When Travis Greenwood was nineteen, he learned a meaningful leadership lesson he still applies today as a small business owner.
Travis was a sophomore in college, working as an intern at an association management firm. Each day, after work, he’d catch a bus to get back to his college campus.
On one particular day, Skip, Vice President of the company, approached Travis right as he was about to leave.
“Greenwood,” he shouted, calling Travis by his last name, as he always did.
“Greenwood, come back here! Where ya going?”
Travis explained he was heading back to campus to make it to class. He said he would be back to work the following Tuesday. “Unless you need me here at a different time,” said Travis.
“No, no, that’s fine,” Skip said. “Listen, I need you to do me a favor.”
“Okay,” replied Travis. “What?”
“I need four or five resumes from some of your friends who may want to be an intern here.”
Travis said he could do it.
“But just one thing,” said Skip. “Make sure that they are smarter than me.”
Travis, a bit confused, said, “Sir—I don’t understand.”
“I want people that are smarter than me. It makes me look good, and it makes this place grow,” explained Skip.
Travis didn’t know it at the time, but he would eventually become part of the second-generation leadership at The Greentree Group, a strategic and technology consulting firm that provides performance-based IT, financial, and program management solutions. The company was founded in 1993 by Travis’ father, Samuel Greenwood.
Travis is now President & CEO.
Headquartered in Beavercreek, Ohio, the family owned business is now on its third generation of leadership and has grown to 110 employees.
“I’ll never, ever forget that interaction from my first internship,” says Travis. “Today I still believe in hiring people smarter than you to advance the company,” he says.
Here are a few of the other ways Travis is an exceptional leader—and how you can be, too.
See Mistakes as Learning Opportunities
About 12 years ago, team members made the decision to get into selling high-end hardware. But the result wasn’t what they had planned for.
“We failed miserably,” says Travis.
“Not because we didn’t try, and not because we didn’t have good people. This was because we were selling hardware to customers instead of focusing on their business first, and what they truly needed for their business.”
That decision to start selling hardware wasn’t congruent with The Greentree Group’s core values, says Travis. (Their core values include ethics and integrity; client focus; client partnering; and employee welfare.)
The mistake showed just how much every single decision has to consciously be measured against the company’s value system.
But the lesson was valuable, and it’s helped Travis grow as a leader and it’s positively influenced the company culture. “Now we say, ‘Let’s make sure we understand anything that we start doing, anything we continue to do, and any decisions that we make.’ We want to be sure those values are upheld with those decisions.”
“If you don’t have your values, you don’t know who you are. Those values drive everything for us as a company today,” adds Travis.
Become a People-Oriented Leader
“All of this is based on supporting and treating people the way we want to be treated at work, and making sure that they’re inspired to do great things for our clients,” says Travis.
In a recent meeting, Travis, an HR manager, and emerging leaders came together to plan for the company’s 25th celebration.
As part of the brainstorming session, the younger team members were coming up with fresh, creative ideas. “They were helping us to go against the, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way’ mentality,’” says Travis.
“Those ideas wouldn’t have been my ideas, but I can see why so many people in the company would embrace those new ideas that were shared.”
The ideas that were pitched aligned with the company’s core values, so they passed the test. Travis was thrilled to see the emerging leaders contributing and adding to the company culture.
See People As the Source of Solutions
Another way Travis helps to uphold the values of the company is when someone asks him for advice. Many times, he takes that as an opportunity to empower that person, rather than try to solve the problem for them.
After being approached with a problem, Travis will simply reply with, “So, what are you going to do?”
Team members may at first be surprised, but they eventually understand he’s showing his trust in their decision-making.
“I might also ask questions such as, ‘Are you doing the right thing for the client? Are we supporting our values?’ Sometimes it’s a check and balance, where they [just] want to be heard. Other times, it helps to show [we trust them to problem-solve].”
“Sometimes people need to be inspired, and empowered to make our business rattle and hum,” adds Travis. “They have to be empowered, and if they’re not empowered, then we’ll sink.”
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A version of this post originally appeared on Forbes.com.