Scott Dorsey joined his cousin Leroy Merritt’s real estate company in 1972, having spent the previous five summers pouring concrete with his father for warehouses Merritt and a partner were building.
The two men shared a desk made from a door across two filing cabinets and Dorsey learned the ropes of the business from working directly with Merritt as they built the Merritt Companies, one of Baltimore’s largest real estate holding companies, with interests in construction and fitness centers.
Dorsey has carried that inclusiveness into his leadership style, involving others in decisions, imparting a “do the right thing” culture handed down from his cousin and sharing his decades of knowledge with the firm’s employees.
Employees of the company credit Dorsey for his “down-to-earth approach,” “family-oriented common sense,” “integrity” and “knowledge and experience of the industry.”
“He is a great and knowledgeable man that brings out the best in everyone,” one employee said. “He is the kind of guy you want to work for and want to impress and do good things both with and for.”
Dorsey took some time from managing Merritt Companies’ real estate empire to answer a few questions from The Baltimore Sun about leadership:
What is a leader’s role in building a place people want to work?
While I certainly don’t consider myself a leadership guru, I will share my thoughts on the subject based on my experience and observations over a career of more than 40 years.
In order to build a place where people want to work, the most important thing is to hire good people, people who care about others — the people they work with, your customers, vendors and your community — and then let them do what they think is right.
Too often, people are expected to put on their “work persona,” following policies and procedures dictated by management which may or may not be what seems right in a given situation. If you put a team of good people together, who value relationships, who care about others and take pride in what they do, they are able to be themselves, enjoy what they do and create a successful organization.
What is your influence on your organization’s culture?
It is important to understand the culture of your company, to understand the core values. The culture of a company reflects the values and personality of those who started the company, and is the most important factor in maintaining a successful organization.
Our founder, Leroy Merritt, grew up during the Great Depression in a working-class family in Dundalk. His parents managed a restaurant and took in boarders, so Leroy learned very early the value of relationships, respecting others and always doing what you believe to be right. He learned that if you get the relationships right, you will be successful.
These are the core values of the Merritt Companies. As a leader, I embrace these values, try to model these values and try to remind any of our people who slip into a “transactional mindset” of what is truly important.
How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?
In just about everything I do, I try to include others. I want them to understand my perspective — the thought process through which we reach decisions — emphasizing what is important at the end of the day. Through this process — working collaboratively with various members of your team — you learn what people are capable of, and how they analyze situations and make decisions.
When you come to trust their judgment and understanding, you know exactly what they can do by themselves and when they may need more guidance. Often, when members of our team come to me for advice, I think they are just trying to make me feel useful.
What’s the hardest lesson about leadership you’ve learned?
I wouldn’t say that anything has been hard, but I know what has been critically important. It is to let people make mistakes. Empower them to analyze situations and make decisions.
Sometimes, a decision may not turn out to be the best, but that is how people learn. If a leader berates a member of a team who makes a mistake, that person becomes reluctant to make decisions, losing confidence in themselves. If this happens, in every situation, they will come to you to validate their own judgment. Then, they don’t learn anything, and you will spend a lot of time on things you don’t need to be involved in.
When someone makes a mistake — even a whopper — talk it through with them. They will know what they should’ve done differently, becoming more capable and confident. The organization becomes stronger.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?
For someone starting out in leadership, it is important to understand that your job is to help everyone in the organization do their job.
Let people know what the goals of the company are and how their efforts are important to the company succeeding in achieving those goals. Provide as much clarity as possible to define the results that need to be accomplished and explain how they support the overall goals of the organization. Don’t insist that these tasks be performed in a prescribed way. Explain what to do, not how to do it. Coach, but don’t dictate.
If you have brought the right people together, who embrace your culture, values and goals, they will figure out how to get it done — creatively, collaboratively — resulting in individual job satisfaction and a successful organization.
People spend way too much of their time at work for them not to enjoy the time they spend there. Life’s too short.