When lumber executive Kevin Hancock lost his voice to spasmodic dysphonia, he transformed his approach to leadership. By necessity, Hancock handed more responsibility to his employees, allowing them to take a proactive role in strategy. Despite a crippling 45% loss in sales after the recession and Hancock’s diagnosis, Hancock Lumber is at peak performance five years later.
Hancock’s anecdotal story reveals a powerful lesson for executives: by listening and reflecting, leaders can change the course of a company. As The New York Times wrote: “At meetings he once led, he now sat in the second row, jotting down notes. As he spoke less and listened more, he discovered how many managers and front-line employees had ideas for changes and wanted to take responsibility for them. He began delegating more.”
Hancock took a new tack, increasing compensation by more than 3% a year and rolling out a bonus program that “rewarded workers for increasing accuracy on customer orders, productivity and profitability.” Heightened efficiency meant that many of Hancock’s 458 employees worked shorter weeks. Hancock believes his diagnosis actually “helped accelerate a culture of individual responsibility” as their team heads into a record-setting year for the company.
Kevin Hancock isn’t alone in his emphasis on listening, delegation, and individual responsibility. John F. Kucia and Linda S. Gravett, authors of “Leadership in Balance: New Habits of the Mind,” believe that reflection — a key aspect of Hancock’s success — is a “critical competency” for strong leaders. Bob McDonald, former CEO of Proctor & Gamble, also lists “self-awareness” as the common denominator of successful leaders:
“Being reflective is not weak; it’s strong. You have to be much more deliberate as a leader, much more thoughtful, and much more reflective to get the most out of those personal interactions you have with others.”