In our latest episode of the Servant Leader’s Library podcast, Nick had the pleasure of speaking with Dan Youngs, CEO of Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority. Dan shared his unique journey from an accountant to a visionary leader who redefines waste management through innovative and community-focused strategies.

Dan’s approach to leadership, rooted in servant leadership principles, emphasizes the importance of action-based leadership, building trust, and fostering relationships. His story is an inspiring testament to turning challenges into opportunities for growth and making a positive impact on the community.

Watch the episode above or listen over at Spotify. Make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss the next great servant leader’s story!

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Episode Transcript

Nicholas Paulukow
Welcome to Servant Leader’s Library, where we dive deep into the minds of exceptional leaders who inspire through their selfless approach to service. Today, we have a true pioneer in the realm of servant leadership, none other than the CEO of Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority, Dan Youngs. Get ready to glean insight from a leader who not only manages waste but transforms it into invaluable lessons for leadership and community empowerment.

Dan Youngs, despite being educated as an accountant, is far from your typical number cruncher. Dan’s career includes various leadership roles across several blue-collar industries, including being selected as the next CEO of LCSWMA. In his spare time, Dan founded three entrepreneurial endeavors while being a devoted husband and father of two children.

Dan, welcome. We appreciate you being with us today. And we’re super excited to understand a little bit about what is LCSWMA?

Especially, that’s a mouthful.

Dan Youngs
It is. Well, first, thanks for having me on. I look forward to providing what I can, the little bit of knowledge I might have.

But what a great, great podcast you have. So, LCSWMA, what is it? In essence, we are a government authority.

So we’re governed by our three commissioners here in Lancaster County, formed out of Lancaster County. But outside of handling our objectives of waste management, the final disposal and processing, we also have, over the years, expanded what we do and why we do it. Because it’s very easy for us to say, just put waste into a landfill and call it a day.

But leadership years before have taken the mantra of, let’s be better than that. And just like Lancaster County, we always seem to be fighting for what’s best, the most resilient long-term play. And so now we operate both in Lancaster County and in Dauphin County.

And we have power generation facilities. We do some metal recovery at those facilities. And really just treating waste as a resource that we can pour back into our community through minimizing landfill capacity, preserving our precious land, and just doing the right thing.

Nicholas Paulukow
That is pretty neat. From my business standpoint in the IT side, you even do computer recycling and everything. Do you still do that?

Dan Youngs
Oh, yeah, absolutely. So we have e-waste drop-off. It’s free for residents, even pool chemicals or things like that. But yeah, we touch everything that’s maybe, what is it? One person’s trash is LCSWMA’s treasures.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s a good way to say it. And it’s an amazing facility if nobody’s ever gone out there. It is amazing to see how it operates and how much volume that is processed there in such a clean manner too.

The place is generally pretty immaculate, which is really nice. Well, Dan, thank you for that. I have another question quick before we start to get into things.

It says that you founded three entrepreneurial endeavors. So could you share with us what those are? Are you able to share with us what those are?

Dan Youngs
Sure, yeah. I’ve always had this little itch to do more than just be a bean counter by trade. So I grew up working on a neighboring farm, always been working with my hands.

At the end of my high school career, a friend and I got together and started a fabrication and coating business. So metal fabrication, powder coating, ceramic coatings. We built that business and then sold it off.

And then a few years after that endeavor ended, I started an audio, lighting, and video production company. So we did a lot of work with Fulton Theatre, Sight & Sound, houses of worship in our area. And also did a couple of touring acts, Nashville touring artists as well, as they passed through the area.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow, that’s cool.

Dan Youngs
Yeah, I grew up as a musician as well. So I don’t play much anymore at this point. But music has always been a passion space.

And that was a way to kind of expand upon it and do something good. And then thirdly, I got into real estate investing and have two smaller companies, one that focuses on midsize commercial and the other one that focuses on residential.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow. You’re an all-around kind of guy here. As you noted, I think you said it, not the average bean counter, man.

That’s like the visionary of a company kind of, you know, that knows how to do all the accounting and finance and management. That’s kind of like a superpower.

Dan Youngs
My dad always said, accounting is the language of business. So you got to learn that.

Nicholas Paulukow
You do. Well, thank you for sharing that with us. Can you also give the listeners, from seeing your background, right?

Like and hearing about your entrepreneurial background, you’re now the CEO of Lancaster County Solid Waste Management. But can you give us kind of an understanding of how you got into that role?

Dan Youngs
I would say looking back. So I started out in my career working with an adjunct professor who was a turnaround consultant. So I didn’t go the traditional path of CPA firm, get my CPA license and all that, don’t have my CPA.

So I went a unique path and kind of got into the business function areas right out of the gate and learned from that lens, you know, how to make decisions around what’s successful areas of business. Sometimes you have to make those hard decisions to carve things off. And that really started my career down this kind of hybrid path between marrying operations and workflows with finance and accounting and FP&A.

So I’ve used that kind of lens in all my career or all my employers. And, you know, coming into LCSWMA five years ago, I was CFO. But again, just taking a different approach from just debits and credits and, you know, the baseline things, but getting into asking the question, why does this take place?

Why do these things occur? And then asking, how can we do it better? Because the numbers just tell us, give us a picture of what took place.

Now you have to find a way to go over that barrier and say, you know, learn the operations so we can work together in finding really good solutions.

