Mike Swartz is the President of ColoradoScapes, a landscaping partner company. Mike participated in Orion's six-month Leadership Development Program (LDP) to gain valuable management training experience and to hone his skills as a leader.
I started back in April as an Account Manager. My previous two careers were in a music business and then property management, so I don’t have a landscaping background. Our leadership’s thought process was to give me a year to get my feet wet and understand the day-to-day, and then I’d come off the bench.
Two months later, in early May, they approached me with a General Manager position opening in one of our branches, saying, “We know we said we were going to give you a year, but how about 30 days instead? Would you take over?” So as of June, I was a Branch Manager.
And then in August, Nate Carlson, the Landscaping CEO, told me our current president was relocating, and he asked if I would step into that role. At which point, I asked, “Nate, is this just how you do things?”
The biggest thing for me was a lack of confidence. I was suffering from impostor syndrome. That feeling deep in my gut was part of why I got so excited about the LDP.
Through the program, I realized this had a lot to do with my past experiences. My bosses have always been subject matter experts, so my natural perspective was that people were going to wonder why I was the boss. The LDP helped me realize that the skills I bring to the table are valuable leadership skills in terms of managing and motivating people. I was just selling myself short.
I’ve worked for companies where you go on a two-day retreat, some trainer comes in, and you do fun exercises. And you feel like you get something out of it. Then you go back to the real world and forget all about it. Maybe you get a new book on your shelf from it. This was a six-month program interspersed with our normal jobs, and that allowed us to practice and incorporate the skills we were learning in the program in real time.
The program was also effective because of how introspective it made all of us. I had no idea how much of the LDP was going to be about looking inside myself to figure out exactly who I am, what my core values are, and what kind of effect I have on people. What the effect is on my team when I walk into the office not feeling confident in myself – that’s the kind of introspective work we were doing. It was incredibly enlightening.
To be able to take a room full of people from all different walks of life, who probably have all different kinds of perspectives, and to be able to get through to those people, that was phenomenal. I don’t think there was one person in our group who wasn’t affected by this program. There are opportunities to take what we’ve learned and instill it in every level of our organization. For me, it’s making sure that I prioritize mentoring and coaching. It’s giving everybody the time to have a true check-in, or a coaching conversation if they're interested, in order to really nurture them and foster growth.
I know I’m already a more effective leader. But I’m also a better husband and a better father. That’s the good Orion is doing, not just for the companies they have invested in but for the greater community. The ripple effect we will have not only as we impart what we’ve learned to others, but also as we use these skills to better engage with people – that’s one of the things I’m most grateful for. As much as this is going to serve me as a business leader, it’s serving me as a leader in my personal life, too, in a way I did not expect.
In landscaping, there’s a lot of negativity surrounding private equity. My branch manager actually came from a company that folded because of private equity. When I first spoke with him about coming to work here, and I mentioned Orion, you could see his expression change. The LDP is one of the things that convinced him Orion is not like the private equity firms he had experienced.
You don’t put in this kind of time and money into a program if all you’re trying to do is clean up some distressed business and flip it. After going through the LDP, I understand the commitment Orion has to people development. The message was loud and clear that this is what matters to Orion.
The LDP is a recurring six-month program for high performers to develop the leadership skills needed to take on more responsibility in our partner companies. The program pairs skill development workshops with peer triads.
Orion is building national platforms in the mechanical service, commercial landscaping and facilities maintenance sectors by creating unmatched growth opportunities for businesses with strong teams and cultures.
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