Those who work with Michael Yackira at Sierra Pacific Resources no longer look surprised or concerned these days when he invites them to lunch.

“The first couple of times, people thought I had an agenda,” laughs the executive vice president and chief financial officer. “They were saying, ‘What’s this all about? Why is he inviting me to lunch? What did I do wrong?'”

But Yackira had no agenda other than welcoming them into a social setting where they could get to know him, he could get to know them and they could get to know one another.

“The lunches are very informal, very relaxed,” he said. “I take a different group to lunch every other week, and it has worked really, really well. There has been a terrific response.”

The lunches grew out of Yackira’s experience at Leadership at the Peak. “The biggest thing I learned about myself that week was that the softer side of me, the part that I had had in the past, was sort of simmering. The flame had not gone out, but it was on low ebb,” he said. “I realized I had not been spending enough time getting to know people I work with and showing my appreciation for them like I should. I didn’t really need to relearn this; I needed to reconnect and determine the importance of it.”

The chairman of Sierra Pacific Resources, an electric and gas holding company headquartered in Nevada, afforded him the opportunity to attend the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL) premier program for top executives. “It was quite a blessing for me and made me realize that, no matter the stage of your career, you can always improve on your leadership skills.”

Yackira wasted no time building on what he learned from the program. “I immediately sat down with the people who had been kind enough to fill out my assessment questionnaires. I described to them what I had learned, and I told them what I had set as my goals going forward. I told them that one of the things you do on the last day of Leadership at the Peak is write yourself a note and describe what you want to see changing in your life, both personally and professionally, and I shared some of that with them.”

In addition to the lunches, the executive began regularly wandering around the office talking to people. “Those things sound pretty simple, but they’ve made a big difference for me,” he said. “I feel more connected personally with the people I’m fortunate enough to work with. And it’s been good for them as well, because they realize I care – not that I didn’t before, but I just wasn’t expressing it.”

He structured his schedule to make sure the lunches and office chats didn’t get squeezed out. “If you just assume it’s going to happen, other things will take up the vacuum and you’ll never get around to it,” he said. “It almost sounds contrived to schedule such things, but it’s not meant to be. I simply know my schedule is tight, and I know that if I don’t put aside an hour to walk around or an hour to go to lunch with people, it’s never going to happen.”

Yackira said he went to CCL hoping the program would make him a better leader, “but I didn’t know it would affect me so personally.” The reconnection it inspired him to rekindle was unexpected but priceless. “It’s easy to get caught up in growing responsibilities and forget how important it is to express to people that you care about them and that you are sincerely grateful for their contribution,” he said. “It’s all based on people. Everything revolves around the motivation and guidance you provide and the guidance that is provided to you in order to get a job done and be successful. You never do everything yourself.”

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