Establish a vision and listen

Confident. Hard working. Approachable. Very humble. Upbeat.

Those are just a few of the terms employees of Network Building + Consulting used to describe Tom Kane, president of the company that develops wireless communications towers and sites.

Kane climbed the ladder at the Elkridge company, working as a program manager before heading up real estate development and then becoming vice president of operations. In 2003, he was promoted to president.

Four years later, he led a management buyout, leveraging the firm’s backlog and development capabilities. Since then the company has opened new regional offices and launched new divisions offering engineering, technical and construction services to wireless providers.

Along the way, he’s evolved as a leader, learning to listen more and to value diverse points of view. Kane also firmly understands the importance of establishing a corporate culture.

The company’s employees clearly value his acumen.

“He keeps the company relevant in an ever-growing industry,” said one.

“Tom seems to always be in the know about current projects,” another said.

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Kane took some time from managing Network Building + Consulting 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?

Establishing a vision, being honest, demonstrating competency in your role as a leader, being enthusiastic, and being a good or great communicator.

What is your influence on your organization’s culture?

As a leader, I think my role in our culture started with determining what culture would work within our industry and also addressing how we wanted to differentiate our business within our space. We had to determine what we were going to compete on: talent, speed, price? Once we decided that we wanted to compete with top talent and speed to market, we set about establishing a culture that would support our vision.

How do you decide when to be hands-on and when to delegate?

I use a lot of thoughtful analysis of what the issue is, who is available to assign it to, and what else we have going on. For me, it is not a decision where you can say, “if she can do it at 85% of my ability I am going to delegate.”

The questions I ask are what else is going on now, what will be going on in 2-3 months that should be thought about regarding this decision, how critical is this task or assignment? I also think it is important to play to your strengths and weaknesses when thinking about delegation. I see too many leaders hire someone very similar to them and I think, “where is the value in that?” Many times a leader needs to add personnel with completely different skill sets, mentalities and viewpoints.

When we started our search for a new CFO three years ago one of our main questions was, “Do you like information technology?” and that was because I hated dealing with it and had no competency in that area.

You can’t be afraid to delegate; effective leaders give power away every day.

What’s the hardest lesson about leadership you’ve learned?

Communication in any organization, but especially a growing organization, is really challenging. I know for me that when I started taking on more leadership responsibilities in my late 30s I thought I had good communication skills and now that I am in my 50s I see how wrong I was. I still think about communication all of the time and wonder if we are doing enough.

The other piece that I have learned and try to help my team with is that certain things, especially those that relate to culture, need to be stated over and over and over again. It can seem redundant, but it is one of the ways to ensure your communication is getting through and you are building a consistent culture.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in leadership?

We start communicating our culture day one, right at our new-hire orientation. Even though we employ over 400 people nationwide, I still attend that meeting and deliver the culture message along with our director of human capital. We believe it is so important to start the communication, open dialogue and transparency as soon as possible.

I also really try to listen more and more as I take on more responsibility. In the earlier part of my career I was an OK listener, but often times I would interrupt. Not because I didn’t value that person’s opinion or perspective, but because I had something to say. Now I try to let my people fully go through their thought processes before I speak, I’m not always successful because I have a lot on my mind, but I am getting better!

Our success is due to our awesome executive team, not one person. Build a great team that believes in your vision and do not hesitate to let people go who are not contributing. Your A players do not want to work with C players.

My last bit of advice is that out of all of the leadership books I have read, “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, really fits my style and had a lot of advice that resonated with me. I re-read it every few years.

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