The Leadership Lattice: Rodger Stewart
The Leadership Lattice, an interview series designed to cultivate conversation on building strong leadership in the public and private sector, presents: Rodger Stewart, former CEO of Ultrashape, Sorin Group and COBE Cardiovascular, who now leads two non-profits in the Boulder area. (See a video of this interview by going to YouTube and searching "Leadership Lattice.")
What is your approach to leadership?
A great leader establishes a clear and compelling vision and communicates that vision throughout the organization. They always put the success of the organization on the shoulders of their team, is a great listener and is able to identify and attract top talent. An effective leader is capable of using multiple management styles depending on the situation. A visionary style is necessary to set and determine long term vision and focus. In a time of crisis, you need to use a directive style but, this should be used as little as possible because it can be negative. A participative style is helpful for consensus building and coaching.
How does leadership change in virtual and/or international teams and organizations?
Leading an international and virtual team creates many unique challenges. It's important to spend time, face to face, in their environment, country and culture to develop understanding and relationships. In my last role at Ultrashape, I had half of my management team in the U.S. and half in Israel. The cultural differences were vast. We spent lots of time team building and developing a respect for each other's roles, expertise and culture so that we could better function virtually which we had to do because of the geography and time differences.
What were some important leadership lessons for you early in your career?
The first lesson was the first time I assembled an extremely high performance team. I made the assumption that these high performing individuals would function well as a team and this was not the case. Luckily, through the use an executive coach, we were able to turn this around. The CEO has to take full responsibility for building an effective team. The second was very simple but extremely hard for me to do. I had to learn to be quiet and listen. In my career, I have been very passionate about my opinions about issues and solutions to problems however, as CEO, your subordinates don't hear opinions, they hear decisions. I have worked very hard to be quiet and let the other ideas around the table surface.
Did you have a mentor early in your career? If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the biggest way?
My mentor was the person who was the CEO whom I ultimately replaced. The most impactful thing I learned from him was how to manage, set up and drive sales across the globe, from South America to the Middle East.
How do you hire? What questions do you ask?
Every time I make a hire, I am looking for a successor. I look for the smartest, most talented and most experienced people I can find, more so than myself in their particular areas of expertise. But aside from skills and experience, it's critically important to assess team fit. If someone is a fantastic individual performer but not a good team fit, then that's a deal killer for me. I assess this by putting candidates into difficult, real life team scenarios and asking them how they would approach the situation. I will dig deep into their answers. This approach will usually reveal their style and fit.