Nicholas Paulukow
I see. And so was that your intention? Was your vision to come into the organization and eventually be the one that has the vision and run the organization?

Dan Youngs

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow. Just because of your skills and talents, it gave you the ability to do that.

Dan Youngs
And well, it was always a space I enjoyed from the finance seat, being able to get into the operational sides of the businesses. And in those prior experiences, I’ve always worked closely with either owners or shareholders. So it was always a kind of a hybrid role.

It wasn’t just, hey, Dan, give me a financial report. It was very much a strategic role in all of the organizations I was with. And so I think it was more of a just natural progression when the opportunity came up with LCSWMA.

I threw my name in the ring and, you know, they made a decision. But, you know, to me, it’s not just one person’s vision. It’s seeing what we as an organization can do and build upon our legacy.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s amazing. And that’s well said, right? And I think, congratulations, by the way, for your career progression and the ability you have.

I think you also used to work kind of the CFO and kind of controller, right? When people talk about like, hey, you know, the CFO generally has a lot of strategic responsibilities on the strategy of how the organization runs compared to sometimes people are like, well, what’s the difference between a CFO and a controller? And a controller, I think, you know, generally is more from the bookkeeping standpoint.

The CFO is really an integral part of, you know, running the organization from a finance and strategy component. Would you agree with that or?

Dan Youngs
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things with building teams in finance, I like to use the language of going from a controller mindset to a strategic finance mindset, and that being a CFO role. So everybody within the team starts to think about their role and purpose in finance as something bigger, you know, whether it’s accounts payable, accounts receivable, controller, think about what we can do through our work to better the organization.

And that’s using that strategic mindset all the way through.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, very good. I appreciate you explaining that and kind of demystifying the differences there.

Dan Youngs
You summarized it very well, though.

Nicholas Paulukow
Thank you. So, you know, kind of getting into kind of what the podcast is about, we talk about the word servant leadership. And from your perspective, could you give the listeners an understanding of how you define what servant leadership may be compared to maybe, you know, just leadership in general?

Dan Youngs
It’s a great question, and I don’t have an elaborate answer, but I guess a couple of bullet points that quickly rise to my mind is it’s just maybe intent. Your intent of going into leading is not for your betterment, like my benefit or betterment, but it’s by putting others at the forefront of the focus. So naturally, it’s, you know, servant leadership.

Yeah, your purpose is to serve. But with that also comes, you know, accountability and structures in ways that it’s not just one person, but it’s the collective and serving the collective. So I’ve heard some conversations in the past where it’s like, well, I got to go out and do everything or, you know, be everything to everybody.

And to me, that’s not the case, right? You want to empower others and bring out the best in everyone. So it’s not, you know, when Dan leaves an organization, the organization crumbles.

No, that is to me, not the purpose. The purpose is for me to serve others and make others shine brighter than what they’ve done in the past. So, yeah, a mindset of putting others first in your approach, in your thought process, is just has been a way that I’ve kept that maybe in check.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s a great way to say it, you know, because many times when people I’ve heard from those that are trying to become leaders, they’re used to being a high individual performer, right? And it sounds like you, you know, been a very high performer. And they just say, wow, it’s a big shift to go from what you’re saying, right?

Not a big one, but like, oh, man, I’ve been used to my individual performance. And now I’m going to lead this team. And leading the team means that it’s not about me anymore, kind of what I’m hearing from you.

It’s about the greater good of those individuals. And I think that truly is a really great definition, right? Because it’s about kind of the we, not the me.

Dan Youngs
Yes, exactly.

Nicholas Paulukow
I also think about it as serving leadership is being an action-based leadership. So, you know, showing up, being present goes far greater than words or a memo or, you know, so it’s intentional. It’s intentionally based around serving others.

And it’s one thing to say, Oh, I operate with servant leadership, but the truth is in the action. How do people feel?

Nicholas Paulukow
Right. And that’s a great kind of segue into my other thoughts of that. Like from your definition of kind of servant leadership, how do you apply that into your style of leading at the authority, right?

Like, you know, how do you, you know, implore that because you have all kinds of different team members, probably at different levels. How do you use that servant leadership in your organization?

Dan Youngs
Yeah. So probably, I like to say I’m not much of a desk jockey. You probably won’t find me at my office very often.

And that’s just because, A, I love being out in the environment, in the industrial spaces. It’s how I learn the best, but also it’s how the connections and relationships are made. It’s not even, you know, going into the spaces of others makes such an impact with building trust, with building rapport.

And that’s ultimately the goal is understanding where everybody is in their lives and how they can unearth new ways of delivering their passion for the organization’s overall goals. So yeah, I’m not at my desk often, I’m out at the sites. I have my CDL, so it’ll be nothing for me to hop in the truck, take a load up, have lunch with, you know, one of the facilities, you know, and run the truck back.

And while we’re on the road, we’re talking over the CVs with each other on, you know, each of the drivers and it just, it’s being one of them, which is everybody’s equal in our organization. Everybody has an important role and purpose. And anytime I can do my part to demonstrate my respect and appreciation for that value, to me that, that goes way further than, you know, a super creative idea that comes out of my head or, you know, I think just the relational piece is incredibly important.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s pretty amazing. I mean, so you’re kind of saying talk is cheap without action, right? And like your action is actually getting in to seeing how the business is operating, kind of that’s what I’m hearing, which kind of gets me really excited, right?

