WILLOUGHBY: C Spire’s Hankins adapts style to business

KEVIN HANKINS

Leadership theories tend to come and go like fads. However, one of the most enduring leadership concepts has been situational leadership. The Situational Leadership Theory was created in 1969 by Dr. Paul Hersey, the author of “The Situational Leader” and Ken Blanchard, the author of the international best seller “The One Minute Manager.” The theory was first published in Management of Organizational Behavior, which is now in its ninth edition. In essence, the theory states that there is no single best style of leadership and that leaders should adapt the leadership style based on the maturity of the people they are leading and the details of the task. Situational Leadership Theory is flexible and adaptive which is critical because leadership is contextual. Companies around the world have adopted this theory including over 70 percent of the Fortune 500.

I had the opportunity recently to visit with Kevin Hankins, chief operating officer of C Spire Wireless, about leadership, and I learned that situational leadership is a core part of his leadership style. Hankins joined the company in 2009 after spending more than 24 years in the wireless industry. A native of Sterling, Ill., Hankins earned an engineering degree from Hamilton College in Iowa, which enabled him to pursue a career in technology and obtain his first job with Motorola where he was involved in deploying some of the first cellular networks. He also later obtained a business degree from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta to better prepare him for a career in management. Hankins’ extensive experience in the wireless technology industry has included working for Codetel (a GTE company) in the Dominican Republic; CTI (another GTE company) in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Verizon Wireless in Atlanta; Ericsson in London and Seattle, Wash.; and prior to joining C Spire Wireless, he was vice president convergent communications for CGI in Fairfax, Va.

Regarding situational leadership, Hankins noted, “At its core is the ability to adapt, which has possibly never been more important than it is today. It also emphasizes the ability to develop a broad base of skills and strengths that can be applied uniquely to individuals and teams as necessary, enabling the most developmental progress overall.” He believes that the leader’s job is to ensure that strategies are on target and well managed and to “make sure that everyone and every function and process has every possible chance for success.” To achieve objectives and win in the marketplace, Hankins suggests that leaders create an environment of healthy accountability and constructive dissatisfaction in which “teams are enabled to succeed and held accountable, and successes are recognized but continual improvement is always expected.” One of the key reasons Hankins joined the C Spire Wireless team is that it has an aggressive culture which always puts the customer first and “exemplifies support for individuals, teams, and family values.”

C Spire Wireless is a great Mississippi business success story. Hankins’ credits the founders’ commitment to excellence and customer focus as a big part of the success. Their customer centric culture is evidenced in the recent name change and personalization strategy. The company has a customer replica in all of their meeting rooms and every field location to remind everyone that all decisions should keep the customer first. C Spire has a bold vision to be the best service provider in the industry. In order to accomplish that goal, you have to build a great team. C Spire has nearly 1,200 employees, and Hankins and I discussed that one of the company’s strengths has been hiring exceptional people. While hiring is part art and science, the company has done a great job of being intentional about hiring people who share the company’s passion and vision.

Situational leadership is not just for the fast paced world of wireless technology. Leaders in organizations big and small can benefit from its fluid and flexible style. We all have to recognize the maturity of our team members and the nature of the tasks we need them to do. This will dictate whether we need to be more instructive or simply guide in the right direction. Hankins and his team at C Spire are continuing to accomplish significant feats as the largest privately held wireless provider in the country. I am excited to have Hankins as a part of the local business community, and I know that C Spire Wireless will continue to be an inspiration for what a Mississippi based business can accomplish in the marketplace.

>> Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.

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