude, enthusiasm, initiative, a strong work ethic, integrity, curiosity and humility all come to mind.

We are very interested in what some people would call the personality traits of people as we feel we can teach the skills and technical side of our business, particularly if they have all the other individual characteristics.  The ability to positively interact with a broad and diverse group of individuals will improve your opportunities as a leader.

The post Profile in Leadership: La-Z-Boy Chairman, President and CEO Kurt Darrow appeared first on Furniture Today.

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