Like, like you’re there paying attention. It probably gives you a lot of insight I can imagine on ways to solve or make things more efficient or to see risk and issues. And maybe it’s not relevant to discussing it while you’re with them, but it gives you a different kind of perspective, but also gives you a lot of credibility to your staff that you are present and visible.

I can imagine.

Dan Youngs
Exactly. One of the things I’ve taken away years ago is Frank Blake with Home Depot. He was the CEO of Home Depot from like 2007 to 2014 or something.

But he started many of his days by walking the floor of the facilities there. And just that alone, here’s a trained lawyer that got thrust into the CEO role. And he just took a human down-to-earth approach to building relationships and showing genuine interest that made such a difference.

And it naturally then created a really strong culture or resurgence, you know, whether it was shareholder value or strength in the company. And it started with a simple action.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know that, that it’s amazing. You say that many of us, including me, have executive coaches, right? Like we don’t know what we don’t know.

And it’s always good to continue to learn, right? And the executive coach that I have ran a very large engineering firm. And a big, big facility worked for like Caterpillar and all kinds of, you know, big manufacturers.

And the coolest thing that he said is very much what you said. Every morning, I went out, I walked the lines, I talked to the people. And many times they were trying to solve problems, but weren’t empowered to solve them.

And a quick, just little information to them, help empower them to make a more informed decision, which allowed us to run more efficiently. And he would do that two times a day, you know, because they had shifts. And so you’re, you’re, it seems like you’re right in alignment with that.

He gave them a lot of insight to steer the organization and make tweaks really quickly. Not as more of a leading indicator than a lagging one, meaning like, Oh, this is what the numbers showed. And now we have to go decrypt it.

He could see it live. So that, that’s really neat. That’s really impressive.

And especially with the role that you’re in, there’s a lot going on. And to take that time is very valuable.

Dan Youngs
I will say it is not the smoothest transition only because, you know, you’re migrating from a way of practice and, you know, you get accustomed to certain behaviors and, you know, how I view my impact to the organization shifts now that it’s not accomplishing things on my own. It is using the efforts of the team across the entire organization and supporting it in a whole new perspective, whole new way.

Nicholas Paulukow
So like the way that you learn those things, and now you kind of lead a leadership team in essence, right? You know, from that perspective, how do you infuse kind of those values of leadership within that team, right? Like, you know, could you tell the listeners maybe some tips or tricks or some things that, that you found valuable and kind of getting, I’m kind of hearing it’s kind of like your core values, right?

Like, you know, these are my core values and how I live my life and how I treat people. You know, how do you infuse that in with the team that you have to lead?

Dan Youngs
Oh, let me, I will, I will start, but I don’t have all the answers for that. And I know I’ve made plenty of mistakes in attempts to infuse that. I think, I think the biggest one for me is when I look back to see who made the difference in my approach to leadership, it wasn’t from anybody insisting I operate in a certain manner.

I had great mentors that simply just carried out that way of leadership and life. And so to me, it resonated. One of my prior bosses who was an owner of the company, just a phenomenal example.

He would come in, make coffee, make sure everybody is, you know, just happy and energetic about being at that organization. And, you know, when he had to make a hard decision, he was very decisive and, and he represented it and he spoke very clearly of the why. But he always gave the time to everybody else.

And he would always be the last person to leave that day, lock up the doors and say, have a great evening. And not to say you have to be the last person in or the first person in, you know, last person out first person in, but there is an essence to showing and going above and beyond of care. Like we were his family.

I felt like I was his son. And you know, just those types of things then resonated to maybe where I’m at now is, you know, how would I want my son or daughter to be treated, you know, from a manager or leader and how could I then be that best representation to help grow and lead by example.

Nicholas Paulukow
Ah, that is great. And actually that, that’s amazing, right? Cause you, cause we all learn from other people, right?

At least, you know, good or bad. But generally we’re trying to, we’re trying to model people that, that meet kind of our values and how we want to succeed. That’s pretty amazing.

So from your perspective of at that time being an employee, you were seeing the action of showing up and, and willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and not just say, Hey, you know, I’m the leader, go figure it out. Like he was there in the trenches. He was there talking to people.

And I think that’s extremely important too. We talk about a world of, in my world of technology, there’s this big discussion on like work from remote, work from home. And some data just came out this week that benchmarks in our industry that says the lower performing organizations in our markets are all 100 percent remote.

Dan Youngs
The lower performing?

Nicholas Paulukow
The lower performing.

So then they benchmarked the hybrid. So like benchmarking, you know, maybe a three-two, three in office, two work from home, and then fully in the office. And still fully in the office had the highest best-in-class numbers. Then it was the three-two and then the lower.

Now, not saying that they’re not performing, not making money, that I’m not saying that. I’m just saying from a performance standpoint. And I think a little bit of what you’re saying has to do with that. It’s, it’s the camaraderie, the teamwork.

I think there’s a lot of benefits of the remote work relevant to what your role is. Maybe if you have a day remote that you’re doing strategy and, and you’re getting some numbers done or, or some reports done, but then the other days you’re there present with the people. And I think that’s what I’m hearing from you, like be present.

And that really evolves who those people are. I think that’s pretty amazing. And, and, and I think Elon Musk, although he says it in a very crass way, basically says this is BS, like, you know, if you have manufacturers in and they have to be in the office, so does everyone else, you know, what’s this, you know?

