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Welcome dissent from everyone

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Every year, engineering firm Burns & McDonnell holds its Principals Day, an opportunity for the CEO of the 120-year-old company to recognize top employees.

Greg Graves, 59, loves the event. (He recently retired after 13 years at the helm.) Under his leadership, the Kansas City, Mo.-based firm grew from $387 million in sales to around $2.8 billion in 2016—and head count soared from 1,500 employees to over 5,700.

At Principals Day, a group of rising stars mingle with the CEO, network with each other and hear prominent guest speakers. Prior to last year’s gathering, 140 nominees sought to qualify. Graves and his leadership team selected just 14 of those employees to attend.

The highlight of the event occurs in the afternoon, when the CEO presents a specific business problem to the employees and gives them one hour to come up with five potential solutions. “There are no bad ideas,” Graves assures them.

Given his reputation as an attentive listener, Graves encourages presenters to challenge the status quo. They know he won’t judge them harshly for proposing bold, against-the-grain ideas.

“Those people have to have courage and honesty to come before you and say, ‘Yes, Greg. Here are five ideas on how to fix this problem, and three of them are contrary to your current policy’,” he says.

For Graves, leadership means letting employees talk first. Only after he has digested their comments—and posed clarifying questions—does he raise his concerns and perhaps offer his opinion.

— Adapted from “Greg Graves on leadership, STEM, and the recipe for success,” Krista Klaus, www.metrowiremedia.com.

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