Make Sure the Right People Own the Right Problems. Leadership is not about your individual success, even though your hard work and aptitude is likely what got you into a leadership position to start with. The sooner you shift your approach to making it necessary for your team to succeed, the better everyone will be. There’s a simple way to think about this: make sure that you don’t own the problems that should be owned and solved by others.
As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Linton.
Steve Linton is the president of Deltec Homes and chief steward of its greater cause and purpose. Deltec Homes is a certified B-corporation that connects people with our planet, by design. Steve is on a mission to change the face of housing by not just setting the bar for technical performance but by designing homes that reconnect people with the natural world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ever since I can remember, I have loved being outdoors. As a kid, my friends and I built countless treehouses and forts, and we would go camping almost every weekend. As I entered Cornell University to study engineering, I continued my love of the outdoors by teaching classes in outdoor leadership, outdoor cooking, survival skills, and backpacking. Fast forward 25 years, and I have been so fortunate to combine my technical expertise in structural engineering with my passion for connecting people with the outdoor world. I’d love to say that this was part of some master plan, but I’m just lucky. Leading Deltec to become certified as a B-corporation further cemented this connection. Now, as I look to the future, I am most excited about expanding this connection: designing and building homes for future generations — it’s what I call a “legacy home.”
What is the vision of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
Our ultimate dream is to change the way the world builds, and we do that each and every day by asking ourselves one question: what will the home of our great-grandchildren be like, and how can we build that home, today?
At Deltec Homes, we build high-quality, custom homes that are not only incredibly beautiful but environmentally friendly. We believe that our homes should be intentionally crafted to forge powerful, unique, and meaningful connections with each other and our planet. That’s how we build Deltecs, and that’s how we believe all homes should be built. The team at Deltec strives toward its greater cause and purpose by living its covenants each day:
Forge real connections — Design from the heart — Embrace innovation — Always listen — Build with purpose — Never stop learning — Deliver with care — Reject good enough — Live sustainably — Change how the world builds
The problems that we are solving all spring from how we can use our dwellings to improve our lives and the planet:
- How can we design homes that inspire a deeper connection with our loved ones and the natural world?
- How will homes need to evolve to adapt to the changing climate and world, and how will homes play a role in restoring the balance in our environment?
- How can we change the paradigm from short-term to long-term, in order to build legacy homes for future generations?
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
For us, changing the way the world builds is an audacious goal, but at the same time, it is our true calling. Building homes that survive severe weather and have an incredibly low (or even zero) energy footprint is a truly special experience that only Deltec delivers. Through our work, we are supporting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals — especially in regard to mitigating climate change and providing affordable and clean energy.
Our approach to climate change and extreme weather is a story of adaptation and preparation. We have the knowledge and expertise to design homes for ever-strengthening storms. Deltec’s homes have withstood hurricane-force sustained winds of up to 185 mph. They are engineered for strength and durability — in fact, they are so strong that in over 50 years and with over 5,000 homes built, our homes’ survival rate is 99.9%.
We understand what it takes to build a home in a severe wind environment. From planning to design to construction, we are focused on the details of building the most durable home possible for the harshest weather. Our continual focus on innovation means that we are always looking to raise the bar: this year we are working on a new Deltec design framework that will allow our homes to be designed to resist up to 225 mph winds, and we have set the goal to resist 250 mph wind speeds by 2025.
At the same time, we also know that from a sustainability perspective we must strive to design homes that don’t just have a lower impact — because “less bad” is still not good — but that have a restorative effect on the planet. By building net-zero energy homes that produce their own energy, we can change the equation so that our homes are contributing energy instead of draining it. And by building legacy homes that last for generation after generation, we are making the most of the resources that we have been given.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
At Deltec, we believe that the word profit should have a much broader definition. The traditional view of profits is financial, and obviously these are a prerequisite for a sustainable business, but we view profits as simply a positive change. We strive to produce profits for our community, for our employees, and for our planet through the work we do. And we think about profits in the long-term, not quarter by quarter.
B-corp certification has allowed us to define how we use business as a force for good. Our employees are more engaged, and we have been able to tell our story to a much wider audience, allowing us to increase business and provide more homes that ultimately benefit our planet: a win-win across the board.
The example that stands out for me is the very first project that I took on at Deltec when I arrived in 2007: installing a solar array on the roof of our production facility. We knew that we had to set the example in our industry, and becoming solar powered was a tangible way to demonstrate that we weren’t only building green homes, but that we were also doing it in a green way. Back at this time, the financial payback from solar energy wasn’t as clear as it is today, but we took the long-term view. It took eight years to pay for the system, and since then the system has been producing financial profits year after year. But more importantly, we have been producing ecological profits the entire time.
