Leadership Evolution in a Changing Marketplace


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Leadership in many industries is undergoing broad systemic change, and ours is no different. The growing number of millennials in the workplace, the globalization of both customers and competitors, increased uncertainty in the marketplace, and increased demands for flexibility all conspire to make a leader’s job more challenging. To continue to grow and remain competitive, leaders must continue to evolve their own leadership skills and approaches, and make better use of the talent they hire.

David Raby, founder of STI Electronics, has seen enormous change in his industry and growth in his own leadership as a result. His core principles in starting the business haven’t changed, but he has learned in his 30+ years in business to be a better leader and, in turn, his company has grown and responded more successfully to market needs.

Core Principles

Every great business and great business leader has clear principles around which the business is organized. David’s core principles were straightforward: Treat people like you want to be treated, and do what’s right. As the business has grown and changed in the past three decades, those principles have remained steady; but the way in which David and his company implement those principles has changed to meet demands in the marketplace for both customers and talent.

Treating people like you want to be treated seems like a simple concept. However, every person is unique, so treating them all the same is not very effective. Instead, great leaders work to understand the needs and motivations of each individual, and try to treat each person well, and the whole group of employees fairly. In many successful companies, leaders have learned that if you want to treat your customers well, it starts with treating your employees well. Happy employees make happy customers. For David, this translates into loyalty and transparency. Treating people well over time—even when times are tough—creates mutual trust and respect that pays dividends with both customers and employees.

Doing what’s right is a slippery concept, since reasonable people may disagree on what is “right,” but at STI Electronics, David puts himself in the shoes of the customer and tries to imagine what would seem reasonable to them.

The Leader’s Role

Growing a business requires completing various management tasks, and over time stepping up to leadership and out of management. Management is about making decisions, delegating tasks, and solving problems. While a leader may still make major decisions, leadership is more about helping others solve problems for themselves. Leaders set direction, clarify roles and make sure the right team is in place, giving the team room to operate.

David says this particular lesson has taken him most of his career to really absorb—to trust people and let them do their jobs. He focuses on hiring people with the right attitude and fit with the company, and has learned to trust that his people care about the results just as much as he does. Trusting his people has been key to allowing the business and his people to grow.

Finally, David’s leadership role includes making the hard decisions of moving on from a customer or firing an employee. One clue is that if almost every meeting includes a discussion of one customer or employee, that is a relationship that is eating up resources and perhaps not creating value for anyone. Leadership is recognizing that fact and making the hard call to move on and stop trying to fix a relationship that isn’t working.

Leading a Changing Workforce

One of the most challenging dynamics for leaders is a shift in the workforce as younger workers enter the business, bringing with them a different set of expectations and ideas about work. Millennials are making it more evident than ever that leading employee engagement is critical to keep good employees and get the most from them. Employee engagement is what determines how much discretionary effort you get from an employee. It is the difference between someone who punches a clock to get paid and someone who is actively thinking about how to make the business more successful and offering up extra time, ideas and effort to make things better.

Three keys to employee engagement are relevant at any age, but they seem to be more evident in younger (or young at heart) employees: autonomy, mastery and purpose (Drive, Daniel Pink, 2009).

To read this entire article, which appeared in the October 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.

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