Leadership & Genuine Vulnerability

Leadership journeys – the great ones – often involve some stumbles along the way to truly uncover what it will take to succeed. Listen in as AGS' Senior Vice President of Global Operations & Business Development Steve Schumacher shares how the foundations of trust and loyalty, combined with a realization about the importance of investing in relationship building and being vulnerable, have shaped his leadership story.

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F: Welcome to Subject to Talent, brought to you by Allegis Global Solutions. Similar to you, we're always trying to learn more. On this podcast, we speak to talent experts around the world, covering workforce management, market trends, technology on a forever evolving dynamic industry. Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us for another episode of Subject to Talent.  

My name is Frank Edge. Today, we're joined by AGS' Senior Vice president of Global Operations and Business Development, Steve Schumacher. Steve has more than 25 years of staffing and recruitment industry experience. He provides strategic guidance to our program leadership with a big focus on making sure that our customers are satisfied. A veteran of the Allegis group family of companies, Steve has held various positions within the organization, supporting recruitment, account management, sales and leadership functions. We are very excited to have him on the podcast today to speak about leadership. Welcome Steve. So Steve, to kick us off, would you mind telling us how you got into this industry? 

S: Yeah. It wasn't by immaculate design. I started university intending to be a doctor like my father. Realized very quickly through chem two, that that was not going to be the case and moved to study psychology at university. I was good friends with a group of guys at the fraternity at my college. They happened to be getting jobs at the time with this newer company called Aerotek. I'm still in college. I'm seeing my good buddies go off and begin to work in the world. Didn't even really know what they did, but they seemed to be doing well. They were dressing sharp. They were working hard. They really liked the people they work with. They were in a ... it seemed like really fast-growing industry that rewarded hard work and results. That was really attractive to me. I guess truth be told, I was way more intrigued with the people I saw to go to work for Aerotek. Their energy and their passion and their spirit and their competitive nature. Staffing just happened to be what we were doing. The draw for me was a fast-growing company, people who I looked up to and I was really attracted to. 

F: That's pretty cool. Again, I think we ask this question every time and it's never straightforward. People don't get here by design, just like you said. 

S: Yeah. I think the case now is people actually study and prepare to get into our industry and that wasn't the case 23 or 24 years ago, at least for me. I feel very fortunate. I wanted to be in sales and marketing and this just happened to be a great spot for me when it came up. It was funny. I'm a kid from North Carolina, which is in the south in the U.S., and I ended up getting hired to Miami, Florida. Not only was it a big change, I was dumped into a completely new world, very, very fast. Talk about being out of your comfort zone. I was quickly out of it and loved it. It was a really cool way to start my career. 

F: Nice. Miami. How was that? 

S: Are you kidding me? It was amazing. 

F: Yeah. 

S: I was 22 years old, 21 years old, working really hard. I'm in a brand new culture living at the beach, kid from North Carolina. I loved it. 

F: Sweet. That sounds so cool. Steve, to me, you're known as a leader, both at AGS and in the industry that we're in. Times like these especially, they require strong leadership so I want to talk to you about that. Can you define a good leader, and from your perspective, what sets good leaders apart from great leaders? 