And so everybody has an opinion, but it’s interesting in the data side. I mean, how do you feel with that? Right?

Like, I mean, you have, you have an office staff as well as like kind of a field staff and I’m sure that’s pretty difficult to navigate sometimes.

Dan Youngs
Absolutely. And it was extremely difficult. It created a lot of tension internally.

We had, you know, the drivers, equipment operators, they, they couldn’t go and work remote. And overnight the support staff, the admin went home and it was, it was difficult navigating those conversations. And what it, what it took was not only just some time, but it took an overabundance of action from our staff that were remote and had to be remote because of the shutdown.

But it was, hey, reach out to the site facility managers, send notes, you know, just go over and above to show we still care. We know you can’t be in our situation and vice versa, but we’re all still united around one mission. So that was, that was something we had to learn and why, you know, we changed our approach to things.

Right now we do operate in a hybrid state. So from an office standpoint, we allow two days remote, three days in the office. It works well, but I will say it’s, it’s still not perfect.

You know, it’s still quiet in the office. We only have maybe 25 that work out of the office. So any two days, it’s still pretty quiet.

And we, you know, but there’s a lot of other things that have come out of it. And I think it’s better communication between our operations and administrative staff. You know, our facility staff now use Teams quite a bit to communicate and it’s more customary.

And I agree there’s certain times where even myself, I’ll go to the Lebanon Valley College library for a day and I will just hunker down and work on a strategic thought process. Or if I have to write a report, you know, there’s good value because I couldn’t be as productive because of other interruptions. So I think there’s a time and a place and a purpose.

Now it’s just a matter of how can we maximize all these tools in our toolbox?

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s right. That’s a good way to say it. And I think we’re all still navigating that.

Right. But I think the principle is key to what I’m hearing from you, even from a servant leadership perspective, is that this is more than just a job, a career. It’s the people around you.

It’s a family aspect. And that brings a lot of value because when you’re thinking that way, you’re thinking and maybe being more intentional about the decisions you make potentially because of that thinking. And I think that that’s wonderful.

I think that’s the commonality that we hear or I hear from kind of this podcast is many people, you know, understand the concept of leading forward, meaning, you know, their job is to go out and they’re, you know, leading in front of everyone, trying to see the risk and issues, and then bringing them along in a positive way. Kind of moving into that next step, you know, from, from your organization perspective, you know, the core values, you know, do you have defined core values at the organization? And would you be willing to share those with us?

Maybe that will help us understand kind of also how, how it ties into some of your feedback you’ve been given.

Dan Youngs
Yeah. So we do have core values, you know, well, maybe I’ll start with, you know, we look at waste in the purpose of rethinking or using waste for a greater good.

And so we have values of stewardship, environmental education, values that foster a growth-type mindset, safety. But I will say we’re in an evolution right now, even with this transition of leadership of going back and saying, that got us to where we are today. But what, what truly are our values to move forward?

Is there a different way to express them? We have three or four generations in our workforce. It’s just kind of taking that fresh lens and say, now’s the time with some energy behind us to say, what values are key for our success moving forward? Not that any of them in the past were wrong, but it’s hard to relate.

Like, what does it mean? Education? Perhaps it can go to a lot of different things.

Maybe there’s a better way for us to express that value. The other thing we’ve recently done is shifted into some core principles and that created some more structure for helping us make decisions as a group. So our six core principles are culture, financial strength, environmental excellence, innovation, risk management, and community service.

And in those, while they’re not necessarily values, what they’re designed to do is whenever we’re looking at a decision or contemplating a future need, how do we check off all the boxes in those areas? Because we’re not a private business. So it’s not just make as much money as we possibly can. No, we have to balance having strong finances for the long term with doing the right thing for our community, with doing the right thing environmentally, with protecting and strengthening our culture. So it’s a balanced approach being a public authority.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. That’s amazing the way that you say that. And I think that for listeners that are trying to, you know, also learn how to lead in their way, you’ve almost created a tool to get everybody on the same page I’m hearing.

So like, these are our benchmarks. And when we make a decision, I want you to consider these and then they all need to be in line that they agree with those core principles too. And I think that’s great.

You know, for us, it’s similar, our core values and principles kind of align in the same way. So like we say, how do we hire, fire, train, and reward on those values? Because they mean more than necessarily the ability just to do the job.

Right. Like, and I’m hearing similar to you, right? There’s a certain style. So kind of, I got into a conversation with a CEO of a large organization that does renewable energy. And so, how do you take those core principles and relate it to like, hey, this will be better environmentally, but does not require any requirements right now from the government standpoint. It’s what we should do, but it will cost us more to do it. It doesn’t really give us a benefit.

Like, how do you navigate that? Like, right? Like, I mean, you know, and he was trying to navigate that and say, Hey, I want to be the leader for my community.

However, I could lose a ton of business because, you know, maybe it’s not something that’s widely adopted, but will help our environment, you know?

Dan Youngs
Yeah. It’s a great question and something we also struggle in, you know, in navigating those circumstances, because yes, it is a push and pull. It’s a paradoxical environment where there’s a lot of green initiatives.

There’s a lot of new technology. It’s still very, I would call it an infant stage in renewable technology. And with that comes a lot of risk.

So with environmental excellence, risk management, strong financial planning, being principles of ours, it’s not shutting down those innovative thoughts, but taking, Hey, let’s look at it from a recommendation standpoint. We have a committee that focuses on innovation and sustainability. And that committee is just driving forward and saying, what’s happening in the marketplace?

