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Steve Hickman is a Director of Maintenance at Landtamers, a SunWorks partner company. Steve participated in Orion’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) to gain valuable management training experience and to hone his skills as a leader.

How did you get to your current position at Landtamers?

I’m a Texas kid who doesn’t mind mowing the grass, and Tucson’s a nature-loving city where people really care about if you’re taking care of the landscape in the right way. When I joined Landtamers, I knew I wanted to work my way up to the office eventually – I had previous experiences in sales and restaurant management – but I also like working outside, and I love that the artistic side of me gets to come out in landscaping. I wanted to combine this with my business experience by working my way up the ladder here.

So, I volunteered for everything. Anytime the team needed some extra help, I would say, “Yeah, no problem. I got it.” On my first day here, for example, I didn’t even do landscaping (they had me fixing a leak on the property). But that didn’t matter; I was just focused on being the most hard-working person here.

When an account manager left, they pulled me up to his position. At the time, I was definitely a latecomer to the field compared to the rest of the crew, since most of them have been doing landscaping since they were kids. But because I had sales experience, I was already used to talking with customers. And after the LDP, I was also put in charge of billing as a Lead Account Manager.

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What were you expecting from the LDP?

I was really nervous at first. I figured out, after a while, that I had major imposter syndrome. On the night before the first in-person event, I actually sat down next to two people who were in the program with me, but I didn’t say a word to them. The next day, they came up to me, jokingly asking why I didn’t say anything to them. And it was because I truly didn’t think I was supposed to be there. It seemed like most people in the program were just a bit better somehow, more educated than me or more experienced. I found out later that that was all in my own head.

On that first day in-person with the whole group, I had never felt so shy before. Usually, I’ll walk into a room and own it quick, but that day, I felt like some freshman starting high school. I felt nerves I haven’t felt in a long time. Even at the airport, traveling to the event, I felt nervous. I hadn’t done any of the ride apps before, where you pull out your phone, and all of a sudden, some Prius pulls up on the side of the road, and you’re supposed to jump in. It was all new to me.

A lot of the other people in the program helped me feel comfortable. All I needed was a couple of hours before I started realizing that the ideas I had in my head were wrong, that everybody was there for similar reasons, and that we were all trying to improve ourselves.

My triad definitely helped, too: right away, I had two people who I knew in the program, and they me feel comfortable. I still love my triad. Whenever I’m having a bad day, I just text them and ask, “Can I call you?”

What made the LDP effective to you?

Everyone in the program wanted you to tell your deepest feelings. They really pushed for it, and they let you know you were okay if you cried. If the program was generic and didn’t push for the deeper issues, I don’t think it would have worked out as well. I don’t usually tell my story, so having a room full of people know so much about me was a new experience. And the facilitators – it seemed like I could tell them literally anything right off the bat. You can see that they’re genuine people right when you meet them.

It’s also been helpful to learn about different personality types and to know that people are going to lean toward different areas. This doesn’t mean you can’t adjust yourself and mesh well with others. A long time ago, I wouldn’t have tried to understand people who have more passive tendencies, because I don’t naturally relate to them, but the program has helped me learn a lot in terms of how to empathize with others.

 

How has the LDP changed your approach to leadership?

As a part of the program, we get feedback from the people we work with, and I initially thought I would have horrible results. My opinion of myself was so off compared to everyone else’s, and that was a big eye opener. I learned that I’m a little too hard on myself. Back in the day, I didn’t really put myself out there a lot. This program helped me come back to myself and be more appreciative.

Now, one of my big goals here is to be more approachable: I try to smile more and say hi to my crew to the point where they don’t think twice about asking me for help. I think before the program, my team members were worried that I might react angrily if they approached me with a problem. Now, we have a different relationship, and I’m realizing that they count on me as a leader.

The way I diffuse situations has changed a lot after the program as well. In construction and landscaping, sometimes you’ll run into people who have been working all day and who get frustrated, so I’ve had to deescalate a few situations by taking that amped up energy and bringing it down to the point where we can figure things out together.

We have such a great group of guys here, and I try to know everyone on the team. We like to promote from within as much as possible because we heavily train our crew on proper pruning and really teach them how to take care of plant life. The program has helped me engage with the team and joke around with them more, which truly does benefit me in a management position. If your team sees you as a boss they enjoy talking to, and they trust you, they’re more likely to speak up if something’s wrong. Even if it’s an issue like their weeds getting out of control on a job, my team knows they can find me and say, “Steve, I need some help.” If they’re not able to do that, we could end up losing customer accounts, so I want my crew to trust me and to come up to any of us supervisors when they need help.

The program has even helped me in my personal life at home. My outlook has shifted a lot: I used to compartmentalize and bottle my problems up a lot, whereas now, I try to look at situations more optimistically. I joked around with my wife, telling her she could use the program as well, because I genuinely think you can use this program with anybody. It’s not just for those who want to get better at their jobs; the program helps you learn and grow as a person.

About the LDP

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.

About Orion

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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