Leadership style: How this entrepreneur learned to rely more on his employees for solutions
After restructuring Global Energy Services, CEO Rex Brigan’s next move was taking a hard look at his style of leadership.
Brigan’s IT services company had to get “real lean, real fast” after a downturn in Alberta’s oil and gas industry hurt revenues and cut the number of employees by about half to 14.
“I took on a lot here when we slimmed this company down,” he said from Calgary.
He had a choice to make. He could try to do everything and face a burnout, or change his leadership style.
Delegating some key decision making
Brigan first came to Global Energy Services as an employee 20 years ago and has done every job in the company.
“I was making most of the decisions. I wanted to do a better job of explaining what direction I thought the company should go, rather than executing my plan without my employees knowing what it was.”
He learned to let his employees take on more responsibility.
“I delegate the things that I can and at the same time I coach as they are going through the decision-making process.”
He says that his employees need to have enough freedom to potentially make mistakes and learn from them. With a decentralized leadership style, his employees have more autonomy to make decisions to control costs.
“Employees can see the invoices and they can see where the costs are instead of me just waiting for the invoices to come in and making cost-cutting decisions later.”
As a result of the change and a new accounting system, revenues are up and costs are being controlled, he said.
Putting the focus on customers
Global Energy Services rents and sells IT services such as portable towers, satellite communications and laptops, providing connectivity in remote areas of Canada’s oil and gas industry and in some regions of the United States. The company has a dozen employees in Alberta and two in Houston, Texas.
Brigan needed to get to the point where he could take a step back from trying to do everything and focus on the customers and the quality of service to grow his company.
“The service always has to be the best service that our clients or potential clients can experience. If it’s not that, we may get the work but we won’t keep it,” he says.
“If the service isn’t there, it doesn’t matter.”
He makes a point of focusing on the customers and putting their needs first.
“If I am busy dealing with operations and finance then I don’t get a chance to go and see any of the customers.”
From entrepreneur to leader
Brigan is far more open to solutions from his employees.
“I learned to let go of things and allow my employees to do their jobs,” he said.
“If I just cram it down everybody’s throats and they don’t have the opportunity to be involved in the solution, then they never bring me any solutions. Tell me what your problem is, as well as bringing me some solutions.”
Darrel Rolheiser, a BDC senior account manager, says his client learned to lead his employees through economic change and keep the company growing.
“I think Rex learned to be a leader in addition to being an entrepreneur,” says Rolheiser, who helped Brigan connect with a coach.
“His heart may be saying one thing as an entrepreneur, but he is using the skills he has been taught, which are to guide his employees and step back to let them find solutions to their problems,” Rolheiser said from Medicine Hat, Alta.
Brigan says an employee’s answer to a problem may not be the same as his, but they will find middle ground and go from there.
“For us, everybody really gets an equal say on what we’re doing because all decisions impact everybody.”
Trust is key
Brigan now refers to himself as more of “discusser” than he used to be.
“I trust people to make decisions on the company’s behalf because I’ve given them the coaching they need.”
He also says his employees know his vision for the company.
“The number one thing that I learned was communication with my employees, giving them the understanding of what we’re trying to do, where we’re trying to go.”
Brigan acknowledges that it isn’t enough to have passion and a great idea to keep making your company grow.
“You have to be able to build a stable business around a great idea and you need employees that you trust.”