What are things that we could look at now? And then even if we do review it, we’ll put it on the shelf and say, Hey, we’re not quite ready yet, or there’s too much risk for a public authority to go into. So we’ll table it.

But we’ve also gone down the path and we’ve, you know, done partnerships with some newer technology and whether they were successes or failures, or I’ll even speak to our, the failures, they didn’t produce what, you know, from an ROI standpoint, but it was still serving a good purpose. Unfortunately, the operator moved on from us and, you know, they couldn’t manage it from a financial standpoint because it was a private entity. But, but from our lens, we said, Hey, that’s what we’re trying to do though.

A principle of ours is looking at innovative ways. The principle of ours is leading in an environmentally sound way. And so we will have misses on occasion and that’s built into our philosophy.

The key though, from those is then what can we learn from it? How can we make the next decision better?

But I will say we never want to jeopardize some of our basics. Like we still have to operate our organization. We can’t try every new thing to the detriment of not having strong finances.

So it’s really that balanced approach and having those conversations with our staff and our board members, being very transparent with the board. Here’s an option. Here’s the pros.

Here’s the cons. Here’s the risk. Are we willing to accept maybe the risk and the downside to pursue a greater good from an environmental standpoint?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s well said. And I think it, it’s very, you know, as this renewable energy continues to be talked about, I think a lot of it I found out through that other executive was, is a lot of its education. That people just are not aware of what decisions affect other things, right?

Like changing of, you know, how we went from coal to now, you know, different nuclear energies and that type of thing. And every state is in a different situation, which then can make different decisions or like, you know, purchasing an electric car and have to charge it on the grid, but maybe the grid, it’s just fascinating. It’s just in the decisions that you all have to make.

Because I know, you know, a little bit about the organization as far as you guys create kind of renewable energy and other things just from what you do, you know, it’s a lot to probably manage, you know, from a bigger perspective. So I appreciate you sharing that.

Dan Youngs
Absolutely. And it’s not a cheap investment, you know, like a power, power generation facility for us to build it now is $1.5 billion.

So the commitments that were made early on in prior leadership, they saw an opportunity, a vision, and it’s not to say that’s the end-all be-all for the next hundred years. When we as an organization have been founded on looking ahead, taking those forward approaches and balancing the risk and reward.

Nicholas Paulukow
I think that’s amazing. And I think it’s, you know, from your role too, kind of, you know, from a leadership perspective, you know, when you jumped into your new role, right, you were still part of the team, but now you’re in a new role. Like how did you create trust and how did you build that rapport in a different way for people that maybe you worked with?

Because there’s a lot of people that go from being kind of maybe like a lead in a role, right? Like an entry-level person was a lead and now they’re a manager and they’re like, oh, wow, like I have to now create a different respect. Potentially they struggle with that separation of they were my, you know, friends or companions.

And now I’m leading, you know, do you have any tips or tricks or what was the first thing that you did? Did you get Lencioni’s book out and say, we’re talking about trust today, guys?

Dan Youngs
That’s right. Right. Well, I will, I’ll start and say, I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

There’s a lot of things I thought were the right approach and clearly weren’t. So probably 17, 20 years of making mistakes has finally maybe started to help me along. But I would say early on, it was very clear that if I wasn’t clear with expectations, it was just a gray area and a chaotic space for teams to navigate.

And so through some mistakes, through some lack of willingness to have some of those hard conversations, I learned it is important that there’s clear expectations. There is a communication channel that is very open and safe and it has to be fostered from me. You know, that is my responsibility is to create those safe spaces.

And it builds, you know, through building relationships and even relationships I had navigating what it means to now be a different level of responsibility. The other thing I learned early on was kind of the upside inverted pyramid structure. So as you move maybe up the ladder, they say the reliance on things trickling down and just setting, setting things in motion and hoping it happens, that I learned is just, it’s just false.

It doesn’t work. And it’s not a good way to build trusting, safe working teams. So I forget where I learned it from, but it was the inverted pyramid of leadership where when you look at responsibility, the responsibility, as you maybe traditionally move up in an organization is flipped.

You bear more responsibility. So the weight of the organization funnels down to the higher, maybe levels of leadership. And when I thought about a different, when I thought about that, then in my approach is the responsibility is different.

And I have to approach that responsibility with clarity, with equality, with deliberate, intentional action. And yeah, there were some hard conversations. There were some hard transitions, even in times where, well, a close friend of mine, you know, maybe that’s hard, didn’t perform or, you know, made some serious mistakes.

And we had to have those conversations. But when I learned through that is in giving an honest critique, it only allowed that other person to be better. If I wasn’t honest with the other person or with a teammate or an individual that I oversaw, it wasn’t doing them justice to not be truthful and honest, because then, you know, they wouldn’t maybe try to change and better themselves because they were never pushed to.

So yeah, clarity of expectations, not, not dancing around the harder conversations were some instrumental changes that paid off quickly.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, that’s really great. And I think the key word that you said was expectations for those that maybe understand kind of what you’re saying. Could you maybe give an example of maybe what you learned on explaining an expectation to someone?

Because I hear this all the time. So like, people are like, well, I was clear. Like, well, what do you mean you were clear?

Well, I told them that, you know, what they were doing wasn’t right. And I’m like, well, that’s helpful, because if they knew what to do, they would have done it. So like, how was that a clear expectation?

