How Top Leaders Win The Hearts and Minds of Employees

For the last seven years The Dallas Morning News (The News) has created a list of the Top 100 Employers in Dallas-Ft. Worth.  The companies are large, medium, small, public, private, non-profit, and across all industries. From within each size category they select a Top CEO.

Every year, The News solicits workplace nominations, and then employees in the organization are surveyed across a broad range of categories and a number of factors important to them in their organization, such as connection, direction, execution, job responsibilities, managers and compensation.

This year, The News asked a group of CEOs of the top companies in each category, from this year and years past, for their best leadership advice. Some of these companies have been on the list every year. Some of the leaders have been named Top CEO in the survey, and some have received special recognition in specific areas: Best At Showing Appreciation, Most Clued In Senior Management, Best At Making Work Meaningful. All lead companies are those where employees feel heard, seen, valued, and important as key players in accomplishing the organization’s mission.

Employees surveyed consistently say they want plugged-in leadership and leadership that in turn keeps them in the loop, competent leaders who care about them and are willing to walk in their shoes, and leaders with a goal in mind.

Several themes came through in the conversations with CEOs of these top companies, as well as from the responses of 81,344 workers who filled out surveys this year at 319 companies. These themes are centered on four key areas: communication, caring, empathy and vision.


Every year, April Anthony, CEO of Dallas-based Encompass Home Health & Hospice, makes the rounds to all 160 Encompass offices, and in the process stays in touch with its nearly 6,000 employees. She says, “It gives us all the opportunity to make sure we are all on the same page with our mission and strategy, and to build relationships.” Ms. Anthony sees this type of communication as the key thing that she does to build the organizational culture and ensure the mission is fulfilled. “Communicate as often as possible, and when you do, don’t speak from a slide deck. Rather, let them see your passion for your mission and your commitment to make your goals a reality. If they are inspired, they will go the extra mile every time.”


The real benefit of servant-leadership is that leadership is now something that is in everyone’s job description, not just the person or group at the top,” said Drew Clancy, third-generation owner and CEO at Publishing Concepts, a Dallas-based publisher of university alumni and association membership directories. Once a month, Mr. Clancy shuts down everything at Publishing Concepts for an hour to give everyone at the company an update, followed by an “Ask Drew” town hall segment. They wrap the meeting up by presenting awards and recognizing the seven stars who’ve done the most in the last month to bring one of the seven client promises to life. The promises are to be: proactive, accountable, trustworthy, smart, professional, passionate and positive. One employee says that with Mr. Clancy, “it’s never about what you don’t know but what you are great at. Our culture let’s people be true to themselves and follow their passion”.


Several times a year, Curtis Hite, CEO of Improving Enterprises, a software development training and user experience design company, leads a 12-week course in which he mentors and coaches six people as part of the internal training program called Improving U. They could be anyone from an entry-level person to a senior executive. The culture is all about making sure each employee is in a position to succeed.


When Rick Merrill, CEO, joined Cook Children’s Health Care System, he tended to use corporate lingo when trying to describe the strategy, mission and vision of the hospital. He realized no one was getting it and decided to try a totally new approach to get everyone on board with the promise to make North Texas one of the healthiest places to raise a child. He held a series of retreats with doctors, board members and staff. “We boiled down all of the elements into a simple, straightforward promise, “To improve the health of every child in our region through the prevention and treatment of illness, disease and injury. When you have that base to build on, magic happens here,” says Mr. Merrill.

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