What makes a CEO a great leader? Our three award winners know the answer: It's all about taking care of their people.
As a leader, John Collopy is best known for his direct approach. "I grew up in northeast Minneapolis. I went to school in downtown Minneapolis. I have a reputation for being pretty frank and honest," he explained.
Then again, Collopy demonstrates a sensitivity to listening and learning. He often seeks the counsel of more-experienced real estate experts like David Liniger, who owns Re/Max nationally. As the founder and longtime co-owner of Re/Max Results, a Re/Max franchise operating in Minnesota and western Wisconsin, Collopy also likes giving back by speaking to groups of greener real estate professionals. "Education is important," stressed Collopy. "I do have a strong commitment to personal growth."
After 34 years in the business, communication skills have become the hallmark of Collopy's leadership style. How does he help his team weather an uncertain real estate market, for example? "You just tell the truth," he blurted. But his team gives him more credit than that. They praised Collopy for providing them with necessary backup and professional support. As one Re/Max salesperson put it: "I feel we are given the tools and the flexibility to succeed."
Sometimes the Right At Home employee is taken aback. She walks into Paul Blom's office only to have the owner and CEO kick his feet on the desk. Sure, Blom is known for his casual style. Note the polo shirt and jeans.
Winner of a top leadership award for three consecutive years, Blom is also known for the attention he pays to individuals. So he kicks up his feet not to relax. He's simply stationing himself away from the bleeping, distracting computer.
As a young man, Blom considered a career as a Lutheran pastor. Circumstances steered him from that life, though Blom's approach to business has retained a pastoral touch: Every year he crafts 600 jars of homemade jam for the company's clients, all seniors receiving in-home assistance. Meanwhile, he cares for his employees by demonstrating good listening and treating them to fun outings like riverboat cruises.
Blom said he borrows much of his leadership style from the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Echoing his role model, Blom said: "We all do better when we do better. I've proven it over and over again in our business model."
When they started Clockwork Active Media Systems in 2002, Nancy Lyons and her three co-founders wanted to create a fun work environment, a place they wanted to go on Monday mornings.
So they stocked the company refrigerator with beer, which is practically standard for digital agencies like Clockwork. They also implemented worker-friendly perks like an official Babies @ Work program and "lab days" when employees are free to pursue personal creative projects.
The most critical ingredient was still the people. In fact, Lyons attributes her success to the various employment contracts she extended over the years. "My job is to hire people better than me," she explained. "It's not hard being the best leader when you have the best people."
Because the company has such strong workers, no one -- least of all Lyons -- bothers with babysitting these grown-ups. "My job is to get out of their way and let them be experts," Lyons said of her staff. The result is a hierarchically flat organization filled with creativity, flexibility and mutual admiration. When describing their workplace, many Clockwork employees went with this refrain: "I like the people I work with."