The Leadership Lattice: Richard Lewis
The Leadership Lattice, an interview series designed to cultivate conversation on building strong leadership in the public and private sector, presents: Richard Lewis, founder and CEO of RTL Networks in Denver.
What is your approach to leadership?
Gen. George S. Patton was once quoted as saying, ‘Never tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and they’ll surprise you with their ingenuity.’ That sums up my approach to leadership. It’s my job to create our vision, direction and goals. I allow my employees to take ownership and drive toward those goals. I’m only going to be as successful as my people will allow me to be. I focus on making sure my people have the right tools and remove any roadblocks to ensure their success. When they’re successful, the organization is successful; when the organization is successful, I’m successful as the leader. My focus is on the business, not in the business. This is the important distinction.
What were some important leadership lessons for you?
I remember as a young Lieutenant in the Air Force, I went home one break period and was venting with a good friend from high school; talking about all of the things I was dissatisfied with and how I wanted things to be different. He asked me, “Aren’t you in charge?” He told me that I had been groomed to be a leader and so I needed to lead. I realized that I had control and options and had to take responsibility. This conversation started to push me in the right direction. I don’t think he realized the impact he had, even to this day.
Also, I remember my early days in both the military and in corporate America, when unexpected things happened, things we didn’t plan for, it was hard not get frustrated or flustered. Now, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. We still continue to plan. We are shooting for greatness, trying to accomplish big things, and we know that there are always going to be obstacles. But, I teach my people not to lose their cool and to keep moving forward.
Did you have a mentor early in your career? If so, what was it about that person that impacted you in the biggest way in your career?
There is another expression – when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I’ve had many mentors- whether they have known it or not. Some have taught me how to be and some, how not to be. Everyone is a mentor to some degree. It’s very apparent when someone wants to be the ‘Boss’ because their ego demands it or whether someone wants to get something done and is focused on accomplishment. I work very hard to be the person who wants to get things accomplished.
How do you hire? What questions do you ask?
There are so many qualities that we look for like timeliness and attention to detail. These are no different than any business, large or small. But, as a small business, I had to learn that everyone has to wear lots of hats. When I started RTL, I developed an organizational chart that had all of the typical boxes. The difference was that my name was in every box. My employees have to be flexible and pick up the ball with little or no support sometimes. You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit to be successful working in a small company.
What qualities are you trying to get at in the interview?
Interviews are very important. They give you the chance to get to know someone who you will be living with professionally, hopefully for a long time. Everyone has prepared for the canned questions and they have their canned answer. I even expect a certain answer before the candidate begins to speak. To counter this, I like to create scenarios and see how people respond, both through their body language and what they say, what questions they ask. These scenarios tell me if they will be a fit in our company, in our culture and in that role.