On today’s show, we’re pleased to welcome Kevin Hancock, award-winning author of The Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership. Kevin is also a highly sought after keynote speaker, and the CEO of Hancock Lumber Company which has been in business since before the Civil War. In this segment, Kevin discusses shared leadership and the positive effects it can have on business.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I want to thank you so much, Kevin, for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today.
Kevin Hancock: Happy to be with you. Thank you for having me.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. I should also add that you’re the CEO of Hancock Lumber Company, which I think is a family operation there in Maine. Right?
Kevin Hancock: Yes, that’s correct.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Kevin Hancock: Well, I’ve been in the state of Maine. I’ve lived here my whole life, and our company, Hancock Lumber, is one of the oldest family businesses in America. The company goes back to 1848. So-
Jim Fitzpatrick: 1848!
Kevin Hancock: Yeah. The first cannonball was fired in the civil war, our company was in business. I’m part of the sixth generation of my family to work for the company.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re the CEO as I mentioned of your family business, Hancock Lumber. Talk to us a little bit about that business, and what your day-to-day job is there at the company.
Kevin Hancock: Sure. Our company is integrated in the forest products industry. We grow trees. We own timber land, and we grow trees. And then we have three saw mills in Maine that manufacture lumber that we ship all over the world. And then in Maine and New Hampshire, we have a series of contractor lumberyards that supply building materials to professional builders and homeowners. There are 550 people that are part of our team … that work at the company.
Jim Fitzpatrick: How has being diagnosed with a voice disorder inspired you to write the book?
Kevin Hancock: Yeah. Back in 2010 just for that round at the peak of housing and mortgage market collapse, which was really a super traumatic for our industry and company … At the peak of that, I began to have trouble speaking. Something I never thought about before. Always taken for granted, and done a lot of. But when I would go talk, all the muscles in my throat would kind of squeeze and contract.
Kevin Hancock: Anyway, turned out I’d acquired a rare neurological speaking disorder called spasmodic dysphonia. Very rare, and it affects only speech. Suddenly, long story short, I had to figure out how to do my job with a lot less talking. That really threw me for a loop … because in some ways of course, as a CEO, my voice is my primary tool. But suddenly I couldn’t could use it. When it’s hard to talk, you’d develop strategies for doing less of that. My primary strategy was to answer a question with a question, thereby putting the responsibility for speaking back on the other person.
Kevin Hancock: In that, someone would come up to me at work because I was the CEO or the boss with a question or a problem. And typically, previously, I would’ve provided an answer and a directive. I now started saying something like, “Well, that is a good question. What do you think we should do about it?”
Kevin Hancock: Actually, this was just designed to protect my voice. But after doing this hundreds of times, something really struck me, and that was that people actually already knew what to do. It turned out they didn’t really need a CEO-centric, supervisor-centric solution to the vast majority of situations they encountered. They knew what to do.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Were they just looking for validation?
Kevin Hancock: Well, that’s what I got thinking about. You know, it got me thinking very differently about leadership. What started as a voice condition really transformed into a new approach to leadership built around a simple idea. What if everybody led? What if power was dispersed, not collected? And what if everybody’s voice was the shared voice of the company? All of that set me kind of in search … first out of necessity, but then by desire for leadership model that kind of flipped the script on the traditional approach. A power to the center.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sometimes I will ask my team here, “If I were not here, what would you do in this instance?” And probably 75 or 80% of the time, I agree with their answer. It’s a similar situation, and I think that we need to empower our people more, because they often have either an as good an idea as you about the solution or even better. A lot of the best solutions come from the department heads and from the employees themselves rather than it emanating from me. Did you find that to be the case, that they could have a better solution than what even you were thinking about?
Kevin Hancock: Yeah. No, exactly. Yes. Because really, the people on the front line of any company know more about that part of the company than anybody else does. It’s about giving people that confidence and the feeling of safety to trust their own judgment, and to trust their own voice, and to make their own decisions.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Why is it important for all employees to be heard just as much as the leaders?
Kevin Hancock: Great question. First, I think that a company will perform better when everybody is leading than when just a few hold the decision making responsibility in the center. But my real interest in dispersing power and sharing leadership is bigger than business. It’s about helping every human being self actualize, and come into their own voice, and be confident with and comfortable with their own identity and perspective.
Kevin Hancock: Think about it in the world today. We go to school until a certain age, high school, and then college. But now we’re adults, so where are adults going to grow? Where are they got to continue to learn, and develop, and self actualize? A place of work is the best place for that to happen. So, there is a business benefit to approaching people this way, but there’s an even bigger human benefit.
Jim Fitzpatrick: It also lends itself to building a better culture within the company. Does it not?
