Becoming a successful leader is a journey, and it includes discovering and developing leadership styles and philosophies. In this episode, we welcome back Lenny Stahl, co-owner & president of Dakota Storage Buildings, who shares with us how he developed his leadership philosophy and how it has affected his business. Listen as Lenny provides advice and resources for other manufacturing leaders.
INTRO: Building a great company is a marathon not a sprint. Each week Krista Ankenman and the team at TANK New Media take on growth challenges, explore technology, and interview business leaders that are always upping their game. If you're ready to build scalable systems to drive your business forward, this podcast is for you.
KRISTA: Hi everyone. Today we are welcoming back Lenny Stahl the CEO of Dakota Storage Buildings, and we're gonna be discussing how his leadership style has shifted over the years and how that's affected his business overall. Welcome back, Lenny.
LENNY: Thank you.
KRISTA: Tell me a little bit because I feel like maybe your leadership style has kind of changed a little bit over the years. Do you want to talk a lot about kind of where you're at now?
LENNY: About three-four years ago. I was a friend of mine out of Pennsylvania encourage me to listen to Michael Hyatt and Michael Hyatt at that time is... He spoke, I think he still does all an intentional leadership, and I started listening to him. There were things that he was talking about, about being intentional this... though the word servant leadership was a foreign concept to me I was kind of. How do you call it? Extremely — from my background — taught down a lot of tyranny it's this this or that, that's kind of how I was living life and leading, quote and that wasn't working. Things around me were not working. I'm like "What are those companies doing?" There is something wrong with what is being, coming out of what I'm doing. There is something more to this whole culture thing. And when he recommended me Michael Hyatt. From Michael Hyatt it was I just continue to cap... What is this, asking more questions, reading more books, listening to more podcasts and then about a year-two years ago I had a and it was another company came in that we do business with and they came in and did a seminar for us on Patrick Lencioni the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And it was a very interesting seminar that they did for us. They did it one in Spanish, one in English and I realized that day that I had a lot of, bad paradigms and I still do. For an example somebody shows up late, I have very low tolerance when somebody shows up late.
LENNY: Well he gave a case in point. You see an employee pull in, he's late and then all of a sudden jump on it... Jump him or her, but you have no idea why they were late. They might just have gotten word that grandma is dying of cancer. You don't know.
KRISTA: There's a lot of story you don't know. Yeah.
LENNY: There's a lot of the story you don't know why is somebody chronically late or continually late. I would just lash. Instead of what is going on here seeking first to understand and to be understood I had no concept of that. And so I signed it, and as he was doing that seminar he told me that he is personally going through an online course by trying leadership services — which is out of Alexandria, Minnesota — and he wrote, the guy wrote a book called Leading Jesus' Way it's basically taking the leadership model from the master of leader which is Jesus and I said you know what I've been asking so many other questions. What's another question? So what is this. Signed up for it. And I thought it was his online thing just videos you watch a book you read and then questions you fill out. But then here he ends up calling me I'm like oh what what. And he said, "Welcome I really appreciate you signing up. We are actually every Thursday we have a roundtable discussion there is people from all over the country that call in" and I'm like no no no no no no I'm just doing the online thing. But then he called me again and said hey we really would like your participation in this just call in. And I did and it was just fascinating to me going — that was I doubt — I would say going through that nine-week course was a life-changer for me. My view on people changed. It was like people do matter. It's if we don't work on building our people, forget it. It's not going to work. We create a very toxic culture environment. If people do not matter. And from that time on I have made a lot of investment personally into people matter living for the greater good of someone else. It revolutionized in how I relate to my wife, my children, my vendors. I used to have vendors that tell me what you cannot make a dime on Lenny. There is no loyalty. And I was feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm a ruthless negotiator but that when my paradigm changed that's actually an embarrassment today. If your vendors say this about you. That's a problem.
LENNY: And I had one vendor within the last six months tell me your total your world view has changed and how you even relate to man. And I've come to realize people matter if they're employees, if they're vendors, or if they're your customers. That is one thing in all of the learning and all the reading that I did was Dr. Culley said a company's mission statement must address four quadrants. Employee, the vendor, the customer, and the investor.
LENNY: If those four quadrants are not addressed in how you conduct business. It's not going to work. So that's in one aspect. It's a long answer to your question.
KRISTA: No that's perfect; that's perfect. I mean do you feel like once you kind of made this mental shift you saw changes in your business?
LENNY: Yes, I actually saw drama go down when you're clear about your direction, your purpose, and your vision. You will have people leave you will have people change their own paradigm. It has helped us address issues with more clarity with more expectation. It I to drama has gone down tremendously. Yeah. Yes. Yeah. I don't know how it is. I'm so new into this. Vendors tend to change. Customers tend to change the people you associate with tends to change when you get a vision and you're clear about your purpose and your values. There's shifting going on. I would say a lot less drama a lot less toxicity. Is it, is-is-is it a destination. No it's a journey.
