The term “leadership” is tossed around often in every industry. Everyone is looking for a way to build the better mousetrap and find the miraculous revelation that will propel us to the next level of leadership stardom. While I think there is always room for improvement, sometimes we lose sight of the basics that are necessary to implement the finer points of leadership.
In my opinion, the first thing to remember when setting your own leadership style is to lead from the front. You are the captain of your own ship. The easiest way to gain employees’ trust and respect is to show them that you are not afraid to mix it up on the “front lines.” If they see that you understand their day-to-day struggles, it will give you more credibility and you will not just be the boss telling them what to do.
There is a fine line to walk here. I’m not talking about doing someone else’s job for them. That would obviously be counter-productive. However, when everyone is busy and you walk by that full trashcan or that phone that needs to be answered, take the opportunity to jump in and help. It will go a long way toward breaking down the boss/employee barrier. It also sends the message that you are present and have a good understanding of what is happening in your operation.
Walking the Tightrope
While we all have different shops with different operating models, it is clear that we all face the same challenges everyday when we open the door. Problem solving is at the root of every aspect of our day-to-day lives. It is incumbent upon us to handle each problem with the same fairness and intensity to create a well-understood level of expectation. Think of it as walking a tightrope. When you are the leader of an organization, you are walking on the highest tightrope in your organization. Everyone is watching and, if you fall, it is a long way down. It is important that, as leaders, we show ourselves to be fair and equitable, and lead by example.
Most important, however, is consistency. That consistency should apply to every person involved with your organization whether it’s customers, vendors or employees. There should never be any question about how you will react to a situation. Leadership is all about making sure your goals and expectations are absolutely clear. Without clear expectations, no one will be sure what their role is or what is expected of them. When a leader falters, it leaves a hole that is usually filled with confusion, mismanagement and bad decisions.
That is not to say that we need to micromanage everything. That is quite the contrary. Effective delegation is critical to an organization’s and a leader’s success. Those “set” expectations we talked about earlier should include the ability for employees to use an intelligent thought process to tackle their job function. By giving employees direction and the tools they need to succeed, it will be easy to identify your “leaders in training.”
The goal here is to create layers of leadership that effectively reinforce your vision of how your operation should run. Remember, being a leader is not about lording over robots, but rather about allowing employees to achieve their maximum potential and holding them accountable for their successes and failures in meeting your common vision.
If you are able to develop more employees to take on leadership roles, your role as a leader changes and allows you to focus on broader issues, while allowing them to take ownership of their decisions. Our industry is in great need of less micromanaging. I see it all the time, as many shop owners have a hard time “relinquishing” control of even the most mundane task out of fear that it will not be completed properly.
Until you give your people the opportunity to take a higher level of responsibility, you won’t truly realize how far your organization can go. Being a leader means understanding that you must put the best people in the best positions to improve your business’ chances for growth and success. This is why when you are interviewing job applicants, you should always be on the lookout for people who can enhance your operation in the future, not just today.
Leadership, like everything in life, is a journey. As with most journeys, you’ll experience ups and downs, successes and failures, and everything in between. The one constant is that there is always room for improvement, and inspiration can come from anywhere. It is well known that this industry requires constant improvement and a commitment to excellence. Success depends directly on our ability to lead and develop our staff to also be leaders.
I often wonder what customers think a day in our lives as shop owners is like. Do they see how we handle multiple issues at once? Do they see how many hats we wear? While no one knows for sure, I can tell you what they do see. If you are a strong leader that empowers your staff to be leaders, they will feel comfortable that your organization has the tools in place for success. That translates into confidence, trust, and, most importantly, a successful relationship with your customers.