By Jim Whitt, Contributing Editor

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a leadership conference for Petroleum Service Corporation (PSC), a company that specializes in product handling and site logistics services for the petrochemical, refining, midstream and marine transportation industries. I was invited to the awards banquet the evening before my presentation and was glad I attended.

As I listened to the accomplishments of the award recipients, I was impressed with how many of them were hard-working, blue-collar employees who had worked their way into leadership positions. Their director of information technology told me he had started with the company as a tankerman. I asked him if he ever dreamed he’d be leading the IT department when he was loading barges. “No,” he said, “we didn’t even have computers back then!”

Company President Joel Dickerson started with the company loading railcars. I followed Joel on the program the next morning. You’d expect the company president to talk about financial performance, but he spent most of his time talking about what drives financial performance – people. He really got my attention when he shared his Leadership Top 10:

  1. Pick Good Leaders – This is JOB #1 for each of us. Picking the right leaders will do more to shape our future than anything else we do. This is a task that can’t be delegated.
  2. Model Servant Leadership – Make a daily choice to focus your energy and attention on supporting your employees and helping them become more successful.
  3. Develop Emotional Intelligence – Your moods and behaviors drive the moods and behaviors of everyone on your team. Before your team cares about what you know, they want to know that you care.
  4. Set the Course – Communicate the vision, set the expectations and lead.
  5. Demand Accountability – Excellent performance demands excellent leadership at all levels. Hold yourself and your leaders accountable.
  6. Lead by Example – If you say one thing and do another, you cannot lead effectively.
  7. Learn from Your Mistakes – We all make mistakes and have a lot to learn. Don’t let arrogance or a lack of introspection prevent you from learning from the mistakes you make. Ask for feedback regularly.
  8. Give Second Chances – We need to create an environment where employees can learn from their mistakes and continue to move forward in their careers.
  9. Be Approachable – Be visible and available to those you are leading. It’s not enough to have an “open-door policy.” Get out of your office and interact with your teams in their environment.
  10. Communicate – Don’t underestimate the need for your employees to regularly hear from you. The rumor mill ramps up when there is an absence of clear, consistent communication.

It was obvious this list wasn’t something he just copied off a website and pasted into a Power Point presentation — this was his Top 10. He gave real-life, on-the-job examples to illustrate each point. He wasn’t just telling his leaders what they need to do, he was modeling what they need to do. He was leading by example.

I thought about the awards ceremony the night before. When I listened to why each recipient was being recognized, it was because they exhibited the kind of behavior Joel talked about in his Leadership Top 10. The behavior of the award winners is what’s expected of the company’s leaders. It’s a domino effect that starts at the top.

It’s worth noting that Joel’s list is not the Management Top 10. There’s a big difference between being a manager and being a leader. In the words of John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Managers push, leaders pull. People don’t follow managers, they follow leaders.

The only way an organization can reach its full potential is by helping its people reach their full potential. You can’t accomplish the former without accomplishing the latter. Therefore, a leader’s No. 1 responsibility is to help their people reach their full potential.

Most people have no idea how much potential they possess. A leader is someone who can look into the eyes of people who are loading railcars or barges and see more in them than just what they’re doing today. They see what they can be. They inspire them to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Who knows? They might be the future IT director or president of the company.