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Houston expert weighs in on how to identify the right transformational leader

Hiring an executive at a pivotal time — specifically amid The Great Resignation — can be overwhelming. This Houstonian has tips from her decades in the business. Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

In my 20 years of working in executive search, I’m not sure there has ever been a tougher time to be a leader, whether that’s running a big company or being in charge of a small team. I don’t have to tell you that chronic stressors are impacting employee engagement and wellbeing, and have been for a few years.

Transformational Leadership is not just about leading high-growth companies; it’s about leading through change, and driving change when it’s needed. Right now, the Transformational Leadership that’s needed is directly tied to the pandemic, returning to work, and now “The Great Resignation and Reckoning.” Transformational Leaders must foster a culture where workers WANT to be loyal and want to help the company succeed.

How do you identify leaders who will create the conditions for which employees are rightfully asking, and who will encourage resilience, both personally and professionally?

Here are some of the attributes Sudduth Search seeks when hiring Transformational Leaders:

Collaboration in the conversation. Even in an interview, if the person is not listening as much as they are talking, or is even talking over the interviewer, it’s a red flag. Possessing enough social awareness to know when it’s time to talk is critical for effective leaders.

Leaders who display openness and humility. Leaders who convey that they are “all knowing” no matter how obvious it is that no one has all the answers is a risky hire. Be on the lookout for candidates who admit when they don’t know things and talk about how they solved the situation regardless.

Courageous leaders who prioritize ethics and principles. Good leaders are trusted and respected for the decisions they make when they prioritize ethics. Ask them about difficult situations they’ve been in, and how they prioritized their beliefs.

Transformational Leaders are healthy and happy. I’m not going to tell you that every leader is healthy and happy 100% of the time, but strong leaders have high emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and an ability to step outside of themselves and self-regulate.

Intellectual bravery. Transformational Leaders disagree or challenge the status quo in a proactive way. They might challenge something that has been said in a setting where everyone just accepts the statement as a given or they might state something that isn’t popular. Transformational Leaders spur this kind of communication, they encourage employees to think outside of the box, and they dare to be wrong. Bureaucracy hinders creativity. Transformational Leaders set the tone and decide the norms.

They encourage difficult, but important conversations. Transformational Leaders encourage people to think beyond their roles, and think about the company as a whole. These kinds of leaders include employees in important conversations, they admit when they don’t know something, and they are not afraid to ask for feedback.

Authenticity. As mental health experts warned it would, the pandemic is triggering a loneliness epidemic. But even though most everyone is online, working more than they are maintaining active social lives, they feel equally isolated in their professional lives. Employees miss the camaraderie of the office. Celebrations, light hearted get togethers, spontaneous lunches with the whole team. What’s more, they miss feeling connected and having colleagues know where they’re at. Transformational Leaders haven’t been shy to implement alternatives, and they won’t forget to bring back team outings and office lore when it’s safe to do so.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when hiring leaders is cultural fit, which means you can work with them, you feel comfortable communicating with them, and you are aligned on ethics and values. Dig into any question marks or topic where you might be misaligned.

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Jen Sudduth is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

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Building Houston

 
 

With this new joint effort, Syzygy is one step closer to commercial scale of its decarbonization technology. Photo courtesy of Syzygy

A Houston tech company has joined forces with a nonprofit to test a new sustainable fuel production process.

The project is a joint effort from Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics and nonprofit research institute RTI International and sponsored by Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. Based in the RTI facility in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, the six-month pilot is testing a way to convert two potent greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) — into low-carbon-intensity fuels, which have the potential to replace petroleum-based jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

"This demonstration will be the first of its kind and represents a disruptive step in carbon utilization. The sustainable fuels produced are expected to quickly achieve cost parity with today's fossil fuels," says Syzygy CEO Trevor Best in a news release. "Integrating our technology with RTI's Fischer-Tropsch synthesis system has the potential to significantly reduce the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation without requiring major fleet modifications."

According to Syzygy, the pilot is a step toward being able to scale the process to a commercial-ready Syzygy e-fuels plant.

"By making minor adjustments in the process, we also expect to produce sustainable methanol using the same technology," Best continues.

An independent research institute, RTI International's focus is on improving the human condition. The multidisciplinary nonprofit seeks to support science-based solutions like Syzygy's technology, which has already proven its scale-up capabilities in earlier testing.

Through the partnership, RTI will assist Syzygy with process design and systems integration for the pilot-scale demonstration. Once it reaches commercial scale, the technology is expected to turn millions of tons of CO2 per year to produce sustainable fuels.

"We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Syzygy to test and assist in the scale-up of this promising technology," says Sameer Parvathikar, Ph.D., the director of the Renewable Energy and Energy Storage program in RTI's Technology Advancement and Commercialization business unit. "This work aligns with our capabilities, our goals of helping de-risk and commercialize novel technologies, and our vision to address the world's most critical problems with science-based solutions."

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