Héctor Colón: Leadership from listening and lessons from boxing│Ep. 30


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When Héctor Colón came to Luther Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan, the organization had missed its budget in eight of the last 10 years and lost $10 million over that time period.

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In his first budget as chief executive officer of the organization, Colón budgeted for a $500,000 loss. LLS came in ahead by more than $600,000. The next year he planned to break even and LLS posted a $2.4 million surplus. The organization is planning to be $850,000 ahead in its latest budget.

Colón credits the vision he and LLS staff developed together when he took the top job. He asked all 850 of LLS’ staff what the organization’s biggest challenges were, why it faced them, what the biggest opportunities were, how to leverage those opportunities and what they would do if they were in his position.

“Not every single idea is something you’re going to move forward with, but if you have a collaborative process and you involve others, you can get enough information to help you move forward in a direction,” Colón said on the latest episode of the BizTimes MKE Podcast with Beth Ridley of The Brimful Life.

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Colón discussed his approach to servant leadership, lessons learned in previous jobs, his boxing career and how he spends his time.

Colón noted that when he took over as executive director of Milwaukee County Health and Human Services there was a lot of external scrutiny on the department. That scrutiny led him to act with a sense of urgency in setting a new mission and direction.

“I started quickly realizing that I didn’t have followers and people weren’t listening,” he said, adding that he eventually changed course and took an approach that solicited ideas from others “I lost a good 6 months, though, in my urgency to try to create change.”

That experienced helped fuel his question asking approach when he took the top job at Lutheran Social Services. It has also informed his leadership style, all the way down to how he handles meetings.

“Honestly, my style is I talk very little,” he said, describing 10 to 15 minutes of talking from him in a 2-hour leadership meeting as too much. “I like to bring out the best in people by allowing them to speak.”

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