Strong leadership can be the solution to most problems a company might face. But from whom that leadership will come is the million-dollar question. Rightfully, the responsibility falls first to the business owner. After that, business owners typically-and, again, rightfully-delegate such responsibility to their managers.
But when managers balk at exhibiting sound leadership, it becomes a matter of chance as to who will step up to the leadership plate. In today’s competitive, hectic marketplace, every business owner or manager must invest time to get his or her arms around the principles of pragmatic leadership or run the risk of becoming a statistic in the ever-growing list of failed enterprises.
What is Leadership?
Leadership could be defined as “any attempt-successful or otherwise-to influence the behavior of others.” Frequently, I take a contrary opinion to the statement that there are people who are “natural-born” leaders. Take, for example, a crying infant, with hopes of getting fed, changed or held. Unknowingly, that baby is partaking in a basic leadership lesson-that is, she is influencing the behavior of her parents-and, finding herself successful, will do it again… over and over. That has very little to do with the baby’s genealogy.
Therefore, leadership is a learned skill. As we’re well into this hopefully-successful year, what importance has leadership had in achieving your business goals, despite a somewhat erratic economy? It’s more important than ever before. Some, in fact, consider leadership to be the most crucial component of a good company. So, let’s describe leadership in practical terms.
We Need a HERO
When a business owner or manager assumes a leadership role in a company, industry or community, she must possess the four characteristics that comprise the acronym HERO.
She must be an . . .
Encouraging role model
Risk taker, and have an
“O” symbolizing the crystal ball of a visionary.
Honest diagnosis of the competence and commitment of a particular individual to perform a specific task is the first step in selecting an effective leadership style. It is as simple as assessing the knowledge, demonstrated ability and emotional motivation of a person to complete the job function.
This is no place for casual generalities. When you assign someone a task, take time to ask yourself:
– Has he recently performed the job satisfactorily?
– Is he motivated to do the job?
– Has he been trained to do the job correctly?
– Is there an incentive to do a good job?
If the answer is yes to all of the questions, give him the ball and let him run with it. If any answer is no, you’ll need to spell out how the task should be done and/or the why behind the importance of the task to the overall success of the organization. Constructive and respectful feedback is the heart of being an honest communicator.
Risk-Taking Role Models
When you publicly assume the title of owner or manager- like it or not-you become a role model. Every action, facial expression and tonal inflection is now under the watchful eye and ear of every one of your employees. Guess what? If you want them to approach their jobs with enthusiasm, you’d better be enthusiastic in carrying out your own duties. If you want them to be humble and admit their shortcomings, guess who needs to show genuine humility when a mistake is made? “Walk the walk if you talk the talk” is the modern-day version of leadership by example.
One of the toughest things a leader may need to do is to let people make mistakes. The lessons they will learn are more valuable than any training course you could ever send them to. The trick is, soon after a gaff, discuss the mishap, determine why it occurred and agree on what should be done the next time.
Reward employees for putting forth an honest effort to improve. Finally, be a visionary for your company. Share your vision with them. Be as specific as possible. When they can visualize the big picture, change is easier to accept, support for growth will come from within, and your job as leader will become easier. Remember, if you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time. Set goals and work toward achieving them daily.
Do These Sound Familiar?
Here are several scenarios to examine. Imagine yourself as the owner of these four businesses. First, select the one that most closely describes your company today. Then, select the one that could best describe your company 12 months from now. Selecting the same company twice is permitted, though not advised- unless it is Business D.
Business A: The annual turnover in personnel is greater than 50 percent. Ex-employees go to work for competitors or other business interests within your industry. Most of your new hires have limited experience and skills. You spend long hours telling and showing your people how to perform their jobs and immediately correcting them when a mistake is made or about to be made. It appears no one else in the company cares as much about its success as you. Absenteeism and tardiness are more frequent than you would like them to be. Still, you see that the job gets done by being very directive.
Business B: Your employees engage in friendly conversation with you, both on and off the job. Whenever there is uncertainty in what is to be done, they immediately turn to you for guidance. You spend more time on the shop floor, at the desks of administrative personnel, and at staff meetings than in the solitude of your office getting your own work done. Most times you bring work home, come into the office early, or stay late to complete it, when there are fewer interruptions. At the end of most days, you are exhausted but have the feeling of satisfaction that comes with a good day’s work. In essence, you are working more so “in the business,” rather than “on the business.”
Business C: Your employees have so many creative and productive suggestions that you begin to feel you are losing control of your business. At times you assign a job to a capable worker, only to find that the employee is constantly checking with you to be sure he understands what to do. You find yourself being more of a cheerleader than a coach. When you occasionally abandon the workforce to “fend for themselves,” things-although appearing flawless in the customer’s eyes-could have been smoother if you’d been around, if only to reassure the troops that they were doing a good job.
Business D: You can take a well- deserved vacation or attend an industry trade show without your company skip- ping a beat. On occasion, you get that eerie feeling that your business is on auto-pilot, yet there are few customer complaints or shop problems. Your employees engage in constructive and spirited “debates” about better ways to serve the customer. If you do lose an employee, it is because she has gotten a better outside offer, or decided to go into business for herself (hopefully not in competition with you). And, while you will miss her, you part company amicably and wish her well. There are others on your staff ready to be promoted and assume new responsibilities.
The Irony of Good Leadership
Interestingly, in each scenario above, the manager demonstrates the appropriate leadership style given the circumstances. Successful and effective leadership is dependent on the situation.
If you chose example A, B or C as your first response, you hopefully selected B, C or D (respectively) for your second. Your goal is to develop a work environment where workers seek autonomy, demonstrate pride in workmanship, and are committed to customer satisfaction. Don’t try to take giant steps toward your goal of growing into Business D. Instead, become a student of leadership. At the same time, develop an action plan to fulfill your corporate vision. To learn more about leadership, I invite you to
investigate the following books:
– Leadership and the One-Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson;
– Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders
by L. David Marquet;
– Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun
by Wess Roberts; and
– Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership
by James M. Strock
Their messages are simple: Don’t reinvent the wheel, learn from the effective leaders of the past and discover the leader within yourself. Good luck!