Leadership Academy: Week 2
On September 16, 2022, The Aurora Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy visited and toured the Fox Metro Water Reclamation plant. The leadership team from Fox Metro provided an amazing talk about their company history as well as the company’s leadership journey from its early leadership style and the obstacles it faced as a result of that style to its current leadership state. The leadership evolution that the company experienced was fascinating and provided so many lessons that can be utilized by current and emerging leaders.
The leadership style in the earlier days of the company was that of an autocratic style. Managers were promoted to leadership positions based almost solely on seniority and/or expertise in their specific, current job role. These managers did not necessarily display any qualities of a leader nor did they have prior management or leadership experience. With this autocratic style of leadership, employees were motivated to work and be successful based out of fear of discipline or job loss. This resulted in one hard-learned lesson for the company. It promoted a culture of separate departments working in silos. Each department was only concerned with their own success and job completion and rarely went out of its way to assist or support the initiatives of other departments. There was no synergy between departments.
After years of operations happening in isolated, fragmented silos, quality eventually gave way and was impacted. Leadership quickly learned that for quality to improve, the culture that all facets of the company operated within had to change. This culture change had to start at the top. Leaders needed to lead not just manage. The executive team looked within first. They learned more about what their employees needed, what engaged them, what caused them to leave the company, and what would ultimately motivate them to be successful in their roles and be able to grow within the company. Using the information gained from the analysis, the executive team reconstructed their leadership style to that of a democratic one. No longer did managers simply hand down directives and instructions to their employees on how the job had to be done. Instead, managers began to lead by engaging the employees to participate in the decisions and solutions that impacted their work. This gave way to employees being more invested in the success of the decisions and solutions that they helped shape. The new culture allowed for more transformational leaders that encourage their employees to create and innovate within the company.
The major takeaway for me from this talk was that to be a successful leader, you need to have the ability to be humble and access that humility easily. I learned that to be in a constant state of improvement, a leader needs to be open to hearing what they could do differently or better and be willing to make those changes when necessary.
About the Author
I am a Practice Manager for Rush Copley Medical Center. I manage 2 clinics here - Family Medicine Residency Clinic and the Endocrinology Clinic. I manage the clinic staff and oversee the day to day operations for both clinics.
Community Sustainability by Tammy Helfrich
Fox Metro Water Reclamation is an organization that I am extremely grateful for, but never wanted to visit.
Their staff and leaders welcomed our Leadership Academy graciously and shared about the history of the organization and the areas they currently service as a public wastewater utility. It was very interesting to hear how they service four counties and over 320,000 people.
The leaders shared openly about some of the challenges their organization has faced over the years regarding regulatory compliance and organizational structure inefficiencies. They learned to shift from an autocratic culture to more of a collaborative culture. As you can imagine, this included some challenges with their staff. They were intentional about introducing more participation into the decision making process and cultivating an environment where ideas are exchanged freely. It was refreshing to hear executives share their knowledge and real world examples of how these shifts are possible.
They have a very clear ask and discuss policy, which encourages, inspires and motivates employees to take ownership and bring solutions to the table in order to be more innovative and creative. It was very inspiring to hear how many employees, including current District Manager, Tom Muth, have been with the organization for multiple decades. It is evident that taking care of their employees is very important and that career advancement and succession planning rank high on their corporate plans.
While the tour was extremely interesting, and somewhat unpleasant at times, it is great to know that organizations like Fox Metro Water Reclamation work so hard and diligently to make sure that the water being put back into the Fox River is clean.
In addition to a well run and efficient organization, Fox Metro Water Reclamation also works hard to educate the community and to provide educational opportunities for youth and local schools. For example, did you know that flushable wipes are now illegal in Illinois? Not only are they illegal, they clog up the machines and the processing of the water. One of their biggest initiatives is to make sure the community understands that only three P’s should ever be flushed. You should know the first two p’s, and the third is toilet paper This alone can be incredibly helpful as they clean the water.
I was very impressed with the openness and dedication of the leadership and staff. If you ever have the chance to tour this facility, I highly recommend it.About the Author
I am the Director at Society 57 and I manage the overall operations of Society 57.