“A good leader can’t get too far ahead of his followers”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
It’s been a while since I prepared an article on leadership. I have been busy writing for Material Handling Wholesaler, and the Far West Equipment Dealers Magazine, and most of those articles are about the nuts and bolts of equipment dealership operations. Many subscribers here are not in that business, so I have tended not to replicate those columns here. My goal for the new year however is to write more frequently on both subjects. Doing so expands opportunities, and keeps me in touch with a wider audience.
Now that I am in full time consulting, I get many more opportunities to sit with dealer principals and their leadership teams to plot different strategies for making tangible change and improvement in the organization. I was in a meeting recently with a group of service and parts managers. We were trying to put the tools in place to launch some new initiatives. During the meeting we were assessing the bottom line value of current practices, and then comparing them to the estimated effect of revised practices. I plotted the estimated improvements using a Pareto chart. This type of chart displays the effect of individual initiatives in a bar chart format, and then overlays the cumulative effect of the combined changes on a single line.
We reviewed the individual practices one by one. My goal was to “find the limiting step” in each process. What was the obstacle that would prevent this practice from being embraced? New ideas lose their inertia if you don’t take the time to actually “walk it through”. With every change comes some form of resistance. Leadership is more than enacting change. The hard work is in having a strategy and action plan to address and defeat resistance “in advance”.
During this process, I noticed that when we discussed obstacles that were not easy to overcome, the manager would say: “Don’t ask me…I’m just the IDEA man!. I’m paid to focus on the “Big Picture”. My team will find a way to sort out the details.”
I must respectfully disagree.
Sometimes leadership gets long on theory, and short on substance. There are a lot of “idea men” in business today; and that’s not all bad. Ideas are where the seeds of success are sown. The trouble usually shows up when all the leader does is sow seed.
Once a seed is sown, the work really begins. Much of that work, no doubt, is done by the crew. But the leader has to have an active hand in the process, even when the process involves things OTHER than sowing seeds. Cultivation, weeding, watering, feeding, fertilizing, and harvesting are all requisite tasks in the process of turning an “idea” into the actual improvement estimated on that Pareto chart.
I have worked for guys who were so far into the world of “ideas” that the real leadership in the group had to be assumed by someone else. That’s what normally happens to leaders who wander too far ahead and don’t keep their hand….or at least their eye on the implementation of the plan. Leaders who leap too far ahead get marginalized, and mentally dismissed by their charges.
The world of ideas is there to pull you up to the next level of success. It’s a neighborhood you will visit often as a leader, but it’s a bad idea to establish a permanent residence there.
Have a Happy Halloween!