KRISTA: Sure. But hopefully everybody is moving in the right direction the same direction now.
KRISTA: Kind of what it sounds like.
LENNY: And then if they're not we have conversations. Sure. We used to never have conversations with employees. You didn't do this. This does it out, go. Well why didn't they do that? High likelihood it's failed leadership on my end.
LENNY: It's, we're having a lot, more conversations and clearer conversations not dealing with problems in a passive aggressive way.
KRISTA: Sure. That makes sense. Healthier environment overall and you can kind of open up and talk about the challenges that are in front of you and solve them. Hopefully.
LENNY: Correct. We still have a long way to go. Absolutely. My business coach who is also the guy who wrote the book Leading Jesus' Way said you will have a three to five year paradigm shift. We're going into the second year it takes three to five years to change culture. And he's always asked me the question why aren't there more servant leaders. There's a lot of buzz. It is the most difficult thing, Krista, I ever did.
LENNY: It is a lot easier to run a company with policies procedures but you know what you get pains but you don't get minds. You don't get hearts. It's a waste of people when you do that. It is difficult. It is one of the most difficult things that I ever ever did. I wouldn't change it for nothing.
KRISTA: Yeah you'd do it again?
LENNY: I have grown to work down to slow down and treat people like people and not like machines and to sit and listen to one to a fellow sob story to give him a word of encouragement. You know there is light at the end of the tunnel to to try to be patient with somebody who is a museum of bad decisions. It is difficult. But we are here to see the greater good of our people. Not for our not to not to expand our own wallet in return. Yeah when you develop people you develop your assets as well.
KRISTA: Yeah absolutely. So you've been in the CEO role for about two years roughly about a year and a half? What do you feel like or some of the biggest challenges you've had as you've kind of taken this seat?
LENNY: That's actually a good question. I was discussing it with one of my partners on the way to Sioux Falls on Friday or Saturday. Last week I said the biggest challenge I would have had is to shift from a general manager's mindset to an owner or CEO mindset. And I feel like I have a long way to go. For 16 years I was General Manager. And general managers think different than owners. Those two things are not the same. And it has probably been the hardest thing for me is to look at business from a different perspective. I'm still I'm still finding that I analysis I do too much analysis from my general manager's mindset not from an owner or CEO mindset from a vision mindset.
KRISTA: OK so just looking at it kind of taking the big picture in more than the details?
KRISTA: You're kind of thinking about it?
LENNY: It is. It has been about I... And I'm trying to surround myself with people who fill in the gaps that I just I'm realizing I'm not good at.
KRISTA: Sure, sure. What do you have, what do you feel like your big successes have been? What're you really proud of?
LENNY: The culture... The beginning the journey of culture change.
KRISTA: Sure, sure so kind of just make... starting that down that path?
LENNY: Starting that that because of what it's done to me and what it's done to the people around me the compliments I hear and say good job great direction. I just did a 360-degree review where a lot of positive things but right next to my positive things are also my weaknesses. I'd say that if there's no person... Personal development it's probably an even seeing that change is brought into some of my my closest staff.
KRISTA: Yeah, yeah that's awesome. That's awesome. So I know just because in the time that we talk together you've got kind of a lot of different things going on within Dakota right now. One of those is you're you're working on implementing Lean within your organization. You just kind of get kind of an overview on that how that's going.
LENNY: Again with Lean. From the little bit we've dabbled or start implementing with that comes also a paradigm shift. A different way of thinking versus for an example. We had an incredibly good push system which overproduce in one segment of the manufacturing process but under produce on the other end. So changing from a push to a pull system where the product going out the other end controls the flow not the beginning and so the incredible paradigm shifting it takes there has been a challenge. However the concept of Lean manufacturing. It's very very fascinating. It is... It is pretty much continuous improvement. It's actually one of our values that the code is never being satisfied with the status quo. And the reason we got introduced to Lean is up in our area here in South Dakota. We have a labor epidemic. It is unreal. The labor shortage the job openings and the challenge. So I was visiting with Chris Dressler. I believe she's also one of your clients from Team Builder Recruiting out of New Holland, PA or wherever she's from somewhere in PA. And she suggested you should seriously take a look at Lean. And I'm like what the world is that. So I went to Wikipedia started researching what Lean is and she got in touch with me and a consultant and we started visiting had about a two hour meeting and pretty much Lean is eliminating wastes every step at a process where you're eliminating waste in your people and having them do something not gifted in waste and inventory wasted material waste in time and stuff like that. So we have started that journey. And again it's not a destination and it's a journey. And the challenge has been it's like right behind me you'll see the whole deal. It's been the paradigm shifting and getting people who are used to doing stuff a certain way for the last how many years and getting them to think differently about manufacturing.
KRISTA: Sure, sure. Is it really kind of in your employees mindset like it's getting like, thinking about doing their job differently.
