Putting people before numbers might not sound like something a typical accountant might do, but that’s the foundation on which Brian Davis has built Clearview Group.
Davis helped found the Owings Mills accounting and consulting firm in 2011, which now employs 54 people. A 1997 graduate of Towson University, he previously worked for Deloitte and SC&H Group before striking out on his own.
His workers clearly appreciate his people-first approach, earning him this year’s Top Workplaces leadership award among small companies.
“You are trusted to perform well and complete the task at hand,” one employee said. “Management takes care of their employees and I really feel valued by management.”
Another added: “I am given the flexibility and freedom to make decisions and know that leadership is behind me if I make mistakes.”
Davis answered some questions from The Baltimore Sun about leadership in a top workplace:
What is a leader’s role in building a place people want to work?
A leader’s role in building a place people want to work is first deciding they truly want to lead a great organization. Once you decide you want to be surrounded by greatness, you should figure out what attracts that greatness, and provide it. More important, if you accidentally let someone through ... that doesn’t belong, you have to get them out quickly. Bottom line — a leader’s role is sticking to the promises they make. That doesn’t mean you can’t ever fall short in the result, but it does mean you cannot fall short in the effort.
What is your influence on your organization’s culture?
If I can be so bold, I’d say as the CEO and one of the founders, my thoughts and actions have a direct and significant impact on the culture. That can be good or bad. The good news is our culture is genuine and authentic, so I don’t have to fake anything. When Rob [Stovall Jr., chief operating officer], Rich [Compton, director of business development] and I set out to build this firm, the culture is the one and only thing we focused on. And we didn’t sit around and fabricate some fairy tale land where we could trick people into joining us. We specifically documented the things we wanted out of work and life, and assumed as humans, most others want it too — they just haven’t found a place that offers it. That was our next job — create it.
How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?
That’s easy. If I’m not the best person to do whatever it is, I stay out of it. At this stage, if it can have an impact on the culture, my fingerprints are all over it, because I’m a big driver of what we want to build. The foundation of our culture is in self-awareness and security. There is no need to fake anything around here. A wise man once said, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” Our people know they can survive any error, as long as their intentions are good. That world doesn’t exist in any other professional services firm. At those firms, people frequently get ahead at the expense of others. In our firm, we trust each other and don’t compete within our four walls. I also trust that if something is left in someone else’s hands, and they need help, they’ll scream for it, knowing they will never be “punished” for doing the right thing. Those words are going to look harsh in print, but sometimes facts are ugly. Print it; I stand by it.
What’s the hardest lesson about leadership you’ve learned?
The hardest lesson about leadership I’ve learned is that you don’t always have to be “right.” In fact, if you’re seeking that, you’re destined for failure, and quite frankly, an awful leader. True leaders create the environment for others to be “right.”
What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?
Besides realizing your job is not to always to be right, the biggest piece of advice I would give someone starting out in leadership is if you have to tell people you’re in charge, you’re not in charge. Said differently, you can only lead people that want to be led by you — unless you’re in a command hierarchy where your rank has been bestowed upon you, like the military. There is a place and reason for those command hierarchies, but we’re talking about the business world — it’s not sustainable here. Once you understand that, I suggest you be genuine and authentic, because people are always going to be looking at you, and if you’re thoughts and actions aren’t congruent, you’ll be exposed as a snake oil salesman.