As we dive deeper into the idea of leadership, it’s vital that we take a look around and expose ourselves to different opinions and perspectives so that we can incorporate those into our daily lives. Today, I’m thrilled to introduce a new series: The Leading By The Book Leadership Review. This series will spotlight individuals that I’ve found to be great leaders (and that in some cases, aren’t household names), and ask a series of questions to learn more about them and their leadership insights. I think that you’ll not only enjoy these interviews, but will take a great deal away that you can directly apply in your own lives.
The first interview subject is Dave Hansen. Had it not been for him, I likely would never have joined Sears Holdings. However, upon meeting him, I was immediately impressed with him and realized that I’d become immensely better simply by working with him and learning from him. Dave has had a remarkable career, working with storied companies such as Sears, Aon-Hewitt, and Hewlett Packard. Beyond that, he’s a fantastic person, great father, someone I’m proud to call a friend, and a superb skiing companion. Let’s get to know Dave:
Tell us about yourself, what you do, and how you got there.
I like to think of myself as a highly-structured and analytical thinker who started out in technology and operations but evolved into a business transformation focused finance executive. When I started college, I was originally planning to be a computer sciences engineer, but after my first year of school, I switched over to Business with a focus on Management Information Systems. This ended up being a great blend for me as there was still a technical component of my education, but a much heavier focus on finance, accounting, and operations. I found that while I always liked math, it was finance, accounting, and statistics courses that were the ones I enjoyed most.
Post graduation, I took a job with Hewitt Associates based out of Lincolnshire, IL. My first role was a business systems analyst and over the course of 7 years I rapidly progressed my skill set and scope of responsibility moving from testing systems and documenting requirements to implementing large outsourcing clients and then ultimately being the ongoing account manager for a $30M client. Moving from an individual contributor to managing a large team of over 100 employees was an incredible learning experience. On top of that, you need to ensure you understand and meet your client’s needs just as you are guiding and making sure the team needs are met.
As an Account Manager, I was responsible for contract management, monthly billings, change order sales and pricing, and ultimately customer profitability. I quickly found we didn’t have standard processes or tools to support these responsibilities and people were expected to just figure it out by talking to others. My love of process and tools, along with a love for developing, allowed me to build the tools and processes to support these new responsibilities. I built a client profitability model, change order pricing tool, and an invoice billings and reconciliation tool. All things other account managers started to use as well.
In training others on how to do these things and manage their account financials, I transitioned into a finance role that ultimately resulted in me becoming the CFO of a $1B+ business unit. Along the way we also transitioned form a privately held company to going public and had to build a best in class business unit finance team. It was a challenging process, but building a new team and seeing them growth and succeed was extremely rewarding.
How has leadership impacted your career?
It’s the single most important thing that influences me every day. But it is never about technical or process skills… it’s always about how to work with others (build relationships) and get the most out of your team. In hindsight, I wish there was a class on building relationships with co-workers, employees, and clients. That would have been a lot more helpful to my career development than Logistics 101.
How has your view of leadership changed throughout your career?
I think it has been consistent over the past 10 years. I’m now working with C-suite executives, but the things that make them successful are the same things that can make a first-time manager successful:
- Know your business
- Know your customers
- Hire good people
- Set direction with input from your team
- Deflect successes and own failures
- Get out of the way
In your respective industry, why/how does leadership matter?
I think leadership matters in all industry.
What leadership mistake do you see young professional make?
- Micro-Managing! Give your team direction and support, but don’t micro-manage the process or outcome. Your team must have ownership and a sense of accomplishment in what they do and how they do it… not just mindlessly doing what you tell them. I have found several examples where I have taken over managing people that the prior manager didn’t feel were strong. I simply tried to understand their strengths and then give them a bit of direction – but most importantly, get out of their way. In nearly every case they exceeded all expectations.
- Treat all levels of the organization with respect. From CEO to administrative assistant. From CFO to people working in the café. All deserve respect and an equally sincere “Hello” and “How are you, today?”
How has failure shaped you as a leader?
I remember early in my career a few times when I messed up something with a client. The first few times my manager would handle it with the client while I watched. But that didn’t last long. Quickly my manager would put the burden on me to be accountable for those mistakes and work directly with the frustrated client to explain what happened and how we were going to fix it. It was a great lesson in accountability and working with a customer to ensure you are meeting their needs. If you shelter people from mistakes or don’t allow them to make mistakes, how will they learn?