While the Top Workplaces leadership award for large companies goes to FutureCare CEO Gary Attman, he's quick to credit his partners Leonard Attman, the chairman of the nursing care facility operator, and Jeffrey Attman, its senior vice president.
“If not for their advice, confidence and support I would not be able to do my job as president and CEO and the company would not function nearly as well,” Gary Attman said of his uncle Leonard and cousin Jeffrey.
FutureCare, headquarterd in Pasadena, operates 14 acute-care facilities in the Baltimore region, employing about 3,000 people.
Gary Attman took some time to answer The Sun’s questions about leadership:
What is a leader's role in building a place where people want to work?
The leader sets the tone for the organization. This includes creating and supporting — with budgeted funds and personal attention — the kind of workplace the organization will be. Is it an ethical and professional environment? Is the physical plant appealing and conducive to the best work possible? Are there opportunities for advancement and fulfillment within the organization? The leader can have a major impact in answering each of these questions in a way that encourages the best people to join and stay.
For example, my partners Leonard and Jeffrey Attman and I feel very strongly about the need to promote from within, and I believe that our actions in that regard have made it clear throughout the organization that there are ample opportunities for good people to come with FutureCare and build a career here.
We also try to set a high ethical standard — compliance training is the first topic that we teach in new employee orientation. Accordingly our staff knows that we want to be an ethical and high-quality organization. We believe that people want to work at a place they're proud of and that shares their values.
What is your influence on your organization's culture?
The leader has an obligation and an opportunity to lead by example. People watch the leader carefully. If the leader treats people with respect, the co-workers appreciate that and will follow suit in their own interactions. If the leader is at work consistently, the workers tend to follow that lead. If he or she dresses professionally that sets a tone and a standard as well.
In order to influence the culture of an organization, the leader has to be extremely visible and well known to his or her co-workers. So I try to get out into the field on a regular basis, and at least once a year to make contact with each of our 3,000-plus employees. I may not remember each of them, but I know that they appreciate the effort. My partners and I are at every corporate event as well.
My partners and leadership team all believe it is very important for a leader to act in a way that is consistent with expectations out in the field. This includes listening carefully and responding to staff requests, and treating everyone with complete respect. If we do this, it sets a good example for the rest of the team to follow suit.
How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?
In order to hire and retain the best and brightest leaders is important to allow them to take responsibility within the organization. Micro-management would never work in a company of our size, and even if it did work, it's not our style.
I remember when I started working with my uncle Leonard Attman in the real estate business 30 some years ago and I kept coming to him with questions about one thing or another. One day he turned to me and stated that I should not worry about making mistakes, because if I wasn't making mistakes I wasn't doing enough. That's kind of my attitude as well. We trust our senior management to do what they've always done and to make decisions within our budgeted framework, while keeping us fully informed. You have to trust your leaders to do what they were hired to do.
Of course there are certain decisions that cannot be delegated, including the final word on major strategic and budgetary decisions. But just because the final decision cannot be delegated does not mean that the workload cannot be shared. People want to work on big and important projects, and fortunately we've had many of them over my years of FutureCare.
What's the hardest lesson about leadership you've learned?
I used to have a hard time sharing the burden of difficult decisions or outcomes. I would put everything on myself. Over time I've come to realize that I have wonderful and truly supportive partners, in my uncle Leonard and cousin Jeffrey, as well as FutureCare senior leadership. And although we strive for perfection we will never actually achieve it. By sharing challenges and setbacks, I have been able to put such issues in the proper perspective and to maintain a positive attitude that has led to many more ups than downs. A corollary to this is sharing credit for good things that happened. I can assure you that nothing happens at FutureCare just because of me. My partners and our leadership work together as a team to make the company what it is. I'm simply fortunate to be a participant in the process.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?
In the book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t,” the author Jim Collins describes the ideal leader, which he calls a Level 5 leader. These leaders have a paradoxical combination of professional will and personal humility. They look out the window, not at the mirror, to apportion credit for the success of the company. We may never make it as level 5 leaders but that is the ideal to which I believe all leaders should aspire. In my own case, I can assure you that FutureCare would never be where it is today without the leadership and support of Leonard and Jeffrey Attman, and our senior leadership team.
There are two other attributes that I think are very important in a leader:
- Visibility — Our vice president of human resources, Holly O'Shea, once told me that people like to know who they work for. We joke within the company that we are the opposite of the TV show “Undercover Boss.” We want everybody to know who we are and what we stand for. As a lifelong resident of “Smalltmore,” I love it when I am at the movies or picking up dinner and I run into someone who works with us. I would not trade that for anything.
- Listening — You really can't learn everything you need to know by sitting in the corporate office. It is important to get out, to meet with staff and to listen to what the people who are doing the work are saying. I know a lot of people don't like to hear about problems, but we find it very helpful to find out about issues — hopefully before they become major. By listening, we also find out about opportunities as well. In order to be able to lead a company one needs the support of the people being led. That only happens when they are given respect and their concerns are properly heard and listened to.