Peter Haakon built, established and sold two lawn care businesses in the District of Columbia metropolitan area to national companies before becoming an industry consultant. With more than 20 years of experience in the industry, in addition to a degree in horticulture from Florida Southern College, he has the background to help understand the challenges that small business owners face today and knows being a good leader is a trait that is developed over time through experience and an understanding of people.

PHOTO: PETER HAAKON

How would you describe your style of leadership and why does this work for you?
Generally, I like to lead in a democratic and laissez-faire way. I like to get input from co-workers because people are more likely to respond and follow-through on decisions and processes they introduce into the business rather than if you dictate or use an autocratic style. I believe in a work environment with flexibility and an understanding that we get paid for performance and results rather than time, but this only works when you have the right people on board. I am a firm believer that as a leader you must view yourself more as a coach who gets the best out of each employee while inspiring and empowering the team.

How do you work at consistently becoming better at leadership?
Leadership is unlike anything else; you can’t just read a book or take a class and become a leader. People often think that leadership is some type of genetic trait ingrained at birth. Leadership is developed over time though experience, an understanding of people, purpose and sharing a clear vision that employees believe in because they trust your character. Everyone in life wants and has purpose. It is your job as a leader to let people know how their role is tied to the big picture and collectively as part of the team.

Who are your leadership role models and why?
I am very fortunate that my leadership role model is my father. He is great at seeing the big picture and understanding that he is only as good as the people with which he surrounds himself. He is very generous, humble, trusted and always puts the company and his staff above himself. He is not looking for accolades and understands the importance of delayed gratification.

What leadership book(s) inspire you and why?
There are innumerous books to read when it comes to leadership. I would recommend for everyone to read “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. These books are easy to read, and in the process you learn that business success is tied to growing and understanding people. In the green industry, we grow and maintain plants, but we need to focus on growing our employees. Sometimes we want to believe that success needs to be more complicated or that there is some big secret to success, but really it’s all about people and perfecting the basics.

If you were to give young leaders one piece of advice, what would that be?
I would tell young people that part of the equation to success is time. Everyone wants overnight success, and we constantly hear of success stories like Facebook and Google, but that’s not the norm. Time and the ability to practice delayed gratification are two key factors for success.

What leadership words or quote inspire you most and why?
I do not rely on quotes or motivational words to inspire me. Looking at my employees and knowing that I have an obligation to them is enough to inspire me. If I were to put one word on my wall it would be “perseverance.” A common trait among successful small business owners and millionaires is they have a “no quit” attitude and persevere.