Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
- Jack Welch
What is the difference between those Presidents who are effective and those who aren’t? I can’t speak for all, because management styles are all different, but I can share my view from 30,000 feet.
To start, if you are President of a company, you are the leader. What does that mean? Yes, you have the title, authority and compensation package that goes with that position. It does not necessarily mean that you have the respect that one assumes goes with it. “Respect” is something you have to earn every day. It is something that is intangible, very hard to earn and very easy to lose. You can easily get people to defer to you, laugh at your jokes and show respect, but what are they really thinking? Will they lend the organization 100% of their effort under your leadership? An important title does not necessarily mean people will follow you, although they might lead you to believe they do. I see all types of leadership styles in this business, some good and some bad.
The first attribute of a good leader is self awareness, or what some have coined as E.Q. (Emotional Quotient). A successful leader knows people well enough to be aware of how he or she is perceived by employees and drivers. A good leader is aware of the messages sent by their words and actions. Every thing a leader does sends a message. This message can be sent intentionally or inadvertently; and it can be good or bad.
I have one friend who is the President and founder of a very large company. He is wildly successful. If you walk into the front door of his terminal, his office is front and center. Everyday at lunch, you will see him playing a game of basketball. All employees and drivers are welcome to join him on the court. That sends a powerful message.
I see others who ensconce themselves in their ostentatiously decorated and wood laden office away on the second floor, guarded by the executive assistant. I even know one that has a fire escape nearby, so he can leave out back if an angry employee or driver wants to see him. He parks his BMW in the prime parking space by the front door. That sends a message as well, especially in hard times, when compensation increases are small or non-existent. I assure you that everyone on the team office, shop and employee receives that message loud and clear. Trucking is a tough blue collar business. The margins are too small to have aristocrats parading around the office.
We all are painfully aware of the driver shortage. Look around your office. Do you have areas posted, “No Drivers Allowed?” This sends a message, too.
A leader develops and protects the culture of the organization. Culture is an intangible and difficult thing to define, but you know it when you see it. It is the value system of the team. An organization’s culture can help it achieve success or bog it down in failure. As the leader of the team, be aware that managers with emulate what you do, whether this is good for your culture or bad. If you want to set the culture, you have to set the example.
If you are overly proud of your knowledge and micromanage, that sends the message that your people are all dummies and they don’t know what they’re doing. At industry events over the years, I have seen many instances where, during a break, most of the Presidents go outside and immediately get on their cell phones. Most the conversations you overhear involve what to do with a load. Talk about being down in the weeds. Have you hired people who are so incompetent, that they can’t deal with a load when you’re out of town? More likely, you have micromanaged so much that you people won’t make a decision without you. The result is that your people work to keep their jobs, instead of working to do their jobs. They lend you their bodies for eight hours a day, but don’t care about the results of their efforts. You are making all the decisions, therefore success or failure rests with you. They have no control. You have created drones.
The environment you have created is one where all decisions are delegated upwards to you. People have not been allowed to make mistakes and learn and grow increasingly competent in the process. They have no pride in their work and feel no control or responsibility over the results of their efforts. People fear you, instead of respect you. Your company’s ability to grow and improve depends on the limits of your time and talent. You are so far down in the weeds that you are doing the job of a dispatcher instead of the job you are paid for, that of the President. That is a very expensive proposition. The minutia will so consume you, that you won’t have the time to see the big picture and lead the organization. You have placed severe limits on the organization by not tapping into the time and talents of others. Ask yourself: “Do I spend all my time fixing things or accomplishing results?”
How does an effective President spend his time? A President must have the information necessary to see the big picture if he or she is to lead the team in the right direction. Armed with this information, the executive is able to look out beyond the day-to-day activities, anticipate the opportunities, dangers and macro environment which the organization must work within. We have all seen the movie, “Braveheart.” It is a great Hollywood show, but if you are a soldier, do really want the General in the fray swinging a sword with you, or would you rather have the General up on the hill, where he can see the entire battle, the weak points in the enemies defense and the opportunities to take the field?
How does one develop the “big picture?” This is an important job of the President and takes time. A Harvard Business Review article reported on a study which tracked where successful executives spend their time. The result is that successful CEO’s spend 60% of their time gathering information. This is done by talking with employees, and in our case especially drivers, reading industry journals and networking at industry events. A CEO can learn a lot from accompanying sales people on customer visits. It shows respect to the customer, while one learns the issues facing customers. Leaders synthesize all this information to point the organization in a direction that will accentuate the opportunities and anticipate the pitfalls ahead.
Effective leaders don’t always know or need to know the answers. But they must be able to see the issues and ask the right questions. If you can’t see the issue, you will never see the solution. Good leaders encourage a healthy level of discussion and even disagreement to tap into the knowledge of the team. You don’t have to be smart to be an effective leader. Hire people smarter than you, ask questions, listen to the answers, and you become smarter than everyone.
Effective leaders think strategically to lead the organization in the development of and implementation of a strategic plan, which determines each department’s role and the important measurements and accountabilities for the organization to focus on. I liken this to sailing. To navigate a sailboat to a certain destination, one often has to tack back and forth into the wind. But to achieve your destination, you have to have a point picked out on the shore. You make be changing direction a lot; you are always making progress to that destination. If no one is looking at the ultimate destination and measuring progress toward that, you will never arrive there, but simply go back and forth.
Leaders are like the conductor of an orchestra, instead of players. They lead the team to the results that must be delivered to the various stakeholders in the organization, including the Board of Directors, Stockholders, lenders and employees.
Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.
-Peter F. Drucker