So from what you learned, we would love to know, like, what, what tip or trick, you know, do you do to make the expectations clear? Or what is the clear expectation in your eyes?

Dan Youngs
So I’ll go back to what my father used to deploy for me in communicating his clear expectations. So my dad’s an accountant. My mom’s an accountant.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, wow.

Dan Youngs
Sisters are accountants.

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, yes.

Dan Youngs
The Christmas conversations were phenomenal.

Nicholas Paulukow
Well, tax time’s gotta be rough.

Dan Youngs
Yeah, we actually celebrated April 15th. But no. So what my dad did, though, whenever I would have maybe trouble listening and understanding his expectations, he wrote them down.

And he actually, he wrote them down on a piece of paper. And he said, All right, Dan, you sign here, I sign here, then we have a clear understanding. And I always thought this is over the top, you know, dad’s all business, blah, blah, blah.

But then me navigating through my career, it just resonated. I’m like, I might say something, or I feel I am being extremely clear. But it also is subject to how it’s being interpreted.

And sometimes the additional reinforcement. So with that, now, you know, whether it’s a team meeting, or, you know, setting up a conversation, I like to go in with a clear agenda. Here’s the topics, you know, here’s time for other topics to come on, there’s action items, and then a follow up, simply, you know, follow up email or conversation with an email always in writing, because then it’s a reference point. And it’s actually a tool then, so they can print it out and say, Hey, these are the expectations. It’s very clear.

And in doing that, creating that structure actually created more freedom for people. Because they didn’t have to go back and say, What did he mean by that? We talked about it, we documented it.

And it sounds rigid, but it actually gave teams freedom.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. That is well said. So, so going back to it, talk is cheap, unless we’re on the same page, I guess, right?

And that is wonderful. I love that, right? Like, just writing down your expectations.

And I can assume the expectations are more, in my world, we call them SMART, specific, measurable, attainable, right? And, and timely. And so that’s really neat.

Because, you know, the expectation, I guess, states what the deliverable is, then, right? So like, you know, this is what we’re going to do, and it’s going to produce x. Is that fair to say, like, what would be it is?

Dan Youngs
Yes, it is. And even going further to behavior and leadership qualities, you know, what do we stand for? And it’s, it’s, again, one thing to say, like, Hey, don’t do this behavior anymore, like, but let’s, let’s reinforce it. And let’s make it so over communicated that it starts to become ingrained. Like, from the expectation, you have to couple it with frequent and clear communication.

Nicholas Paulukow
I love that. Go dad. I love that.

I love that response. I’m gonna, I’m gonna infuse that in my life now being a little bit more intentional. You know, we kind of also use a technique that says, Hey, I had a conversation with you.

But before we leave, repeat to me what, you know, so that we can get on the same page, like, what did you hear? What are we going to do? And but for many people feel like that are learning this feel that that’s confrontational.

Right? And I was like, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not confrontational. Like we’re just having a conversation to be on the same page.

And so there’s a lot of education that has to be done. And I appreciate you sharing that. That’s great.

Dan Youngs
Yeah. And I like studying kind of military approaches around leadership, you know, serving leadership, extreme ownership by like, Jocko Willink. But when you look at it, and you know, I sit back and ask, how do these branches of service for 100 plus years, deliver successful results with people in walks of life all over the world. And they have a system down that produces leaders, right?

Nicholas Paulukow
And it’s never done even in the military in their life. Like, right. It’s so crazy, right?

Dan Youngs
And so it’s just fascinating to see how they go about building leaders, having strong communication, clear expectations, because it’s not, well, we, you know, we might lose $100,000. It’s life or death in those situations. So, you know, learning from those, when you talk about communication, when they deliver a message, they always make it repeatable, or they always ask for the repeat.

So it’s confirmed. And that the validation and verification is such a key piece to ensuring clarity of behavior and goals in an organization.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s well said. I was, I follow him as well, but also their leader cast over the years that our community has put on, there’s been many Navy SEALs that have come through that. And, and they’re very funny because when they say they’re like, Hey, listen, leaders, you know, we don’t get in the battlefield and pop up a PowerPoint and go over 68 slides on how we’re going to accomplish this.

He goes, we might have a pre-plan, but at the end of the day, everybody knows what they own. And we’re calling out and giving direction to the owners on execute, execute, execute, you know? And so that’s amazing way to think about it too.

I think, what do you do with people as a leader that maybe may not fit in or understand what you’re expecting, or maybe they just don’t even agree with what your expectations are? Have you have any insight on how to work through that?

Dan Youngs
There have been a few instances and I don’t know if I was necessarily successful in it, but it always came from what I saw. It always came back to the why, because the why of our commitment of what a manager role is within an organization, their purpose of that position. Yes, there’s things, especially during the time of COVID, you know, it’s very politically tense.

The masking, it was just a really hotbed for tension within any organization. And not everybody in those management levels may have agreed on the path forward, but we had to bring it to the higher perspective of we are here to serve the purpose of being a manager is to live out the purpose of our organization. And while we may not agree with certain things along the way, it is imperative for the safety of our mission that we all come across as united, but also creating that time to answer those questions.

Where are we divided or where are the tensions lying? And maybe a lot of times it was just in the why we don’t understand, you know, they might say, I don’t understand this decision, or I think this decision is wrong. And then we talk about the why.