LENNY: Yes that has been the biggest challenge is to get them to when you've had a culture for Push push push push push push push push. Go go go go go. Move. To actually get them to slow down think about the process. How can this be done different? How can I eliminate waste out of this? It is, it take it takes it again it takes a cultural change it takes a paradigm shift. And one of the things is since we've implemented Lean again it's a lot less chaos. Our factory is a lot. It's not as full. We actually are down three or four people and we're still pretty much producing the same thing allow just by going from a push system to a pull, less chaos, less congestion. The other thing that, one of the things that we have found is we have been very bad in cross-training people and one of the ways to make Lean more effective is to have people cross-trained. And it boils back to some people don't want to be cross-trained it's a cultural issue.
KRISTA: They just want to do the one thing. Not worry about it.
LENNY: Yeah and some people are gifted in doing that. And that's fine. But as a whole. We're going to put more emphasis again on the cultural shift.
KRISTA: Sure. So tell me a little bit about what what can we expect to see in the next few years from Dakota. How... How do you feel like the company is going to kind of develop and change?
LENNY: That is a good question. Very thought-provoking question.
KRISTA: I haven't stumped you yet this morning.
LENNY: Where I think you will see more change is in trying to push harder into the Lean manufacturing where actually as I'm speaking of that is we're actually having our lead consultant come back in in November 14th and 15th to look at our office processes. Where can we implement Lean from an office standpoint? What is the current state and where do we want to go? My... The other thing that I'd like to expand our product line. I would like to increase production and continue to increase our footprint in the markets that we serve. I still feel strongly that too many people accidentally stumble across Dakota. I'd be happy when we were a household name.
KRISTA: Be more intentional. That's a great goal. That's a great goal to have. So because I know you so well I know you're always reading and following people do you have any latest recommendations you'd give out to any other manufacturing leaders to read?
LENNY: Actually yes it's called No Complaining Rule.
KRISTA: Oh I like that.
LENNY: What's his name... John Gordon? I believe it's the No Complaining Rule .com he wrote the book on No Complaining Rule and then also I just got done with that book and now I am reading another book that he wrote the Power of Positive Culture or something like that. I have it in my backpack in my office again. It's dealing with the cultural issue. You cannot let vampire suckers in your company. You should not allow negativity and complaining and whining and fussing and not deal with it. So that has been a great inspiration to me and also to be a little more careful and create a filter what comes out of my mouth. What am I doing that feeds positivity? Assertive communication and stuff like that.
LENNY: But when you go back to our values I believe I'd have to look them up again. One of the deals is I bring solutions not complaints. So we have done that for a while and we have been working on that for a while. I accidentally came across his book The No Complaining Rule by, I think it's John Gordon his name. I accidentally came across that and I shared it with the team. It was just another affirmation to us that as the senior leadership team that we can not allow chronic complaining. There is a difference between a complaint and bringing a solution than just complaining and whining and moaning and being about everything that the management and all the other coworkers do wrong.
KRISTA: Yeah yeah. I feel like I heard somewhere that you know we can't do anything with a complaint like people bring your complaint you can't. Complaints aren't actionable you know. But if you have a if you have a challenge and have a solution that's something that can and you can actually do something with.
LENNY: That's right. Yes. Yes. And that's what I again Monday morning team meetings I read over our values and one of the behaviors behind one of our values is I bring solutions not complaints. I keep telling my guys what should I do with a complaint. The reason it is a complaint is nobody knows what to do about it. Yeah. Bring a solution so we can act upon it. Your solution may not necessarily be followed to the tee but you're giving us heads to a greater synergistic solutions.
KRISTA: Or at least you could brainstorm about what a better solution might be. If that one is, you know, not going to work.
LENNY: Yes. Correct. Yes.
KRISTA: Definitely. Well thank you so much for being on today Lenny and we'll have...
LENNY: Not a problem.
KRISTA: We'll have a lot of these things in the show notes for anybody who wants to follow up on any of these books for sure.
LENNY: I... This was actually fun and I've become very passionate about culture leadership. And again I have to keep reminding myself like I told one of my guys yesterday we had we had a discussion with an employee who we gave a performance improvement plan to and we followed up 30 days later and and he was lamenting the fact why he has to take such a brunt of a lot of things and his coworker is being slackful or being slacking. And I said, "Welcome to the world of leadership." It's not about authority and carrying a big stick. It's like John Maxwell puts it serving is influence and influence is leadership. So welcome to my world. Thank you. It doesn't feel as lonely.
KRISTA: For tools and resources, visit manufacturinggrowth.com.
Co-founder & VP, Client Services
Krista also has more than a decade of professional experience under her belt. Her expertise lies in graphic design, project management, and digital marketing for both high-profile and growing businesses. Currently, she functions as the VP of Client Services and lead strategist.
Building a great company is a marathon, not a sprint. Each week Krista Ankenman and her team at TANK New Media take on growth challenges, explore technology, and interview business leaders dedicated to growing better through continuous improvement. If you’re ready to build repeatable and scalable systems to drive your business forward, this podcast is for you.
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