The annual Inc. Leadership Forum kicked off Monday night, bringing some 400 entrepreneurial attendees from all around the world together in Carlsbad, California.

Longtime Inc. columnist and serial entrepreneur Norm Brodsky got the crowd warmed up with a question-and-answer session about how he went from a being a subpar leader to being an exemplary leader. As moderator Lewis Schiff, executive chairman of the Inc. Business Owner's Council, told it, the now lovable Norm once had a not so pleasant nickname among employees: Stormin' Norman.

"I used to think leadership was how loud you could yell," Brodsky confessed of his early days in business running the messenger service Perfect Courier. "If an employee messed up, I yelled at them or fired them. I was a control freak."

As Inc. readers may know, Perfect Courier grew to be a $120 million company within eight years, before it finally went bankrupt. Brodsky told the audience his poor management skills, along with the 1987 stock market crash and the introduction of new technology, such as the fax machine, were partly to blame.

When Brodsky started his next business, CitiStorage, he vowed to handle his responsibilities differently--this time with a more sensitive approach. In many ways, he credits his wife, Elaine, for helping him grow as a leader. "Old habits die hard, and I still have the propensity to get off track once in a while," he said, noting that his wife is always quick to course correct him. He advised the crowd, "Get someone around you like that, someone who's been with you for a long time."

Another key difference at CitiStorage, Brodsky said, is this time, he made building a strong culture within the company his primary focus.

"The most important job a leader has is to make sure that a culture is created within a company," he said. At CitiStorage, that meant doing more for employees than simply doling out big bonuses. It meant memorizing every employee's name in the 400-person organization and offering on-site classes for employees that would benefit them outside work.  

"What you do for employees, how you treat employees, how you treat customers, it's all part of culture," he said. "Money isnt the most driving force. When you have a warm nurtuting culture people like, they'll stay with you."

Published on: Jun 11, 2013