S: I think the things that stood out when I'm being led and I wanted to incorporate into my leadership style were leading from the front. I admire so much those people who their attitude is, "I'm not just going to tell you or suggest or guide. I'm going to roll up my sleeves, and I'm going to get out there on the front lines with you or with your teams and we're going to be in the trenches together." I think that's an incredible way to not just speak, but to actually do. I'm attracted to movement. I'm attracted to action. I'm attracted those leaders who don't really demand from behind. They lead from the front. I think that serving others is certainly a cliché, but I think that's where trust is really, really built. I think the level of trust and relationship that's established, you can do things well beyond goals written on pieces of paper. You get more out of each other, not just at work, in life. I think it takes a lot of effort to do that, but I think when you just really serve and work to serve those you work with and on your team, amazing things can really happen, especially when times are tough, like we're in right now. I think especially early on, as I progressed through various leadership roles, I would probably more often than not, I'd wonder, "Gosh, why don't they think like I do on this, or why wouldn't they react like I do?"It's like you have this metamorphosis where early on, I just wanted, quite frankly, people who were exactly like I was, because it would've been a whole lot easier. Boy, is that a pretty immature leadership frame of mind, but my style is I learn very quick and do well. Then I can learn a little bit and I learn some things and then I move forward from there. Leaders who are consistent and provide good feedback and provide looking-forward feedback, I think is the most helpful thing that you can do. I think leadership and what I've experienced, and I have an executive coach who helps me with this as well, is we spend so much time saying, "Okay. Here's the scoreboard." Whatever it may be, your goals, your numbers, your initiatives. "Let's look backwards and figure out how you did and let's rank it according to that." Where, when you look at the research, all of it screams towards talk about moving forward, what's important, what someone can be great at, where their shortcomings may be, where there could be misalignment of their goals and aspirations. I think a leader who talks about yeah, certainly provides insights as to progress to date, but talks as much about moving forward, I think is much more powerful. Especially as someone gets a little more further along in their career. Lastly, the thing that I think people most enjoy talking to me about ... There's two things. One, I'm in a unique role in my company, so I actually have a lot of perspective. Our clients or our people like to ask me questions because I just happen to seen a lot of things. A lot of things work well. Seen a lot of things not work well. I represent a lot of knowledge, institutional knowledge that AGS has. I think people find that interesting. They find it helpful. I get much more reaction when I share with people my shortcomings and my failures or they very much relate to when I've really stubbed my toe and I've really fallen on my face or I've made the wrong decision and how I bounce back from it. I think leaders who are genuine in how they talk about themselves and their career, I think are way more impactful. I remember the first time someone was really vulnerable with me, I was blown away, because it was someone who I looked at and I thought was flawless. I wanted to be like them. I thought they were amazing and I valued all the things that they did well and everything they had garnered. What I learned from them is it was really hard and it wasn't a straight line to get there. There were a lot of learnings and lessons along the way. I remember saying, "Oh, I'm going to remember that." I think that's a good way that people respond to. I'm always blown away how people are much more in tune with my failures than my successes. I got to tell you, I still don't like talking about it, but the trick is it's equally healthy for me to talk about where I haven't done well, because it allows me to revisit that and learn and stay humble along the way. That's what I would say is important from a leadership standpoint in my experience. 

F: I really liked your final point about being your authentic self. I think that being here, I've been here a year now and seeing that driven from the top all about authenticity. Yeah. It really works so I totally agree with that one. 

S: You know, we're in a unique time though. It felt for a while like our teams and our staff, they would want to follow our leader. Right now, it does feel if you're a leader in any big organization, you darn well better be able to change your game up a little bit to serve the men and women who we're bringing to our company today. Like I had someone the other day, I left them a voicemail. I thought nothing about it. This is someone I know pretty well. She texted me back and she said, "You're the only person I know who still leaves voicemails." You really got to be able to change your game if you want to stay relevant in the leadership category, that's for sure. 

F: That's very funny. With that, what would you say are the common mistakes that leaders make? 

S: I think leaders, the big one, and I'll get back to what I said earlier, if you want to cast this view that you're perfect and that the things that you do and think and talk about all come beautifully together all the time, I think that's a huge mistake. If you're lucky enough to be that person, good for you. That's certainly not me. I don't think people learn by that. I think leaders who demand and set a really high bar but don't invest in their people, that can work in good times. Fear can get results. It doesn't get them forever and it's not sustainable and you don't build loyalty. You don't build teams who are much greater than all the pieces together. I think the ability to really invest is hyper important from that standpoint. 

F: Okay. Yeah. Thank you. We're at a point now where the majority of workforce in a lot of countries like the U.S., the UK, they are the so-called millennials. We have the digital native Gen Zs coming through. Do you believe that there's been a mindset change in leadership's approach? 

S: Yeah. It's been ... Are you talking about overall or within our company? 

F: I'd say overall, but yeah, but both, I guess. 

S: I think it's been slow if I really think about it, but I think the shift is pretty significant and it's here to stay. I don't know about you, but I still think of myself as that 22-year-old guy who was hired from the company day one and his suit barely fit him. I long to be connected to what is really happening in the field and in our competent organization. If you would ask our client, who is AGS? They wouldn't say me. They wouldn't say anyone based in Baltimore, our headquarters, or any of our hubs around the world. They would say it's the men and women who are serving them every single day. That's who AGS is. If that's the case, if that's our reputation, if that's where clients will choose to retain our services, if that's where clients will get references if they want to hire us, if the whole world exists to serve our customers, then at least here at AGS we darn well better be sure we understand what it's like to be an existing staff member or a more senior staff member. A brand new person we bring to our organization. We better know what it's like to be them and to serve them. From that standpoint, absolutely. I think one of the best examples is service mentality. You know, it's really important. The stats around how many hours did we serve last year that Chad was sending out and how fired up people were to be a part of serving is unbelievable. If we know there's a heartbeat of that in our company, we got to make sure that we are constantly beating that drum and serving it and letting people feel much bigger than our goals and our objectives 

F: For our listeners that don't know what the service hours are, can you expand on that? 

