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Given the lingering effects of the pandemic, the worker shortage and supply chain disruptions, many businesses currently are facing an array of unprecedented challenges. However, in spite of those external influences, some local leaders say they’re looking internally as they adjust their leadership styles to better adapt to the needs of their employees.

“I start with the basic supposition that leadership methods and skills evolve all the time. What worked for my dad didn’t work [for me]. And then what worked for me 25 years ago doesn’t work for me today,” says Bart Zino, vice president of Naples-based PBS Contractors. “As new people come into the workforce, they’re bringing their own demographics with them, their own normal, natural biases, whether they’re familial, cultural [or] peer group-oriented. So, leadership has to constantly evolve … to respond to who you’re trying to lead. So once you get past that and you realize that it’s an evolution, you’ve got to read, you’ve got to educate yourself and you’ve got to stay current, because most of these articles are written for the generation that is in front of them today.”

While generational shifts in the workforce may be compelling business leaders to evolve, establishing an ideal workplace culture—especially in the age of work-from-home and hybrid offices—is also an important component of modern leadership, said Brandon Box, president of Cogent Bank’s Southwest Florida market.

“I feel like culture is huge,” Box says. “If you go back to a sports analogy, teams win championships. And so, when you sort of lose that team attitude and team environment, I think it impacts a business’ reputation, results and market share. I think it’s very difficult to create and maintain a culture when you’re working remotely, unless you make it more of a defined and specific effort to bring the team together. But at the end of the day, people still have to interact with people pretty steadily to have the culture rub off on one another. And that can be difficult if you’re not working next to one another.”

Just as technology allowed the pivot to remote work during the pandemic, it may also be making it more difficult for employers to find and hire qualified candidates now as many workers are reassessing how and where they work. And that challenge, Box said, is requiring business leaders to not only change their workplace culture, but modify how their employees work, as well.

“There are a lot of opportunities for young people to be entrepreneurial today,” he says. “But it is a challenge (for employers), because folks have more of an option than just going the corporate route. I think the key is, how do you leverage their entrepreneurial desire into a corporate environment? Now, if you have a better [or] different way to do something, those are things where we want to capture that sort of entrepreneurial thought process and empower people. But at the same time, (we also want to) kind of give them the opportunities and some of the benefits that go along with being part of a bigger organization.”

Ultimately, whether the leadership trends focus on evolving for a changing workforce or creating more entrepreneurial opportunities in the workplace, both Box and Zino agree on one common denominator. That is, regardless of whatever external influences might be in play, effective leadership will always require the ability to connect with the people you lead. And to do that, Zino said, it’s incumbent upon the leader to be flexible enough to focus on the needs of his or her employees.

“Leadership isn’t about taking charge, and it’s not about dominating,” Zino says. “I’ve learned … the value of emotional intelligence (EQ) as a leader. You’ve got to know your people. You have to have a finger on the pulse of who they are. Leadership is actually, in many ways, counterintuitive. You’ve got to get away from what motivates you. You’ve got to get away sometimes from what works for you to what works for them. And then that gets us back to emotional intelligence and being in touch with your people. It still comes down to people, always.”

Educating students, empowering leaders

Florida Gulf Coast University President Michael Martin credits much of the school’s growth to his predecessors. But he’s also learned a few things about leadership in his 50-year career in education.

For me, you’ve got to start with a fundamental philosophy. When you’re going to lead the institution, where are you going to take it? The next part of that is, excellence is a journey, not a destination. So, if you believe that fundamental principle, then every day you come to work (and) your leadership is about making the institution better at doing its fundamental responsibility. And you let that be widely known, so no one has to guess what the point is.

I believe my responsibility … is to let the outstanding people that you have demonstrate how outstanding they can be on behalf of the institution. You look around at some of the things that have happened here; I think they’ve happened because the entire administration understands that that’s what we do.

A leader is a servant, never forget that. You’re a means to an end. Not the end. So I always tell people, if you’re coming here for the sake of being held in high esteem, if you’re coming here for a big office, if you’re coming here for a reserved parking place, you miss the point. The point is, great leadership serves others through the process of being a leader.

—Michael Martin

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