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TOP PLACES TO WORK | EXECUTIVE ROUNDTABLE

The soul of a leader

Three top executives who all inspire loyalty among employees reveal their personal goals, leadership methods — and deepest fears

To be one of the Globe’s Top Places to Work, an organization’s employees must believe the people at the top know what they’re doing and care about providing a rewarding work experience. Anthony Consigli of Consigli Construction Co., Kathleen “Kit’’ Tunney of Associates for Human Services, and Herb Chambers of Herb Chambers Cos. all run organizations that ranked high in our survey for employee faith that the organization is in good hands. Top Places editor Michael Warshaw asked them what good leaders do.

Globe: Anthony, what does it mean to you that your name is on the company?

Consigli: It might make the accountability that much greater. But I don’t think that it is the end all, be all. The reason the name is important is because I have three generations preceding me. If I screw up, I feel like I let somebody down.

Globe: Herb, what about your name on your company?

Chambers: Well, I think it is different for me because I was the guy that started the company. I think that the pressure on you, Anthony, is five times greater than it is on me.

The company I have today is not what I envisioned 20, 25 years ago. At the time I sold my first company, I was 38 years old. I said, ‘What am I going to do now?’ and I went down to buy a car, and instead of buying the car, I bought the dealership.

Tunney: That is a great story.

Chambers: I realized how bad that particular dealership was. It just looked like the guy wanted to get out of it. I bought it right on the spot.

In the automobile business, you don’t necessarily have to be great. You have to be good. If you are good, you are great. Because most people say they hate car dealers.

We don’t build cars. They roll in, and we have to find a home for them. Our people are so important because the product is unimportant. If you like Honda, you’re going to buy a Honda whether you buy it from me or somebody else. The question becomes: Can we fulfill the need of delivering that car to the customer better than somebody else can?

I hold a training meeting once a month, and we have 300 or 400 people there for breakfast, our whole sales organization. Salespeople have got to be kind of cheered up all the time, because they have a tendency to fall down. Technicians are a kind of a different breed. They have a different level of motivation than salespeople do.

Globe: Do you speak to each group differently?

Chambers: I do. When I am in the dealerships, I talk to the guys and ask, ‘How is everything with the shop? Anything we can do for you?’

All of our shops are now air conditioned. That came out of one of the comments I got from one of the guys.

Globe: Kit, you came up differently, from being a staffer.

Tunney: I fell in love with the work that we do — with the staff that I was working with. And over time, wanted to make some changes there, took some courses to get a little bit of credentials in management. And happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Globe: How did the experience of being a staff member affect your leadership?

Tunney: Having been there and done that makes me more approachable. I try to involve them in problem solving and decision making, because that was important to me when I felt like I didn’t have that voice.

I go out to a group home and say to the staff, ‘How’s it going?’ and I stop to listen to the answer. But I also provide formal opportunities for them to participate in focus groups and surveys to tell me how good of a job we are doing.

Globe: Tell us something that surprised you that came out of that.

Tunney: Lack of natural light. We had staff in cubbies with no windows. When I decided to build our building, and we interviewed staff to ask them what they wanted, what I heard was: light. Now our building has windows right across the top. It is all one level. And there are suites set off at angles, so it doesn’t look like a motel.

Globe: Anthony, what are you looking for when you tour your construction sites?

Consigli: I am looking for them to talk to me like I am a normal person, vs. a company president. I think there are some incredibly smart people out there that are building these buildings. They are equally important to this deal as I am. I don’t think they understand that sometimes.

Globe: Kit, how important is the staff dedication to your mission?

Tunney: It is essential. You train, train, train. I don’t have a breakfast every month for 400 people, but it is the same thing. You’ve got to find out what their needs are, and you have to meet those needs. If I have a staff that didn’t do a good job because I didn’t provide the opportunity to gain the skills that they need, then I am the one at fault.

For instance, if you have an individual that lives in a group home, in a wheelchair, and then is maybe visually impaired, you need to provide training for that particular staff. How do you present a meal to someone that is visually impaired? How do you get them to a table if they are in a wheelchair? So you really have to be very thorough putting together orientation for staff. And follow up, follow up, follow up.

Chambers: In the automobile business, I am embarrassed to say how simple it is. The manufacturer provides you with information on all of the technicians, all the salespeople, the individual dealerships, how they all perform. We know where the problems are.

Globe: Herb, you bought that dealership, it seems, almost on impulse.

Tunney: That is confidence, and I admire that.

Chambers: I don’t think I am smarter than anybody else. On the same token, I don’t think I am a lot dumber than anybody else. Believe me, I live on fear. I am always worried about everything all the time.

Globe: Fear of what?

Chambers: Fear of failing in anything. I don’t want to fail.

Globe: Kit, do you have fear?

Tunney: We’re federally and state funded. I am always wondering whether or not our contracts are going to get cut. And they do. Then I need to figure out, ‘How am I going to do more with less?’ I am always afraid it’s going to get cut so much that I am going to have to look at laying off staff.

Globe: Anthony, is fear a motivator?

Consigli: Fear and regret. I stay up all night thinking about the things that could go wrong. Construction is a dangerous business. People die, and I am fearful of that. Quality problems, reputation — all those things.

I would say regret is equal. I hate thinking that I am going to regret decisions I made or didn’t make 10 years out, 30 years out.

Globe: How do you avoid it?

Consigli: Thinking a lot about it. The greatest regret would be tanking a company that has been around for 105 years. I think that fear and hard work hold off that danger of making a decision that you’ll regret.

Do you screw up? Yeah. Everybody screws up. But you man up, you admit it, and you move on. If there are three things that I aspire to, they are humility, empathy, and accountability — just doing what you said you were going to do. I think that if I can do that more often than not, generally speaking, things will go well.

Tunney: If people have a healthy work ethic, they want to come to work and they want to be respected for what they do. And they want to do their best and they want to be rewarded for that. They want to have decent pay checks. And that is what we try to do.

Consigli: If we are the people behind our organizations who are responsible for that, we need to be doing the proper planning and working hard to make sure we’re putting things in place for that to happen for people.

Chambers: Everybody likes to believe they have good integrity. They all like to believe that they work hard. Who is going to set the pace of the organization? The pace of the organization is the speed of the leader, right? They look at you and say, ‘He really puts his heart and soul into everything that he does, or she does.’ So what are you doing to do? You’re going to put your heart and soul into it.

Consigli: The day that I stop doing that is the day I have to get out and let someone else take over. I have seen so many organizations where that doesn’t happen. If I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I want the organization to keep going just like nothing happened. That’s success. 

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