S: Sure. We had a challenge last year where our president, Chad Lane, put a really high number out there. I want to say it was like 10,000 hours or so, whatever it was. 

F: It's something that definitely sounded ridiculous to begin with, but then we- 

S:It was ridiculous. 

F: Yeah. 

S: It was such a huge number, whatever it was, and to go serve in our community, in our field of passion. We allow our people to serve wherever their heart leads them. The amount of time, energy, passion, and hours put in that, whatever it was, we blew the number away. It felt really good to the point where like I was bragging about it. I have two teenage daughters. The stuff that I come home and talk about is boring to them, work-wise. To go home and talk about that, I saw how these two teenage girls said, "That is interesting. That is important to me. That's cool that you guys are doing that dad.” That would just be one way. I think we need to make sure we're meeting our people where they are. I think COVID related as an example. I mean, my gosh, in the MSP organization we have 13 some hundred employees. When COVID hit mid-March we got everyone working from home within three days, five days, max. Up and running, supporting hundreds of thousands of contractors and clients across the world. Unbelievable. Beyond that, the ability for people to connect on video has exceeded my expectations. I think this is probably what a lot of our people wanted to have, this either flexibility or ability to do their work and do it really well. If COVID had showed us nothing else, it's proven two things to me. When we need to move very fast with a very clear objective to do something monumental, we can do it and we can do it really well. The second thing is we can run this business pretty effectively in a variety of ways. One of those is at the office, the extreme view of that is we're all at home or wherever we may be working right now. I think our people want that kind of flexibility and they want that kind of ability to change when we need to. I think we've got to serve our people where they are. 

F: I think, yeah, this time has definitely fast-forwarded a lot of things that were always going to come. Yeah. Hopefully, we learn from that. Especially like you say the video calls, the conferences, the being online, being able to work like that. It's definitely helped push that along. 

S: Yeah. What companies need to do and what AGS needs to do is we have to learn from this. What we can't do is go back to the way we were. There are some things that were great about the way we were, but there's just some amazing things about how we do business today. If we're going to be a company that leads vibrantly through this, we're putting together a cross-section of people within AGS right now because we want to make sure we learn everything that we have done. We've got to continue moving forward, just not snap back to being to what things were like. I expect us to be a different company. 

F: When people leave work and leave organizations, it's often down to the relationships they have with their leaders, with their managers. How important is having a relationship with your team? 

S: It's the most important thing. You will hear us talk about ... We'll use the word relationship a lot. It means many, many, many different things. When you unpack that word relationship, it typically will mean a couple of big words for us. It will mean trust and trust is a big deal within my team and within our org, because you can do amazing things when trust is your foundation. Then there's loyalty. I know when we break we're on the same page and we can duke it out in here and we can speak our mind. We're going to chew on and debate the decisions we need to make, but once we make that decision, we're on the same page and there'll be no daylight between us. The third piece would be how we multiply that effect within and across the organization. Because it's one thing for me to enjoy a tight-knit relationship with my team, that has to be everywhere in the company and that has to be mirrored. If you work for someone who that's not their nature, while it may be your nature, and you may be an incredibly blessed and skilled person and someone that can pull it off, it's hard not to reflect that if who you work for doesn't reflect it. We have to reflect that all over the company. When you look at what we do, there are very few jobs, there's very few things that we can do that don't require some sort of team working around it. Just how we work. Right? We rely on our sales team, our delivery team, our implementation team, our shared service organization, third-party partners of ours, the client, all that, just to run business day to day. If you don't have trust, if you don't have relationships, if you can't genuinely talk to each other, you're going to be in trouble. Our business requires that. I think that we thrive in that environment. People who love that about our company crave it here. People who don't like that quickly find out this may not be the place for me. We are going to run into obstacles, no doubt about it. The true test of those relationships is not when things are going great. It is when we hit that first bump and there's not necessarily a playbook for it. You have to create an environment of trust, and there's not going to be repercussions for that. Where you don't have that, you find out very late it's very difficult to provide a solution at that point and you have a frustrated client or whatever it may be. We're a business and for us just to get work done in the simplest way possible, you've got to have tight-knit connections all over the company and all over the business and in the third parties as well. You can only do that by genuinely showing of yourself. More times than not, when I've been in the foxhole with the team, or we've been working through real complexities, the relationships that I have coming out of that, unbreakable. When you get to serve with people in a moment that requires extreme effort, thought, focus, passion, and spirit, that's cool in the moment because you're building something or doing something or fixing something. The real dividend is you leave and you're a group of 10 people or whatever it is and you have that experience together, you share that story. You know that when you need that person, they will drop whatever they're doing to pick up your call and to help you, but that story gets retold all over the organization. People want to be a part of that. You can just do amazing things when you have those kind of experiences with people. I love, in a weird way, the extreme, right? Incredible stress one way or the other, you can do great things with. That concept of BAU, I hate. You know, when you talk about business as usual, that just screams to me of, "Oh, we just want steady state. We want to relax. We just want to do." Our clients, our industry, our market, our people crave for, "Get me on the edge. Let me do something new. Let me build my skills, my relationships, my career, what I know about the globe, the clients I serve." I want to keep people on the edge because I think that's where they want to be and that's where they grow the most. 