And if we provide that space, it often diffused, it may not have changed the personal perspective, but at least diffused that we’re not trying to change people’s opinions. But what we are trying to do is lead as a united force through the organization for the purpose of serving our community.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s wonderful. I’m hearing a lot of tips and tricks here. So number one, be clear with your expectations, put it in writing.

Number two, explain the why. That’s a really great one. I had that conversation even this morning.

Like that was great communication. However, did you let them know why this is important? And they’re like, no, I didn’t.

And so that’s a great one. And then I’m hearing communicate, communicate, communicate, like it’s really key to communicate and be united front. I think that’s really key, right?

If you have the right people in the right seats, we might not always agree, but we always agree to move forward in the united front. I think that’s great. And I think that goes along with your military example.

They probably don’t agree with everything that is happening, but they own that. So kind of as we start to wrap up, you use the word ownership. So what do you mean when you say ownership?

Like, what does ownership mean to you? And what do you expect of people that have ownership to something?

Dan Youngs
I use the term a lot, but let me see if I can succinctly put it together. I guess always going into the conversation or having the collaboration with teams to say, if this was our business, and maybe it’s more relevant because LCSWMA is not owned by any one of us. We don’t have any money or skin in the game.

We are simply here to serve a mission. And so it can be, and we know in certain places, it can be very easy for government-type atmospheres to not have an ownership mindset. So in a private world, it’s like, well, what would our owner expect us to do?

Or if this was our business, but here it is always the case of, if this was our business, if this was our name behind it, not LCSWMA, but it was this person, this person, this person’s last name, how would we want it to come across to our community? I’ll use an example from an ownership mindset. It’s a balance of efficiencies.

Yeah, some Saturdays we might be slow. And from just a pure dollars and cents, we would probably say, yeah, let’s close down Saturdays and people can come Monday through Friday. But in owning our commitment to serve our community, are we taking that true ownership into being the best servant and community service to our community by limiting and closing our hours?

No, you know, homeowners, they’re working. And so Saturdays are a great time for people to come in and use our services. So it’s just taking that approach of if this was your business and you had the obligations to the mission, you had the obligations to pay the bills, to make payroll, how would you approach a decision or a recommendation?

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah, that’s great. And I think too, you know, you go back to that, which is awesome, right? Not many people have that almost scorecard that you’re talking about, right?

Going back to that core values and that, that, you know, accountability, you did exactly that, which is really amazing. Getting everybody on the same page, what you did there was amazing because now it’s a benchmark. Does this support it?

Ah, financially, we would have made a decision, but here it affects it. So how do we solve for that? I think that that’s amazing.

It goes back to clarity, right? This is how we create clarity. This is how we make a decision.

And that’s like a big aha, right? Like how you could even do that in even smaller teams in the organization. And I think that’s pretty amazing.

That’s a kudos to you guys for delivering in that manner. That’s amazing.

Dan Youngs
And if I recall correctly in the book, Extreme Ownership, the last principle, which is kind of their overarching principle was discipline creates freedom. And you know, when you think about what does an ownership mindset look like? What does a servant leadership mindset feel like?

It’s a humanitarian component of creating a strong operating discipline or leadership discipline that ultimately creates the results, creates the positive culture. It creates the autonomy and freedom that, but it almost feels in reverse. It’s like you have to control, control, control.

No, the purpose is to create structures so others can thrive in it and be successful.

Nicholas Paulukow
Yeah. Cause everybody, I think ultimately wants to be successful. They just don’t have the tools to do it.

Right. They don’t have the wherewithal to be like, well, if I make this decision, it’ll be blamed on me instead of it’s okay. I think you said even earlier, right?

Like you failed, failed, failed. Those are all amazing. Like I love failing because I at least know what to not do next time, but everybody kind of like takes it as this.

I’m going to avoid everything of failing. And I think that’s kind of a wrong mindset, right? Like if I fail and it didn’t go well and I have a mindset of being better, now I can be better.

Obviously in the military failing could end in a very poor way. But in business, you know, if we fail, at least if we learn from it and move forward. So I think that’s a great lesson too, for all listening, right?

Like you’re using it as an opportunity and that’s allowed you to grow by failing.

Dan Youngs
Yeah. And I would add to creating spaces to fail. So maybe it is, Hey, part of, part of being a great manager is taking that time to explore ideas, run them through tabletop exercises, you know, put concepts in front of other teams.

And if it’s a terrible idea, fine, you know, fail in that way, but create those spaces for teams to fail.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s right. Yeah. And be supportive of the failure in the way of coaching and training.


Dan Youngs
That’s great.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, as we start to kind of wrap up, give us, you already started this a little bit, but is there any resources, is there any more books, like anybody that’s trying to learn or develop as a leader or maybe that shaped you as a leader, maybe that you could share with them that maybe would be a good thing for them to go and take a read?

Dan Youngs
Yeah. Well, I would say I got a plethora of ideas and tidbits of information from whether it was even movies. So like the Band of Brothers series, just when you dive through that and you see the leadership of Major Dick Winters, like just amazing.

So characteristics from that and qualities from that, from that documentary is a great place to start. Books, you know, Extreme Ownership. Atomic Habits is another great one.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s a good one.

Dan Youngs
Actually, we have a book club here internally and we’re working through the Six Working Geniuses by Patrick Lencioni.

Nicholas Paulukow
He’s amazing.

