Bob Wiedower | Crain's Charlotte

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Bob Wiedower

Background:  

Bob Wiedower joined Combined Insurance after a 22-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps, retiring as a squadron commanding officer. Combined Insurance recently announced plans to hire 2,000 more veterans by the end of 2019, and 20 to 30 new agents in the Charlotte area by the end of the year. 

 Mistake:

I think the biggest mistake I made was believing that a leader needs to be in total control, and therefore make all the decisions all the time. This developed out of two things. First, I witnessed it in other leaders. The successful ones seemed to be involved in every decision and knew all the details around every issue.They had what I considered to be total awareness and control over every decision. The second factor was partially ego; you want to be involved and you want to make decisions.

I tried to emulate those traits. As I progressed in my career, I would dig into every job, learn every facet of all the responsibilities. And although I wasn’t consciously aware of it, I was requiring people to consult with me on every decision. I didn’t really ask their opinions, not because I didn’t care what they thought, but because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t in control of everything.

The ones who really did control everything weren’t really effective.

The Lesson:

Looking back now, I was wrong. Some of the leaders that I thought had total control and were making all the decisions, didn’t. It just appeared that they had it all together. And the ones who really did control everything weren’t really effective.

The first indication that there was something wrong was when I started feeling tired all the time. This was over a period of time. There was one particular two-week period when I was extremely worn out. It was just before we were supposed to deploy to combat and there was a lot going on. A lot of things had to be taken care of, and there were people on pre-deployment leave. I was making all the decisions.

People had to come to me for things they could have handled on their own. That, of course, was leading to poor decisions. I felt I was in quicksand. That was the first indication that I was not as effective and efficient as I could be.

One of my staff came up to me at that time and asked for a decision. I said, “Can’t you make the decision?”

He said, “Yeah, I could, but you’ve made every other one.” That hit me pretty hard. I wasn’t offended, but it showed me that perhaps something was wrong with this leadership style.

One of the key factors here was that the turnaround was almost immediate. I started asking what people thought and I let them know that I expected them to make decisions. I’d be happy to help them, but really, I want them to make the decisions because they are the experts in their fields. They know all the facets of it. The whole entire unit can get a lot more done. And if they made mistakes or made the wrong decisions, I didn’t condemn them for it – I used it as a learning example.

 Follow Combined Insurance on Twitter at: @CombinedIns.

Pictured: Bob Wiedower | Photo courtesy of Combined Insurance. 

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