Search
University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

How CEOs And Managers Can Shape Their Personality Traits And Become Better Leaders

by Shel Horowitz

FBC members have heard it again and again: the right combination of personality traits can power an exponential increase in productivity and profitability.

And some of the people who've been strongest and most consistent in bringing this message are Rick Giombetti and Paul Alves, of FBC sponsor Giombetti Associates. But until now, their message has been abstract. This time, they let others prove the point.

At the December FBC gathering, held at the Clarion, Giombetti and Alves hosted a panel of FBC member companies who also happen to be their clients. Three businesses provided both a CEO and another top executive to discuss the specific improvements this approach can create:

  • Jeb Balise, third-generation President of Balise Motors (founded in 1927), and his CFO, Steve Mitus;
  • Tyler Young, fifth-generation President of W.F. Young, (established back in 1892), and his COO/GM, Adam Raczkowski;
  • Kenny Fontaine, second-generation CEO of Amgraph, a relatively recent arrival from 1984, and his sister Michelle, head of Continuous Systemic Improvement.

The most telling responses were in response to Paul Alves' question, "There are 20 personality traits leaders must manage effectively. Which do you use differently now than when you first got assessed?"

Interestingly, all the panelists concentrated on the improvement in their comunication skills.

Acknowledging that he was somewhat resistant to working with Giombetti at first, Balise feels that the program has had a huge positive impact: "I was the poster child for what leadership was not about; my people felt I didn’t care about them. Rick said, 'you say you care, but if someone tries to talk with you, you say, 'walk with me,' and you walk twice as fast, and you’re answering cell phones and everything else.'

"I realized my high competition score was defeating my effectiveness with my own people. I came away knowing that my people have to believe I care. I can sure give someone that five or ten minutes of uninterrupted time, in my office with the door closed.

"Rick said, 'communication means listening.' I’m a terrible listener. I remind myself of that every time I walk into a meeting. It has improved my performance. The results were significant in getting the teamwork." Alves added, "And now you know what cigars they smoke and what cars they drive, and that’s important."

Like Balise, Tyler Young—as he transitioned his company from a hierarchically-organized manufacturing enterprise to a team-based logistics company, had to learn to go against his instincts, to stop being a "pile driver" and institute a collaborative approach. And yet that collaboration actually gets more of his agenda accomplished. "In the early stages of my career I had poor listening skills. I had to learn to pay attention to other people and let them share their vision. Ten years ago, I was somewhat unruly, now I have discipline. In the past I scored very high in avoidance. Today I score very low in avoidance. I can get right in your face to get the job done right away. I am learning to temper this by improving my level of collaboration and listening skills to facilitate a team effort, while continuing to be persistent in getting results. And I’ve gotten great feedback from employees who’ve been with me 15 years. The Giombetti process has allowed me to grow as a leader bystrengthening my management style in order to meet the needs of my companies changing needs".

Young had hired Raczkowski, who also tended to avoid conflict—and he, too, has changed a lot once he was confronted with his patterns: " I had low collaborative, low avoidance, high compromise. I was an accountant. I wanted to work on avoidance. Instead of confronting an issue, it was follow me or get out of the way. My goodwill, avoidance, collaborative skills, accommodation have gone up. But my compromise score has gone down. I feel better about myself and the ways I interact with our employees."

Kenny Fontaine has learned to slow down, get more input. "Now, before I jump to a conclusion, I gather the facts. Now, I reflect. If I’m upset, I wait 24 hours. I come from a long line of bad listeners. Now I try to speak last, let others get their ideas out. Their ideas could be ten times better than mine. At the end of the day, I have less frustration, they have less frustration, I like them better and they like me better—and we get more done.

But for Michelle Fontaine, the biggest impact was not on her own behavior, but on her more realistic expectations from others. Experiencing difficulty as "a young manager, hiring and firing for the first time—I went back and read their primary and secondary skill sets, and saw that someone didn’t respond to verbal communication, needed concise, precise, written instruction… That’s been a tremendous learning experience, and my listening and communication skills have also gone up. One-way communication is not a good thing; they have to be allowed to feedback, ask the questions. Knowing their kids’ names—it’s a tremendous thing.

Mitus found the process growthful, but discomforting. "The first time I took the assessment, the results could not have been further" from his own perception. That was "traumatic"—but "once you get past defending all you don’t want to hear, it becomes very productive."

Back to Top