F: Okay. That is interesting. How important is that feedback culture? You said that they're giving you feedback and I imagine it goes both ways, but how important is that culture? 

S: It's really important. If you don't provide really clear direction and feedback, I don't know how people would know and progress, but underneath that, to give really good feedback, you need to spend time. My experience, I have to write it down. I have to think of that person. I have to write it down. I have to look at my previous notes. I always do it in the same format. I like to say, "Here's what I think your strengths are. Here's where I think there's opportunities, here are I think blind spots." I like to match it up, what I know their goals to be, and I like to be able to pull all that stuff together. You have to, at least I have to. Some people they can do it a little bit easier than I can. I have to work really hard at that. We, I would call it debate. I think if you came into the room sometimes, you would think it's argument. We have really spirited discussions about what we should do. Sometimes I'll just sit back and listen to them because I have strong personalities on the team as well. I'm blown away by the talent and the insights and their views. I learned a long time ago, the higher job I have in the company, while I probably could say, "We're going to do this," it doesn't work very well that way. It is way better to get insight. Not having people ... I don't want them to adopt my position. I want us all to come together. One of the ways we get there is through really good debate and then we break bread and we laugh and we share and we hurt and we enjoy life with each other. It just allows us to be a much stronger business together. I do know that I can see it sometimes. When we get super busy and when we only talk about the business, I can see us losing a little bit of that edge. What we have to physically ... Well, I guess, not physically these days, but we have to knowingly say, "Let's get back together and talk. Let's provide feedback to each other." Otherwise, we'll get too transactional on what's occurring within the business. 

F: Can you tell me about a time where you personally encountered adversity during your career and what you learned from it? 

S: I will. I will tell you I'm still uncomfortable sharing this story because I have probably the imposter syndrome as much as anyone else does. One of my first bigger leadership jobs, I was running one of our field offices for one of our operating companies. I got pulled out of my job. At the time, gosh, I was relatively newly married, a few years in, had my first child on the way. It was actually the first bump in my career, but it was a big one. My gosh, I mean, I was coming out of my job and I was embarrassed and I didn't agree with it. I thought a bad decision was being made and I was angry. I had some big decisions to make. One of them as a mature now husband and soon-to-be father, I had to make sure I was going to be able to prepare for my family. I wasn't going to act rash, I suppose. I gathered some people around me who I thought could give me good feedback and I ended up actually moving back to my hometown to work for a different operating company. My mission at the time was, "I'm going to show all of them what a mistake they made." I put my head down. I worked as hard as I possibly could. My intent by the way was to leave, was to come in, get established, do well, put myself in a decent spot, have another opportunity and leave. I had a bruised ego. I was hurt. By the way, there were some things that I was not doing great in my job previously, too. It certainly not all the company, but here's what happened. As I had that attitude, I ended up really investing with the recruiters that I worked with on my team at the time. We started doing well. I began to trust them and they began to trust me and we began to become very loyal to each other. We started experiencing a lot of success and they went on to go different things. It all happened again where I got back reinvested because I was trying to serve my team, my needs, controlling what we can control and I ended up really experiencing the next chapter of my career at Allegis in a new market and in a new role, albeit in a lesser role, where I had an attitude of, I was just going to show them. I ended up getting really close to the team I worked with and other opportunities came as a result of that. I learned a lot about ego, about pride, about leadership, about being humble and working hard and doing the things that were always taught to me, which is, invest in your team. Work really hard to build a relationship and work as hard as you can to be incredibly successful and see what happens. My see what happens ended up being another ... Geez, that was probably 18 years ago, a pretty good 18 years I hope from them. It was a tough time that ended up being probably one of the most important milestones in my career. I don't think people talk about milestones as getting demoted out of your job, but for me it happened to be. 

