As Jim waved me into his office, I quickly noticed it was meticulously decorated. It was clean, to-the-point and adorned with right angles—this was his orderly side. As I went to set my water glass on his desk, he handed me a cracked CD to use as a coaster—this was his unorthodox side. I’d been in his office for 90 seconds and I had already witnessed both sides of Jim Annis.
His desk and bookshelves were practically wallpapered with every leadership book printed in the past century, and while Jim embodies the textbook characteristics of a great leader, this is not what sets him apart. When I asked Jim to describe himself, he took me back to his childhood to share with me stories of neighborhood girls and his dreams of growing up to wear a tie. Jim’s early experiences (and one stern lecture from his dad about humility) shaped his philosophy on leadership: stay true to yourself and know when to change.
Knowing more about Jim’s past allowed me to see how he became a leader that people love today. Jim stands out because of his deep understanding and appreciation of people; he values taking the time to make people laugh and ensuring they have a voice in the company. Simple practices such as avoiding phrases like “they work for me” and instead emphasizing “we work together” put Jim’s philosophy into action as opposed to being another stagnate mission statement hanging in the hallway.
The culture at The Applied Companies is more like a community than a business. Jim refers to the staff and himself as a tribe. Together, they share stories, successes and failures as part of their progressive culture. Jim’s leadership style facilitates open communication and learning opportunities; it fosters a learning culture that looks at problems from all angles and always emphasizes doing the right thing.
Wrapping up our interview, I realized what gave Jim his competitive edge: his enthusiasm to serve, not to lead.