Opportunity in All Its Forms
Mike Cahill is known in northeast Indiana for being one of the region’s best leaders—he holds executive positions with flagship companies in the area, including CBRE, Physicians Health Plan, Tower Financial (now Old National), and presently building Ruoff Home Mortgage Banking Services division.
“Opportunities come from two things—tremendous growth or crisis.”
He has had a “C” in his title since 1987 (nearly his entire professional career) and he has spent less than a decade with each of these aforementioned companies, yet still achieved leadership roles in his time there. His name came up multiple times in passing in conversations I had with other northeast Indiana leaders, and, from that, I realized I had to meet him.
Mike graciously spent a couple of hours with me at Panera Bread—in short, I left our meeting both educated and inspired.
“Energy Trumps Age”
Mike has led many individuals and teams in a number of organizations—he doesn’t care how old someone is, he cares about how much energy they possess.
Throughout our conversation, he continuously circled back to the fact that a substantial percentage of people he hired at Tower Bank have since moved into upper management positions with other companies over the years. To put that into context, individuals he once hired as bank tellers are now CFOs of other companies.
Mike takes great pride in an employee’s career arc. When asked what the most important decisions are that a leader must make within an organization, Mike responded, “First and foremost, who do we hire, develop, and promote? Those decisions are critical, no matter what. Next is articulating—in simple, but descriptive terms—the vision for the company and our strategy to get there.”
It’s one thing to hire the right person, but how do you get them to understand the culture?
“You cannot shortchange the onboarding process,” Mike said. “That meeting in the first week with the CEO sets the stage—however, the entire onboarding process needs to be mapped out and reinforced over a period of time.” Mike also explained that an organization has to allow a certain openness in the onboarding stage and beyond. There has to be an ability for new hires to indicate what the company can do better to facilitate future growth in ways that benefit everyone involved.
“You have to capture the heart if you plan on capturing the mind. You have to paint the vision and reinforce it. Be respected—if you are liked that is a plus, but not the goal. At the same time, show you are human. The strongest people I know show their vulnerability.”
Mike also explained the importance of having a stated mission and values, along with clear definitions of those values with the intention of those being repeated and referenced regularly. “Even more important [than their use] is the admission of when we did not live up to our mission and values. A lot of this starts the day someone is hired.”
The Art of Letting Go
My interview with Mike was more a conversation than an interview—he was asking me just as many questions as I was asking him.
That being said, when I asked him what characteristic every leader should possess, it didn’t surprise me that his response was active listening. “There are tons of great traits to possess,” Mike said, “but everyone wants to be heard—many times, you have to listen hard to truly hear what is being said.“
In that case, if active listening is a trait every leader should possess, which quality has the ability to derail a leader’s career? Mike had an immediate answer for that, too. “Control. I have seen many a leader hold back the growth of a company because they want to control everything. They fear bringing in people better than they are and trusting them to move [forward] without them.”
“There may be few successful entrepreneurs, but of that group, there are even fewer people who can allow their companies to grow exponentially because they have to bring in better and better people, and trust them.”
With 30+ years’ worth of experience in leadership, what more can a leader do to grow and continue to develop in their position? In Mike’s mind, there is no end point to becoming a leader and sustaining your role in your team or organization, regardless of industry or age.
“I realize it’s a journey, and I continue to put myself into situations with other leaders above and beyond my level of experience,” Mike said. “There’s always a lot to learn. There is a quote by Charlie Munger [partner with Warren Buffet] that goes, ‘In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time—none, zero’.”
Mike is now in a position where he is not fixing or enhancing a company, but is instead building something completely from scratch—this new endeavor is Ruoff Home Mortgage Banking Services. His wife asked him one simple question before he made the leap from PHP to his next chapter with Ruoff—“What if you suck this time?”
We both had a good laugh at that notion, and Mike simply shrugged. Only time will tell, but if I were a betting man, I’d bet on Mike Cahill and his leadership without hesitation.
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