F: Yeah. It sounds like yeah, you learn a lot from that. I liked how you touched on the investment you had in your team at that time. You know, how important is it to invest in your teams and how do you go about doing that? 

S: I think it's the most important thing. I mean, who wants to give what we demand as a company, if it's a sterile, shallow relationship? I came in at a time, this is speaking of that exact time that I just referred to, where the only way I was going to be successful is with the two partners that I had. The only way they were going to be successful if I had the ability to go out there and develop a marketplace that was going to be able to sustain all three of us. We were very much all in it together. I was vulnerable. I was a little bit broken at the time. I think they could see that, but they could see that I had a passion and my passion was way more about the three of us and it wasn't anyone else. It was very much the three of us against the world and we're going to do it. If there's an obstacle that may be hard for me, but my gosh, who could stop the three of us? These two amazing people weren't married yet so we were in different parts of our lives, but I knew it was important to them. They knew it was important to me. We were going to outwork everyone, and we were going to out fun everyone, but we were going to do it pretty humbly. We spent a lot of time getting to know each other. As a result, I think we were all pretty good at our jobs. There were arguably people who were much better individually, but it was hard to touch what we were going to do as a team. We did it really well and I was proud of it. 

F: That's cool. That's cool. Steve, can I ask? What's the best leadership advice that you've been given? 

S: I would say if I have to narrow it down, I would tell you it's probably two things. The first one's going to be weird. It was someone I used to work for, but I did not think was actually a great leader. Very good person. Not a great leader. He shared with me at one point, he said, "Hey, if you think that you can just put your head down and work as hard as possible and things will come your way, that works only to a certain point. You have to develop relationships and that's got to be important and it's got to be planned in to who you are and what you do. The reality is I would have rather just worked hard and let the results speak for themselves, but building relationships to create better, for me is I needed a different context and different views in the different parts of the business. For as an example, I'm much more of a wholesale business person than I am a retail. I am better in the volume space, really big outsourcing than I am the retail sides of our business. I needed to get to know people over there. I was hoping, "Man, if I just produce that gets me there." And his view was, "I don't think that's good enough. Let's get you some relationships established. You need to invest in those relationships." That was intimidated for me. These were people who were more senior than me, but that was really good advice that it wasn't just, "Put your head down and work hard." It was, "Man, take some control of what you want and invest in people. Don't just invest in a result on paper." Now, I thought that was really good advice. I think the other bit of leadership that stuck with me is probably from my father. He was a physician in North Carolina and he's a sweet, sweet man. He spent so much time and he would tell me, because I would like to go to the hospital with him and do rounds when I was a young kid. He would say, "Steve, my job is, yes, making sure they get the right medicine and medical care, but it is to be there for them and listen." My dad is an amazing listener and he would tell me stories of how he was helping to serve his patients where they are at the hospital, struggling with whatever they're struggling with way beyond medicine, way beyond medicine. I think that's just an amazing trait, is to be a really good listener. I think is so valuable. You learn a whole lot. You know, he did it to us as a dad, that's how he was with the patients. I try to incorporate that into what I do. 

F: Okay. Thank you Steve. Lastly, Steve, is there any advice that you'd like to give to new leaders that are listening to this? 

S: I would say number one, do not strive for perfection. I think that will stagnate growth and opportunity. The other bit of advice I would give to a new leader is fight that sense of painting this picture of that you have to be bulletproof. While I understand it, it's not what people respond to. They respond to genuine people and experiences and vulnerability, and success, of course. People respond to life. They don't respond to a sterile game plan that they can't relate to. The last piece I would share would be prepare hard for your feedback conversations. You can never mail that in. You can never under-prepare for feedback conversations because people crave insights for their ability to improve and move on and do greater things. That's what I would advise to a new leader. 

F: That's great. Thank you. Steve, we've gone over a bit there. I really appreciate your time. Yeah. Thank you so much for talking to us today. 

S: Yeah. I appreciate it Frank. 

F: Thanks for listening today and a big thanks to Steve for spending some time with us. If you would like to learn more about AGS, please check us out at allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you have any questions for us or Steve, please feel free to tweet us @AllegisGlobal, with the #subjecttotalent. Also, you can email us at subjecttotalent@allegisglobalsolutions.com. If you enjoyed our podcast today, please subscribe, rate us and leave a review. Until next time. Cheers.