The key to leading in uncertain times is to serve others 

May 11, 2020

U.S. Engineering Company Holdings board members joined students and alumni of the Rockhurst University Executive MBA program via Zoom on May 1 to discuss leadership, especially when faced with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. CEO Tyler Nottberg, President Tim Moormeier and CFO Brendan Rittel each offered perspectives on what has allowed U.S. Engineering to continue to thrive despite uncertainty: the idea of serving others. The team shared stories of success as well as lessons learned to paint a picture of how servant  leadership has evolved within U.S. Engineering. 

Here’s a recap of what they had to say.   

People

One of the most important actions an organization can take to prepare them for difficult periods is building and cultivating a team. The ability to lead a team during turbulent times is predicated on an organization’s ability to build a team during the good times. Many leaders tend to focus on a person’s qualifications when building a team. Sure, team candidates must possess certain skills required to do the job, but the final decision point comes after you are confident that this person is a good “fit.” Do your core values align? When you ask the Simon Sinek question of why we do what we do, does this person answer the question the way the rest of the team does? When you talk about leaving a legacy, do your visions of the future look similar?

Culture

The other side of that same coin is culture. You must have the right people, but you must also put those people in a position to succeed. If you want a culture of innovation, you must allow for, or even celebrate, failure. You have to put your teammates in a position to flourish and take risks. If you want a culture of giving, you must commit to genuine community engagement. That goes beyond using “cause marketing” to boost your company profile. Genuine engagement is an authentic belief that you have the power and ability to make lives better. If you want a culture of communication, you have to deliberately practice communicating and understand that you can’t communicate too much.  

And to cultivate any or all of these aspects of organizational culture, you must have a mentality of service. Servant leadership requires that you seek ways to build up others, whether in your company or in the broader community. No matter your goal as an organization, if you approach your operations with the mindset of serving others, you dramatically increase your chances of building a culture that breeds success. 

Preparation

If you assemble the right teams and provide for them an environment that promotes innovation and engagement, working through uncertainty will be much easier. Obviously, leading through crisis is difficult no matter how well you prepare, but your ability to respond quickly and remain agile is directly related to how well you’ve prepared before the crisis hits.  

That preparation also affords you the time to practice greater empathy and be more deliberate when connecting with your teams. If you’re not scrambling to keep your head above water, you can be there to listen. You can make sure people are coping. That feedback loop can remain open because you’re there to listen, and you’re available to share the latest updates. You also have time to take care of yourself. Maintaining your own physical and mental wellness will help you in encouraging others to do the same. 


In closing, the executive team offered one final piece of advice that is very relevant right now: if you’re feeling down or depressed, consider finding a way to help someone else. Even if it’s something small, like mowing the yard or picking up groceries. A random act of kindness inevitably raises your spirits, grounds you and brings a ray of light to someone else. That’s a mantra the U.S. Engineering executive team has consistently preached over the past six weeks. After all, that’s the epitome of servant leadership.

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