Authenticity in Leadership

Sunny Gonzalez-Cepero Executive Features, Legal Leave a Comment

David Buckman, EVP and GC of AlliedBarton, explains how to add value by focusing on your company’s core principles and by being authentic in every aspect of your role.

AlliedBarton Security Services, the largest American-owned security officer services company, named David Buckman as their Executive Vice President and General Counsel in 2005.

Before joining AlliedBarton, Buckman worked for 17 years in various legal positions, including the Associate General Counsel at ARAMARK. Interestingly, Buckman began his career as an elementary school teacher, which sprung from his love of explaining and conveying concepts to others. He then chose to pursue a legal degree because of the plethora of opportunities it promised. Now, serving in an executive legal role, he is still able to utilize the same coaching and teaching approach as he used as an educator.


Focusing on Core Disciplines

The company hired Buckman just a few months after Allied had acquired Barton, and the merger posed numerous new challenges for the company. They had to attempt to integrate the two companies operationally, as well as meld the two very different company cultures. “The pain of growth, the work of integration, and the challenge of blending cultures…was certainly impacting the legal department,” Buckman explained.

Buckman and the rest of senior leadership tackled the issue strategically. The embarked on a process to develop a strategic plan and unified cultural template. They discussed important questions such as “What are we good at?; What are we not so good at?; Where are our opportunities?; Where do we want to focus?; and What kind of culture do we want to have?” The process helped the legal department at AlliedBarton settle on their mission, purpose, and values, which, in turn, “made it easier for the team navigate the difficulties in the broader organization.”

Buckman shared: “The way to add value, is you have to align your resources and your competencies with the things that are really core and fundamental to the business.” At AlliedBarton, the legal leadership team distilled three core disciplines that they focus on. The company’s primary directive is to hire, recruit, and manage an enormous staff of roughly 65,000 security professionals, a field associated with a large degree of risk. As such, to bring value to the company, they focus their resources on contract process, employment and labor relations, risk management, and insurance and claims management. The take-home is to crystallize your company’s or department’s core disciplines and then focus the majority of your energies on those areas in order to bring the most value to the business.


HR at the C-Suite Table

In many organizations, Human Resources is a middle management department, but not so at AlliedBarton. Buckman believes that HR deserves a seat at the C-table at AlliedBarton, because it is a “quintessential human capital management organization.” The company’s only real asset is people; they are “a recruiting, selecting, and training factory” that deploys “highly trained security professionals.”

As such, HR is critical to the company’s success, and therefore has a much higher seat in management. For a time, Buckman oversaw the HR department at AlliedBarton; the HR leaders reported directly to him. However, he quickly realized that because the organization is built upon people, their HR department had to be strategic and it deserved a higher platform within the company’s management hierarchy. Rather than reporting to the GC, Buckman thought it would be much more advantageous for HR to play an active role at the table and report directly to the CEO. This would provide HR leaders with the capability to offer more input in the company’s short- and long-term planning and stratagem.

“In our organization,” Buckman said, “human capital management needed to be moved to the C-suite level.” In this way, HR leaders can influence important decision making, help ensure the quality of the company’s asset (people), and add value to the organization.


AB_DavidBuckman_064Being Real

A couple of Buckman’s leadership insights are earmarked with the theme of authenticity. He believes that being honest and forthcoming with clients goes a long way in resolving issues. For instance, when dealing with client’s contract amendments, a lawyer might have to address a disagreement with a client on a certain stipulation while simultaneously trying to strengthen the company-client relationship. This takes tact, skill, and most importantly, authenticity.

Buckman explained that the best way to do this is to: “calmly and amicably articulate a clear business rationale and why it’s important to you and why it impacts the service and the business relationship.” He said, “I think people respect a candid, rational answer that isn’t trying to get an advantage, but really trying to be open and transparent to get to a real solution.”

Authenticity isn’t just important in the lawyer-client relationship, but also in leadership as a whole. “You have to be real. You have to demonstrate the right behaviors… the way you conduct yourself in meetings, the way you walk down the hall…it has to be ‘Do as I do,’” Buckman said. “And it has to be authentic. You can’t put on an act…because people see right through that. You have to be sincere in your leadership.” By doing so, your team will come to respect you. The authentic nature of Buckman’s leadership has served him well, helping his reach senior status at a highly respected security service company, and he urges young professionals to commit themselves to exemplifying this important trait in their own work. ♦


Using the Customer Vendor Model

Buckman vouched for the efficacy of the customer vendor model. When you keep the internal customer in the forefront of your mind, it will result in added value because, in the case of AlliedBarton’s legal department, you’re assisting the customer’s success and helping them meet their goals. “If you can maintain that service relationship, not only are you going to have better outcomes,” Buckman said, “but you are going to have a better day.”

Below are a few directives to strengthen the customer vendor relationship.

  • Having a service ethic
  • Being timely and flexible
  • Understanding their needs
  • Meeting or exceeding expectations
  • Providing a great product or outcome for the customer


3 Levels of Leadership

Buckman shared a leadership progression that he likes to teach. There are three levels of leadership:

Level 1: What I say. This model is thin and ineffective. If your leadership is only about what you say, people view you as a hypocrite and do not take your leadership seriously.

Level 2: What I do. This is better than level one because you’re modeling the behaviors; you’re walking the walk.

Level 3: Who you are. If your leadership is reflective of who you are, then the “What I say” and the “What I do” is taken care of. This model is the sincere, authentic leadership that people commit themselves to.

Sunny Gonzalez-Cepero

Sunny Gonzalez-Cepero

Contributing Writer at Forefront Magazine
Sunny Gonzalez-Cepero, a Key West, Florida native, has been a writing aficionado since she could hold a chunky crayon and scribble across her Granny's walls. Her love of writing fueled her career path, and eventually grew to encompass other arts, including web design and photography.

Professional profiles, photojournalism, and legal writing are Sunny's specialties; her personal, creative, edgy approach makes her stand apart in the industry. Her clientele has included over three dozen law firms around the country; international businesses such as LiveStrong and Howcast; American favorites like Family Fun and Natural News; and regional publications such as Rutherford Woman and Conch Color.
As a mom of six, fitness enthusiast, and self-employed business woman, she stays busy in her island home with her middle school sweetheart and husband Michael, and makes time to travel regularly. If she's not jogging on down the islands, shooting an event, or writing up a storm, you can find her at Sunfire Creatives or on Facebook.
Sunny Gonzalez-Cepero

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