The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
Great question! As a parent of two teenagers, this is something I ponder regularly. First, I’m not sure that the next generation is waiting for our lead — they have already proven themselves more than capable of taking action. When I attended the climate strike here in Asheville, NC, the one quote I wrote down in my journal from the host of young speakers was this — “The youth aren’t the future, they’re the now.”
As I think more deeply, here are my ideas of how we can all help:
- Get kids outside. Without a connection to the natural world, we are less likely to take action. Children need to experience our world first hand. With my own kids, I often experience resistance at first, but once we are deep in the wilderness, they always come to life in amazing ways.
- Teach them to think critically. I spent several years teaching middle school — a job that many people do not quite understand, but I enjoyed it so much! Our teachers should be given more flexibility to focus on helping students learn how to think, how to ask questions, and how to challenge all knowledge.
- Read The Coddling of the American Mind by Lukianoff and Haidt and Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. We have to understand the importance of future generations learning to be resilient and to be critical of ideas from multiple perspectives. In one of my favorite quotes from Antifragile, Taleb says, “wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.” Gaining strength and perspective from uncertainty and hardship is something that we can all learn.
- Engage in eco-friendly activities. Parents need to set the example. They can have their children partake in local community environmental initiatives, like beach or stream clean ups, tree plantings, etc.
- Watch documentaries. There are a myriad of award-winning films that cover the concepts of sustainability, from climate change to the pacific trash vortex. They are explained in a simple way, yet visually show the impact of plastic waste, garbage overloading landfills and how the oceans across the globe are changing rapidly.
(here’s a picture of me at the Asheville climate rally…)
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
I’ve often thought that I should write a book called “Everything I needed to know about business I learned as a middle-school teacher.” While I didn’t fully realize it at the time, teaching sixth and seventh grade was far more impactful than an MBA program. Here’s what I learned:
- Preparation and Attitude. When I was prepared and ardent, I had my most successful moments as a teacher. I was least successful when I tried to wing it or was unenthusiastic. As a leader, people are looking to you to set the tone and the example.
- Think Long Term. Teaching is a long-term mission — we’re preparing the next generation of leaders, and that’s a long-term investment. Even so, it’s easy to just focus students on passing the next test. Business is much the same — it is easy to get seduced by the short term, but the real impact comes from long-term thinking. How will you leave things better than you found them?
- Always be Learning. I have found that I am at my best when I am constantly learning new things, and my life has been greatly enriched by this philosophy.
- Make Sure the Right People Own the Right Problems. Leadership is not about your individual success, even though your hard work and aptitude is likely what got you into a leadership position to start with. The sooner you shift your approach to making it necessary for your team to succeed, the better everyone will be. There’s a simple way to think about this: make sure that you don’t own the problems that should be owned and solved by others.
- Ask Questions. Be truly curious, and never stop asking authentic questions. One of my mentors tells me to ask 5 questions for every statement I make. Try it. It’s harder than you think.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who have guided me along my journey so far. It’s incredibly hard to pick just one — there are so many that come immediately to mind. I would say first and foremost I am grateful for my parents. My mom showed me through many examples that there is a richness in life that comes from combining hard work with compassion, and my dad showed me the importance of balance in my life.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Over the last several years, a mentor of mine has been instrumental in helping me understand how my perceptions of our world can be so different than those of others. In many ways, this has often been at the root of the political and social challenges that humans face.
Even as my awareness of the limitations in my own thinking have become more apparent, I still must recognize that my ideas of how to bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people are constrained by my personal experience and biases. For example, I would love to see every child have the opportunity to go to school outdoors for one year in their life. The strong connections to nature that would result from this — both for the child and for the ecosystem — would ensure our world stays in balance.
However, this idea won’t be best for everyone in every situation. Perhaps my greatest hope for a movement is one in which we all have the awareness and humility to realize that our viewpoint is one of many, and that by working with those of different views, backgrounds, and experiences, that we all learn and grow.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
There’s a little known quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the author of the famous children’s book The Little Prince, “Build not an empire where all is perfect, nay, built an empire where all is zeal.” This is one of my favorite guiding quotes because it reminds me that how we approach our problems is more important than getting things perfect.
There’s one other I just have to share (with zeal!). I’m not sure who to attribute this to, but a speaker I heard at a UN conference in the Bahamas earlier this year really struck me when he said “we sit in the shade of a tree that we did not plant, and we plant a tree in whose shade we will not sit.” I come back to this quote often, both in my personal life and my professional life, to help recenter myself on the long-term view.
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!