When Shawn Riegsecker founded Centro in 2001, his goal was to create a digital media service for ad agencies.
He couldn’t have imagined how big it would become. Centro has appeared on Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500, The Inc. 500, and lists of best places to work for multiple years in a row. Shawn was also named the 2019 CEO of the Year by Illinois Technology Association.
That’s not to say there weren’t bumps along the way. Periods of tremendous growth brought issues of hiring people quickly who ended up not being the right cultural fit for the company.
Shawn’s ability to learn from those challenges, pivot, and keeping looking towards the future is what makes him a great leader. More than prioritizing profits, he understands that people are the heart of any organization. When I interviewed Shawn for my book The Future Leader, he shared incredible insights that are only gained from nearly two decades of creating and leading an innovative company.
Shawn told me this: “There’s no shortcut to being a great leader. In fact, getting there will take time and you will likely face ups and downs along your journey. In order to get what you want, you must do those things that give you the confidence to do just a little bit more the next day. I believe the greatest point of growth occurs when you push yourself outside your comfort zone.”
Throughout his career at Centro, Shawn has continued to push himself and the company. In order to stay relevant in the future, he believes leaders must put in work to understand what’s happening in the world and create an environment that best serves employees. To do that, leaders have to know the trends impacting how employees think and how leaders lead. Shawn believes there are three trends impacting the future of leadership.
Today’s leaders are under a constant microscope, and that will only continue in the future. With more openness to criticism and judgement, leaders need to be mentally and emotionally strong and build authentic relationships to share information and be as transparent as possible.
Leaders also have a responsibility to share information and data with their employees and customers. Shawn believes leaders need to get really good at delivering information and looking for holes in information within the company. When those gaps arise, it creates an opportunity for someone to fill that gap with their opinion or a story that may be untrue.
“Strong leaders always need to be looking for the gaps and how to fill the knowledge gaps, which means increasing the level of communication,” Shawn says. “Without information and data, the employees just aren’t as engaged and productive. I think that we’re going to enter a world of transparency that corporations haven’t seen before.”
Sense Of Purpose
Modern companies don’t exist just to make money. They need a deeper sense of purpose, which is driven by leaders. Shawn says leaders need to dig deep to find their own higher purpose and share that vision with employees.
“Everybody wants to work for a mission- and purpose-driven company. You need to be incredibly clear on what that mission and purpose is. It’s got to be something in line with your employees’ values. If you have that, you will get an engaged workforce in line with your mission,” Shawn says.
For Centro, the higher purpose is using technology to make their customers’ lives easier. Their software solutions help companies around the world grow their businesses.
Shawn regularly shares that purpose within the organization so that employees know what they are working for. When employees feel connected to something greater than just making money, they are engaged at work and want to do their part to make a difference. Leaders set the tone—when they believe in a bigger purpose, it fuels the culture and makes employees believe as well.
As the workforce changes and becomes not only younger but also more diverse, workers tend to have different expectations than they did in the past. People no longer spend their entire careers at the same company and instead are often eager to move to the next thing. Shawn believes leaders should harness the expectations of employees so that they are moving forward and progressing by putting the work in, not because they feel entitled.
Channeling new expectations into productivity comes by getting rid of drama and gossip within the company. It means eliminating the victimhood mentality that employees feel like victims when things are hard.
Shawn replaces that mentality by developing younger employees. He believes leaders must invest in the development of their employees. Even if you can’t give them a promotion or the raise they want, helping them experience the industry is critical to their future success and building the next generation of great leaders.
Trends may impact the world where leadership occurs, but the ultimate goal and purpose of leadership stays the same.
Shawn put it nicely when he said this: “To me, success is when you can create something where the happiness quotient of the people you manage continues to increase under your leadership. When they go home at night, because of their relationship to you, they’re a better husband, wife, mother, father, whatever, and their lives are improved.”
Leaders of the future must understand transparency, a deeper sense of purpose, and changing expectations, but it all really comes down to understanding one thing: people.
Leadership is changing. What are the skills and mindsets you need to master in order to lead in the new world of work? According to over 140 of the world’s top CEOs there are 4 mindsets and 5 skills that leaders need to master. Learn what they are and hear directly from these leaders by downloading the PDF here.
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