Kevin Hancock: Absolutely. I think that really when you look at the culture of organizations, they either collect power, and direct voices, or they disperse power, and they liberate voices. Traditionally, leadership more often than not has been about controlling the voices of others. I think in the 21st century, it’s really time for a new model that puts a higher value on the individual human spirit.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Which today’s millennial and generation Z … they want that from an employer. They want to have a voice. They want to participate in the process of running the company, so to speak. Not that they are all going to be the presidents or vice presidents, but they want their voice heard. Right? Have you found that to be the case?
Kevin Hancock: Yeah. I would take that further, even say that I found that to be the case at all ages. That people would rather be … If you ask someone: would you rather be heard or not heard? Would you rather have it be safe for you to say what you think, or to have to calculate what you think? It’s kind of a pretty big human desire to feel free to speak.
Kevin Hancock: And that’s really the connection for me. I had lost a bit of my voice. I came to understand and for the first time what was actually like to not feel fully heard, and really came to understand that lots of people in this world don’t feel fully heard, and that lots of war environments are not really safe places for everybody to say what they authentically think.
Kevin Hancock: Now my number one wish for our company’s culture is that it’s safe. That people feel like they can say what they think. Because I really believe that the truth, in any organization, is a symphony of voices. It’s a variety of perspectives about the company. The key is to get those perspectives out and shared.
Jim Fitzpatrick: How can a team begin creating a socially transformative culture within the company?
Kevin Hancock: That’s a great question, and I suspect there are lots of ways to do it. But I think at the end of the day, the key is to make it a priority. I think organizations, corporations can generally accomplish whatever they prioritize. And to the extent that a corporation does have a culture that’s prioritizing the individual employee experience, it’s really only probably because that organization hasn’t made it a priority.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Have you found that the flip side … or not the flip side, but maybe one of the concerns that somebody listening to us right now having this discussion of getting everybody to express their opinions, and to talk about things that’s facing the company, and helping them shape it and make decisions … Is it a concern that if you listen to an employee … you say, “Well, what would you do in the event that I were not here right now to make the decision for you, or what have you?”
Jim Fitzpatrick: And they tell you what they would do, but you don’t agree with it as the head of the company. You say, “No. I hear what you’re saying, but I think we’re going to go in this direction, not in the situation that you just laid out.” Do you run the risk of hurting that individual’s feelings to the point that they then maybe withdraw and say, “Okay. They listened to me, but they didn’t do what I asked them to do, or they didn’t do what I suggested they do in this situation?” Have you found that to be a challenge?
Kevin Hancock: Well, I think that’s a great question. All organizations want authentic dialogue, and any culture has its challenges. But if you put two buckets in front of you, and one was a company that had authentic dialogue, and the other was a company that didn’t, which bucket would you rather be a part of? Which bucket do you think would have the most success? To your point, to give everybody a voice does require patience for process. And sometimes managers feel that they already know what they want done. But just because you’ve already processed something as a manager does not mean the people who are going to do it have already processed it, and giving them time to process it is super important.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Kevin, looking back, knowing what you know now in retrospect, do you see your disorder as a gift?
Kevin Hancock: I do, yes. And I think this is how life works, right? We often get thrown a curve ball, or a challenge, or a problem that looks like nothing but a hindrance. But the within it is a blessing and an opportunity. My voice condition completely changed the way I thought about myself, and then the way I thought about leadership, and it gave me much more than it took away.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s fantastic. As I said, the book is a phenomenal book. Congratulations to you. It’s a book that I recommend everyone listening to pick up. It’s the Seventh Power: One CEO’s Journey Into the Business of Shared Leadership … which you’ve heard us talk, Kevin and I, today about shared leadership. What it means. Ask yourself in your companies right now, your entrepreneurs, your business owners that are listening to us, “Are you employing this type of an approach with your associates?” If you’re not, you got to get the book and read about it, because it’s definitely the way to go. Here we are on the 21st century. This is what your associates want.
Jim Fitzpatrick: If you’re an employee of a company of a small business or a medium-sized business, and you’d like to see this implemented in your company, maybe pick up the book and put it on your boss’s desk as a gift. You might have to do that anonymously. But either way, it’s money well spent. Kevin, I want to thank you so much for all the time you gave us today. Very enlightening. Certainly another way to look at your employees and their voice. Thanks again. I really appreciate it.
Kevin Hancock: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Great. I’d love to have you back and do some followup, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here that we could talk about all day. So, thanks very much.
Kevin Hancock: Great. Thank you.
Jim Fitzpatrick: All right. Take care.
Thanks for watching Atlanta Small Business Show with Jim Fitzpatrick. This has been a JBF Business Media production.
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