Dan Youngs
But what we do is a book club. And I think that’s also whether regardless of what the book is, it’s creating a space to talk about it and digest it and hear it from different people.

That has been a huge value add for teams and creating safe spaces. And then a podcast, I love Andy Stanley on his podcast series.

Nicholas Paulukow
He’s a good one. He’s very, very articulate.

Dan Youngs
So Andy Stanley’s podcast is one I always look forward to new releases. But yeah, I’m an avid reader. My wife always makes fun of me because she’ll read the fun fiction types and I’m like leadership book, leadership book, organization.

Nicholas Paulukow
You know, and I think that’s a common denominator from people in the roles that we’re in is that we never stop learning. Like if, you know, and somebody told me the one time I’m like, man, this feels uncomfortable all the time. That same coach. And he goes, Nick, the day that you become comfortable, you need to stop doing that role.

And I’m like, oh wow. So powerful. And he goes, all of us, everybody’s struggling with problems, issues.

Not one person has it all together. And if you’re uncomfortable, that means you’re growing. And the day you stop growing, find something else to do.

Dan Youngs

Nicholas Paulukow
And I was like, wow, very, he’s very direct. So like I get it. I get direct.

Dan Youngs
And to that point, I would say the people I’ve surrounded myself with, while they haven’t necessarily been ones that would easily agree. So they’re not yes, people.

Nicholas Paulukow

Dan Youngs
They’re very much those that challenge me to be better. So shout out to Dan Saad. Every time we connect, he is always extracting something out of me or he’s pulling me into a new tension space for growth.

And for me, that is so important for anybody’s development, whether they want to manage people or become an expert in areas, whatever their walk of life is, surround yourself with people that are going to force you to be better.

Nicholas Paulukow
To be better. Yeah. Now I got to know, does Dan call you buddy or do you get Dan because you’re both Dan?

Dan Youngs

Nicholas Paulukow
Oh, friend. Oh, okay. I always give him a hard time.

And I’m like, listen, you know my name. He goes, it’s way easier. You get, you get less yelled at if everybody. And I’m like, okay, Dan, he’s good, man.

Dan Youngs
Good man.

Nicholas Paulukow
You’re absolutely right. That’s a key component that many of us kind of, if we’re growing in our careers and we’re still with people, maybe that aren’t interested in doing that, you could really get a negative aspect to that. And now when you’re with higher performers or people that are trying to solve the same problems you are, it really brings you up a level.

And I think many of us are part of different things. I know Dan, myself, are part of Vistage, which is kind of like an industry key group to kind of challenge ourselves or being part of industry groups where we’re competing, but we’re not competing in the same local territory allows us to challenge and benchmark each other. So that’s great.

That is great advice. And any other parting comments before we wrap it up today?

Dan Youngs
No, I would say just for anybody that is looking to, you know, challenge themselves, show up, go do something new. One of the things I’ve done for many years is every month I reach out to somebody new, whether it’s through LinkedIn or a friend of a friend and have lunch and it’s just been a way for myself to continue to learn, meet, connect. And then, you know, conferences or events, like I know we get flooded with it and sometimes we’re sitting there at the end of the day saying, Oh geez, I, I really don’t want to go to this dinner tonight, but every time I’ve looked at it and said just showing up created an amazing experience or a new connection, or I gained a little bit of knowledge and it made it worth the effort.

So showing up is huge.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s well said. And I think you referenced to Atomic Habits, right? Like he talks about in the book, he’s like, listen, like, you know, just doing one thing, even small, one thing that resonated to me, I’ve heard him speak as well, the author.

And, and he said, listen, if you want to go to the gym, you don’t just get in your car and go to the gym. That doesn’t create a habit. He goes, you get your gym clothes on in the house, you take them off.

All right, now we’re preparing to go to the gym. And he, he makes it pretty dramatic, but he’s like, you’re preparing yourself to do it. So do that for a week.

And then in the next week, get in the car and drive to the gym. And he goes, sit there and drive home. You made it to the gym.

Now I’m going to create a habit of getting dressed. And I think that that’s although pretty dramatic, pretty true, right? Like all or nothing.

Dan Youngs
Yeah, well, for a long time, I wanted I was committed to getting up at five o’clock in the morning. And I would normally get up at 530. And from the book, it was that, you know, that 1% better every day.

So what I did is I set my alarm clock one minute earlier every day.

Nicholas Paulukow
That’s amazing.

Dan Youngs
And then fine, you know, then it was like, Okay, I’m at five o’clock. Well, let’s keep going. So that’s 445.

And now it was just a habit over the course of a couple of months that I was able to break, but without it being such a radical difference.

Nicholas Paulukow
I’m totally taking that too, because I’m constantly trying to change that time because like evening time, and especially in the winter can be very like non-productive. And so that is a great one. I’m changing my clock.

You know, one minute, see, I’m all or nothing. I’m learning from you on how to bring that down one notch at a time. Well, as we wrap it up here for another insightful episode of Servant Leader’s Library, huge thanks to our guest Dan Youngs for showing us that leadership is not just about managing waste but about turning challenges into opportunities for growth and service.

Remember, folks, when it comes to leadership, always aim to leave a positive impact just like Dan does with every piece of waste he manages. Stay tuned for more inspiring stories from leaders who lead with their hearts and serve with passion. Until next time, this is Nicholas Paulukow.

Keep leading and serving.

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