Leadership Essentials – Turning Employees into Leaders and Entrepreneurs

I have just returned from TMI’s World Congress in Athens. This is an

annual event where people from the TMI offices around the world

get together and share experiences and know-how to bring back to

their respective countries. One of the guest speakers at the

Congress runs a company that has been voted Best Place to Work

in Greece (in the category of 50 to 500 employees) for the last 3

years. It was most recently voted Europe’s best place to work in the

same category of small to medium size. Stelios Stavridis, the

Managing Director of swimming pool manufacturer, Piscines Ideales,

shared his thoughts on business. I’d like to share his thoughts with


Piscines Ideales is the largest manufacturer of swimming pools in

Europe. It employs 220 people and operates on a franchise basis

throughout Europe. The company has won many awards. A core

philosophy behind the company’s success is that “happy employees

means happy customers.” Stelios said, “It is human relations that

makes our company the best SME to work for in Europe.” Stelios

wants people to enjoy coming to work. “If people think, life starts at

6pm, then they won’t be creative and adaptable to change,” he said.

I’m pretty sure that if you are an employee working at Piscines

Ideales, you will definitely tell your friends. It is not uncommon for

people in Greece to have pet dogs. The company allows them to

bring their dogs to work! People come to work in casual clothes. This

is definitely a “no-tie” workplace! If people want to think, meet or

relax at one of the pools at the company’s office, they can. After all,

this is a swimming pool company! The company promotes fitness

among its employees. It gives employees who lose 12% of their

body weight a 2% pay rise.

Piscines Ideales focuses a lot of effort on building the company by

creating an environment where people enjoy coming to work and

feel that they can make a difference. Stelios gave his simple logic.

“The client is served by the individual. The brand is here to support

the individual to serve the client,“ he said. “99% of the decisions

made in our company are made by people, not management,” he

said. Stelios believes that, for each employee to effectively

contribute to the company, he or she must act like a leader and an

entrepreneur. The role of the company is therefore to bring the

leader and the entrepreneur out of each person. Stelios said,

“People can show leadership at their own levels in the company

when they ask the question, ‘how can I do this better?’ And they act

entrepreneurially when they understand the impact of their decisions

on the bottom line.” I find his comment on creating a direct line-ofsight

with the bottom line an interesting and valuable one. It is not

uncommon for employees to come up with all sorts of interesting

and well meaning ideas. But, because they do not have an

understanding of how the financials in the company work, the ideas

are simply not workable.

Each employee can

act like a leader in their

own roles

Stelios focused on a small number of key elements that have built

the culture of “everyone is a leader” in the company. First, he says,

people must have knowledge. This involves investments in training

and development of his people. He also has hired consultants, in

this case, TMI in Greece, who he says has expanded his thinking

and that of the people in his company. Second, the company aims to

foster a culture where people feel free to be creative. “We want

people to develop a winner’s mentality and to become creative.

Piscines Ideales fosters a culture of “constructive conflict” where

people feel free to debate and express their opinions. “When they

challenge and argue, and feel free to do so, they become creative,”

he said. When people feel that their opinions count, and that their

views may be acted on, they engage their hearts and minds, and

think of ways to do things differently and better. If, however, the

culture is to “listen to the boss and don’t rock the boat”, then this

engagement process will simply not take place.

This is a great lesson for all of us in corporate life. The world is

moving fast. We need to keep moving, keep improving, or we fall

behind. Organisations grow faster and become more dynamic when

they engage the brains of their workforce to look for ways to do

things better in their own jobs, and between departments. This might

seem obvious, but it will involve a paradigm shift in many companies

where there are high levels of “power distance” between bosses and

employees. These companies do not encourage employees to

contribute ideas. In fact, I have come across cases where

suggestions by employees to improve things are seen as a threat by

managers. Employees fear that their bonuses or promotions will be

affected if they are seen to be “showing disrespect” to their

managers by suggesting that things can be done better. The result is

that the culture of these companies encourages employees to “turn

up, do their work and to keep their heads down.” Imagine the power

if employees were encouraged to be leaders in their own jobs, to

keep their eyes out on ways to do things better.

Stelios wants people to feel relaxed and to enjoy their work – and he

creates an environment that nurtures this. He realizes that work is a

social system, and that social systems operate more effectively

when people are happy. He understands that people who feel good

about themselves do good work.

Engage employees by

being open to their ideas

The company encourages

“constructive conflict”

There are other companies that are admired as workplaces. We

admire Google. It looks after its people. Google employees like

coming to work. And they perform at high levels. Zappos.com is an

admired workplace. Southwest Airlines is an admired company.

What are the common factors? They are all high performing and

they all put their people first.

There is a powerful lesson in all of this. Business is about success. It

is about building brand reputation, customer loyalty and market

share. Business is ultimately about making money. I see many

companies that push their people hard, where people feel stressed

coming to work every day. Companies like Piscines Ideales, on the

other hand, understand that, by creating a positive work

environment, and by putting people first, they will achieve their

objectives and more.

Your task for the month is to look around you. Observe how

energised your people are. Count how many new ideas your

employees have made in the last year. And observe whether your

company fosters a culture of “everyone is a leader and entrepreneur

in their own jobs.” If you score low on these questions, perhaps you

are getting to a reason why your company is not leading the market

as much as you would like. I will finish with the words of Stelios.

“The conditions are the same for every company. The difference is

how you manage your way through it”. Until next month.


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