Servant Leadership and One of Our Industry’s Best

By Ben Hershey
Solutions Provider & CEO
4Ward Solutions Group

 I remember it clearly; I was in the Lounge at Portland International Airport when I got a call from Joe Kannapell.  Joe was going to be sharing with the MiTek team in the next day that he would be officially retiring at the end of 2020; Joe has been a part of the industry for more than 46 years.  Generally speaking, I do not show a lot of emotion;  but on that day I know my voice cracked a bit as I shared with Joe how much our friendship has meant to me for so many years.  While Joe has been a consummate sales representative, the man I know has always been a servant leader for those around him and his customers.

I have known Joe for several years now, probably dating back to the mid-nineties when I was one of the managers working with Andy Schwitter at Truswal Systems.  But Joe and I actually have known of each other far longer as he worked with my Dad, Don Hershey and Dave Chambers at Imperial Components/TruTrus.  It was just one of the stops Joe has made in his career, most of those being with MiTek and the companies MiTek acquired.  Many of you have enjoyed Joe’s articles in The Advertiser for the past several months as he has been sharing a history of the industry – part reminiscing, large part sharing the knowledge he has gained over the years.  Some may wonder why we should look back, but there is great value in understanding from whence we came as we continue to excel to the future.

 Servant Leadership

There are some in our industry who have told others, if you want to be a good leader, be a servant leader, but unfortunately have not shown the same quality themselves. To be a true servant leader requires commitment and integrity. When I was preparing this article, I talked with one of the 4Ward team managers, Owen Eldridge, and his words for Joe in addition to servant leader include ambassador and Gentleman Joe.

Like pretty much everything nowadays, the concept of leadership has morphed and evolved into something our parents or grandparents would not recognize.  A few decades ago, things seemed simpler. Being the boss automatically made you a leader in the eyes of employees.  Now, everyone wears more than one hat, lines are more blurred, and being a boss doesn’t automatically make you a leader. Leadership is no longer concentrated at the top.  It has trickled down the organizational chart.

With all of the tools we have today, there’s no excuse not to be a better leader.  I’ll go a step further and say that being a good leader isn’t even enough.  You have to be a servant leader.  Servant leadership is defined as a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations, and ultimately creates a more successful and culturally sound company.  While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different.  The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.

It is this quality in Joe that I will miss on a day-to-day basis working with him and his customers.  I recently had the opportunity to witness this quality as Joe was working with one of the representatives who will be covering his territory.  As I listened, I could hear Joe talk about the customer’s history, the individuals at the company, what they need for the future, and how best to serve them.  I did not hear, “Joe/I did this for them, I… I… I…”; I heard someone put the customer first, and focus on how the representative serving them next could best support them.  

Must-Have Servant Leadership Principles

There are several principles of leadership in many publications including those in the Bible.  I would like to focus on five of them: support you team, grow your people, listen, build a community, and reflect and learn.

  1. Support your team

 Ensure your team members have all of the support, knowledge, skills, and resources that they need to do their jobs.  If they don’t, do what you can to assist them, whether that’s adding a new team member or providing tailored training or coaching.  A great tool to help you support your team is the regular one-on-one meeting, which allows your employees an opportunity to let you know when they need assistance or discuss any current issues or challenges.  It is not about you, it is about how you support those around you.

  1. Grow your people

Commit to the growth of your team and those who work with you by encouraging their professional and personal development. Try to learn as much as possible about each team member’s skills and their goals and aspirations.  Draw upon this knowledge when assigning roles or tasks.  At a certain point in your team members’ development, it’s also critical to challenge them to implement what they’ve learned by providing them with more responsibility and accountability. Let them know that it’s up to them to meet their targets or achieve the desired project results, but that you’re happy to support them as they learn.

So instead of pitching in or micromanaging and robbing them of the opportunity to learn how to solve a problem, step back and focus on coaching and mentoring. This includes giving and receiving regular feedback on their performance, including honest feedback when things go wrong.

  1. Listen

In today’s world, I think this is one of the most critical management tasks we take on.  It can be difficult to step back and let others learn and fail and perhaps do things in a way different than how you might have done them.  Part of being a servant leader is letting go of an autocratic approach.  Instead, try to embrace servant leadership activities and actions such as seeking the opinions of your team members on big decisions, particularly where those decisions involve their own work, and consider any relevant feedback.

  1. Build a community

We are not talking about building a “village” as some have coined it, but building a network, a community, a culture.  Share your company’s goals and mission and how everyone’s efforts contribute to the bigger picture.  Try to find a balance between focusing on the team’s short-term KPIs or daily accomplishments and the company’s overall longer-term goals.  When everyone understands how their current work is contributing toward the company’s mission, it can be incredibly motivating. This not only encourages responsibility, it also helps the team and your company to grow together.

  1. Reflect and learn

Take time to regularly learn from past experiences, both as a team and individually.  At a team level, it’s a good idea to reflect at the end of every project or regularly throughout the year on what went well and what could have gone better so the team can improve and grow.

If you have worked with Joe, you have seen many of these qualities each day.  Joe, you will be missed, but as a friend, I know that I also look forward to continuing to interact with you as I strive to exemplify what I have learned from you – to serve those around me through my leadership.

If you have a story to share about Joe Kannapell and how he has helped your company or you, please submit to Anna Stamm at Anna@ComponentAdvertiser.org. I discussed with Anna the opportunity to share these stories in November and December’s AdvertiserDon’t miss out on the opportunity to tell Joe what he meant to you.

 Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Solutions Group including Consulting, Labor, Offsite, Design, Software Programming, and Back Office Solutions. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward team with more than 150 years of experience. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Solutions to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past ten years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770. 

© 2020 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC 

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