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From Home Furnishing Business

Coach's Corner: Building the Perfect Beast – Developing Future Leaders in Your Company

By Tom Zollar

Last month’s article Coaching the Coach discussed the need to train sales managers and what to look for in a program that will give your people the best chance to be successful. Our next issue will feature recognition of our 2018 Class of Forty Under 40, the future leaders of our Industry - which actually ties into that column quite well. Because without training, including exposure to new ideas, processes and cutting-edge thinking, how can we hope to develop well rounded professionals to take over our businesses and guide our industry? Therefore, in order to get us ready for the announcement of our 2018 inductees, I thought we should talk about what it takes to be a leader and how we might help grow them in our organizations.

That got me thinking about my career, which leaders I followed and the impact they had on my growth. There were most certainly a lot of people that influenced my development, but I must say that the biggest factor was the amount of effort my direct supervisor put into training me and providing me with opportunities to learn even more through additional educational activities outside of the company itself. Sometimes it took a push or a challenge to get me motivated, but in hindsight I probably got more from those experiences than I did from all of the on-the-job training over the years.

The best boss I had in my career, totally believed in this. I have well over a dozen notebooks in my bookcase from AMA programs, various seminars and other business courses I took because he challenged all of his direct reports to constantly find ways to grow and improve. Sometimes it was a pain in the neck to fit these external events into a busy schedule, but it was always worth it, because I use things I learned from them every day.

Looking through my book case, I found a segment from one event that seems to be an appropriate preview for next month’s Forty Under 40 issue. It comes from probably the most memorable one day session I ever attended. Our leader took all of his direct reports to Cobo Hall in Detroit for the “Success 1993 Seminar” which featured the top motivational speakers of the era, including: Zig Ziglar, Peter Lowe, Mary Lou Retton, General Norman Schwarzkopf and others. All day long we sat transfixed while these famous, successful people gave us their insight into what it takes to be all you can be.

They were all excellent, but the one that really blew me away was General Schwarzkopf. Certainly, the fact that he had just retired as a hero of the first gulf war was a factor as his presence and presentation were both commanding to say the least. However, it was his message that struck me the most and has stayed with me ever since. His topic was “Picture a Leader” and he spoke with a clear passion that you could feel throughout the hall. Here are some notes I jotted down from what one of our great military leaders said about being a leader:

The secret to the 21st Century will be leadership.

Nearing the end of the last century, Schwarzkopf’s concern was that we were not developing enough strong leaders to take us into and through the next century. Others have expressed similar thoughts related to generational shifts in values and focus. Each generation has always seemed to have concerns about how the next one will carry on. As people change so too must their leaders. However, the basic points he made back in 1993 will always hold true.

Leadership does not equal managership – leaders lead people, managers manage processes and procedures that involve people. One is an art, the other is more of a science.

His meaning here is pretty clear - leaders lead and managers manage. In my experience many people can be trained to be good managers. However, leaders must be developed and not everyone has what it takes to be a leader. Social psychologists have often said that leadership qualities and skills show up very early in childhood, but I have seen good people evolve into great leaders as they gain experience and confidence. Of course, I have also seen it go the other way. The best is to have a true leader who can also manage, but these individuals are hard to find.

The Challenge is to get people to do willingly, that which they would not normally do willingly.

This is probably the best definition of the difference between a manager and a leader I have heard. Leaders find ways to get people on board, so they actually do the right things because they want to, not because they have to. Teams with leaders in charge are always the most motivated and successful at whatever tasks they perform or roles they play.

Mostly, being a leader takes character. Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy. Lead by example, because people hope that their leaders are better people than them. It’s nice to be liked, but you must be respected.

Webster defines character as “the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual”. In this usage, the word is intended to indicate a high level of mental and moral strength. Good Leaders must be dedicated to their principles and values in order to be affective, so they need to be strong in these areas. Often this is hard because not every decision is always the easy one. Being a leader is not a popularity contest and as he says, respect is necessary for success, but being liked is not. I have read several articles stating that “wanting to be liked” is the top reason that new managers and aspiring leaders often fail. By the way, my understanding is that General Schwarzkopf managed to be both respected and well liked throughout his career.

A leader cannot delegate responsibility – that is theirs alone. Leaders delegate authority, so others can get their jobs done.

Leaders that pass the blame for failure on to subordinates or other team members lose the respect discussed in the previous point. Not only do those below stop trusting the leader in this case, so too do those above. There have been several examples of sports coach’s blaming the players for losing a game and in most cases the resulting news articles and player quotes reflect a loss of respect for that individual. Train your people how to be successful, give them the proper tools, coach them to make them the best they can be, then let them do their job.

“Leadership has many peaks and valleys. A good leader does not live for the next promotion or tangible reward. He or she derives pleasure from leadership itself. It is almost a calling.

This was the general’s way of saying that there is a certain amount of passion and a whole lot of dedication that goes into being a true leader. The rewards and adulation will come if an individual stays focused on the act of leading and is motivated by doing it. When they lose that, they will begin to be less and less affective as a leader.

The Six Points of Leadership:

  1. Things will not improve until you admit that something is wrong
  2. Set Goals – Pick goals that everyone can understand and know their roles in achieving them
  3. Demand High Standards – Let people know what is expected from them. People will rise (or sink) to the standards you set.
  4. People work to succeed – Let them know how success will be measured.
  5. Recognize Success – Also accept mistakes, “Latitude to learn, NOT Freedom to fail”.
  6. Power Down! – Don’t tell people how to do their job. Give parameters – give standards – give authority – tell them WHAT to do, then let them do it! Weak leaders lack confidence in themselves and thus their people.

No comment necessary for this section since it is probably one of the best “To Do Lists” anyone interested in being a leader could have. Straight from one of our best military leaders!

General Schwarzkopf’s Secret to Success as a leader:

The general wrapped up his presentation by announcing that he was going to provide us with his “secret” to becoming a successful leader. He then told a humorous tale about when he arrived at the pentagon to take over as the person in charge of managing all military personnel – over three million people at the time.

The general he was replacing had been in the position for a long time and was beloved by everyone. Schwarzkopf expected to have three months of training at the side of his predecessor only to discover him walking out of his office to take three months leave before officially retiring.

He dramatically told us that he literally chased the old general down the hall, finally stopping him to ask how the heck was he going to be able to take over without proper training and guidance from him? The old man said, “Oh that’s easy. Just follow Rule #13,” and then he walked away. Schwarzkoph stopped him again and said, “I am sorry sir, but I do not recall a Rule #13.” As if reading it from a manual the older man said, “Rule #13… when placed in command, take charge, make something happen, don’t just sit there!” He then walked away again. Schwarzkopf yelled after him, “but how will I know what to do?” The old man paused and said, “Just follow Rule #14”. Schwarzkopf then asked, “What does Rule #14 say?” The old man didn’t stop, he just shouted over his shoulder and said, “Rule #14…do what’s right!”

General Schwarzkopf said he followed Rule #14 the rest of his career and it was the single biggest reason for all of his success as a leader. His last comment was, “The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.”

It is this last point that I have tried to live by ever since hearing his presentation. It has served me well when I have been faced with tough decisions and I hope it will help you too.

The real message of this column is that all too often we keep our managers locked up in our stores and then wonder why they still do things the way they have always been done, instead of taking our businesses to another level with new ideas and knowledge. Take a lesson from my best boss and invest in your people so they can grow and move your business forward.

Thanks John!

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