Environmental engineer talks leadership

On March 30, Bart Leininger, founder, principal engineer, and chief financial officer of Ashworth Leininger Group (ALG), an environmental engineering and consulting firm, spoke to students about the essence of leadership.

Leininger, a BYU alum, spoke about the three V’s of leadership: Values, vision, and voice. He began by explaining that he helps “save the birds and the bunnies” at ALG by helping other companies comply with environmental laws, so they can minimize their impact to human health and the environment. He also spoke of his partner, Ev Ashworth and how their talents complement each other and with that they’ve been able to build a successful business.

Before getting into the three Vs, he explained what leadership is and what it is not.

“We all have this kind of romantic notion that a leader is the person who makes the big decision in a meeting, the person who leads a company of thousands of people,” he said. “Leadership is not about the title you hold. It’s about the person that you are. A title is absolutely meaningless.”

He then added that students need to see themselves as leaders.

“You’re going to be given lots of opportunities to lead and I would hope each one of you would rise to the occasion and ask yourself this question, ‘How am I doing serving others?’ That’s what leadership truly is, it’s about serving other people,” he said.

The first V of leadership stood for  “values” because a leader must have strong values, and moral and ethical standards. He likened values to a lighthouse in a stormy sea. The stormy sea represents life as we know it and the lighthouse represents the values that mean the most to us like honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness, and a strong work ethic.

“We live in fog a lot of times in our lives, so what can you rely upon when you’re in one of those fogs?” he asked. “I’d argue look to your values and principles to guide you.”

He also urged students not to compartmentalize their life. He said to look at the whole picture and live as a whole person. With that, he said you have to be willing to tell people the truth and shared one of his favorite quotes to go along with that point.

“‘Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have the right to do and what is right to do,’ and it’s my hope that each one of you don’t look at life from a legalistic view in terms of your rights, but look at it from the standpoint of what is the right thing to do,” he said.

He then told students to ask themselves “are your choices aligned with your values?” He said they won’t always be, but when they are not you try and make it right the next time because people are not perfect.

The second V of leadership is “vision.” Each person has a vision in terms of the type of person they are going to be someday, but that there is more to it.

“A great leader is one that has a vision, and they can feel it and almost taste it in terms of what it’s supposed to be and that creates a motivating force….You set goals and you work towards those goals,” he said.

Another important factor in having a vision is to know how to communicate it to others because it’s no use if you can’t explain it to others.

“There is nothing stronger in this entire world than when you have a shared vision, in terms of where you want to go as an organization.”

Voice is the last V of leadership Leininger shared. An exceptional leader gives voice to other people because so much can be accomplished with the help of others. He warned students to stay humble and to be willing to listen to the unpopular voice.

“I love this quote… ‘Listening has the quality of the wizard’s alchemy. It has the power to melt armor and to produce beauty in the midst of hatred,’” he shared. “I hope each one of us would do a better job listening to people. There is real power in listening.”

He warned against singlemindedness, which comes from surrounding yourself with people that only say yes. The critical thinking that is essential to life doesn’t happen in those kinds of environments. He also said it’s okay to disagree with others, but to not be disagreeable because we all have a common goal to help things better for people.

Leininger used the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster as a case study of making bad decisions after not listening. He then personalized it for the students.

”It’s really easy to look at a disaster like that and think ‘look at all the bad decisions that were ever made.’ I want to turn it around a little bit on each of you,” he said.  “Think about how it would apply to you as a person. How have you compromised your values?”

He ended by giving students three critical questions to ask themselves through life.

  1. Am I making critical compromises to my values or vision?
  2. Am I ignoring the wise counsel of others?
  3. How will I lead when I present a difficult or unpopular decision?

“If you can adopt those three principles, I can guarantee you will be successful and you will look back upon your leadership fondly and say ‘you know, I did it right. I was ethical, I had the right vision, and I didn’t do it by myself.’“

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