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16 Kauri Street, Woburn, Hutt City, New Zealand
Charlie Schell has something to be proud about. His small team at Crown Forestry is better than 98% of all the other organisations in Gallup's world-wide data base; and Crown Forestry was the top scoring Group in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry over the previous two years.
Bruce Holland asked him what he was doing that is so special, and what he said, shows how simple and how rare great leadership is.
It turns out to be mostly about small things that have a big impact. Things like respect and spending time getting to know people. Things like trusting them and expecting them to do a good job. It also includes selecting people for how they work as much as what they do, and other little things that build the team.
Charlie is the General Manager, Crown Forestry. Their annual revenue is about $80-90 million and their asset base is about $200 million. He is also one of the six people who make up the Senior Management Team at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
When Charlie says, "In our team people are our greatest asset", you get the feeling that he really means it. He says, "I make it my business to know every team member well, including the name of their partners and each member of their family." He makes the point that his team is small, so it's easier, however, I know Charlie has done this in the past when he has managed much larger teams.
In my work on "Irresistible Leadership" I often ask people what sets irresistible leaders apart from others and spending time with people and getting to know them as a person beyond the workplace is always near the top of the list.
Charlie uses words like "family", "collegial" and "collaborative" to describe the way the team works. "They treat me exactly the same as they would any other team member".
Even though his team is largely self-managing, and even though in many ways Charlie sees himself more like a coach than a boss, everyone acknowledges his leadership. He says he takes equal account of all views, values everyone and treats them with the same respect; but, "They know very well that at the end of the day, if a call has to be made, it's my call. But I'd only come to that call after taking account of the views of all the team."
"I trust my people absolutely. And I hope they can utterly trust me", says Charlie. "I start from a position of trust and so far I've never been disappointed."
"There is no threat in our environment. People can make their judgements with self confidence in their own abilities and know that they will be supported absolutely without judgement. Sometimes the calls made are not the best, but that's accepted."
He says: "All of the team members are provided with the opportunity to give of their best." For example, recently Charlie recruited a new Executive Assistant. She went out to visit the forests within her first three weeks to get to know the contractors and staff and to get to know the business. This gave her a deep sense of ownership and belonging.
"The other thing we try to do in the team, is to engender a sense of professional pride. It becomes almost self-fulfilling. When it comes to delivery, ours is always done to the highest standard. We are normally first in and best in. And people simply rejoice in the pride they get from being members of and contributing to a high performing team. It's like a big self-reinforcing cycle", he says. "And as a manager, in so many ways, my life is made more easy and enjoyable."
Charlie says that "Selection is critical for the team. But the key selection criteria is 'fit into the team', ethics, values and a way of operating as much as direct experience". Charlie is openly pleased that his team had a high turnover in the last 12 months because each person grew and advanced as a result of the move.
According to Charlie, little things make a big difference. For example when the team has its planning events, it involves everybody, it's totally inclusive and all views have the same value and weight. Nobody stands by rank. They never go to an executive hotel, rather they go to shearer's quarters or to a family batch where they all help prepare the food and wash up afterwards. Also they build in team games and have fun together. Charlie has a refreshing lack of pretence and ego and I'm sure this is important to the levels of trust he has built within his team.
Charlie says he has developed his management style over time, "because it suits me and because it's who I am. I know who I am and I know who I am not."
Charlie would never say this about himself, but I sense a confidence and a quiet calmness and strength that comes from being clear about who he is, both his strengths and his weaknesses and accepting these.
The best advice Charlie Schell would give to someone aspiring to leadership is "Your people are everything."
Bruce Holland 26/8/2008