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“There just isn’t anyone on staff who can step up and take over for me. I’m looking to hire a general manager.” Are you burning out? Are you looking for someone to help? Not just to perform the technical work but to help with planning and marketing and, you know, everything else? Perhaps you are unsure of your skills as a leader and don’t see any potential in your team members either. Of course, it would be great if you could call a headhunter or put an ad on Career Builder and find a super man or super woman who could make everything better. He or she could take the reins and fix your business while you cash checks at your beach house. My mentor, Al Levi, calls this “looking for lightning in a bottle." I’m not saying that never happens. I am suggesting a more predictably successful route.
Leadership can be learned. I’ve met lots of top-level executives from many companies of all sizes. They are all imperfectly human. They do some things well. All of them have challenges and weaknesses. In other words, when it comes to taking your company to the next level, why don’t you? Why not the wonderful people who work for you already? You could grow into leadership. Here are my best tips for developing leadership skills at every level of the company.
Inspiration is half of it.
Listen to famous speeches, read inspiring books, study the lives of successful leaders and clarify your own dreams and vision. Start, or dust off, your business plan. Write down your mission and values. Set some goals that get your blood flowing. Pick a point on the horizon worth marching toward. Do you want a turnkey company? Do you want to spend more time with your kids? Do you want to create career paths for team members? Do you want to give back to your community? Write it down.
A fellow said to me recently, “I just want to find a few technicians who aren’t terrible.” I recognize the obvious frustration. Still, he won’t have much success rallying the troops around that mantra. Go to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Or, at least take an afternoon to regroup and rekindle the flame.
Then what? Many leadership courses, books and speakers share inspiring stories of how, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” (The original quote is attributed to John F. Kennedy, FYI.) But what do leaders actually do when the going gets tough? My friend Jack Tester says, “The most successful leaders inspire and implement.” They create a compelling raison d’etre, and they get stuff done.
Implementation is the rest of it.
When studying leadership, you’ll find plenty of lofty advice on inspiration. When it comes to implementation, you’re looking for less sexy fare, like help with planning, scheduling time, holding meetings, projects management and writing procedures.
Begin by identifying what is getting in the way of achieving your dreams. Assess your current team and who is doing what. An organizational chart is a great tool for getting your arms around what’s happening now, and what — and who — may need to change to accomplish your goals.
Your organizational chart lists who is responsible for what and who reports to whom. Schedule a meeting with the owners and people in managerial positions to create or update your chart. Each “box” on the chart is a position, and each position needs definition. A position description is a short, bulleted list of the responsibilities for that position. Work together to craft your current organizational chart and position descriptions. You may discover that you and/or someone else is/are holding several positions and juggling LOTS of tasks. Not surprising for a small company. However, many large companies are jammed up at the top, with managers taking on way too many tasks.
Next, fill in the boxes for the people who report to those in management positions. Draw lines to reflect the reporting relationships. Consider capping the number at six. Does someone in a management position already have more than that? Take note.
Wrap up this meeting with this assignment: You are all going to fill in your calendars with exactly what you spend your time on over the next two or three weeks. I recommend using a digital calendar, like Outlook or iCalendar or Google calendar. Set the view to show a week at a time. Plan your day, then, overwrite the calendar throughout the day with what you are actually doing. You’ll probably find a disconnect between what you are doing and with what you want to do, or think you should be doing, according to the organizational chart and the position descriptions.
Hold a follow-up meeting and discuss what you’ve learned. Consider that so much of what you are doing could be done by someone else. And, much of your wasted time is because you haven’t implemented a procedure for doing that task successfully. For instance, you might do all the sales, because, well, you know how to do sales and think you’re good at sales. However, this responsibility leaves little time for the other positions you hold. You might update your chart, try out new arrangements and be open to more changes as you grow.
As you share your findings from the calendar exercise, be careful not to spin into despair and keep whining to a minimum. For every challenge, consider re-framing it as a potential project and assemble your master list of projects.
Challenge: Time wasted running parts to the techs.
Project: Create a truck restock procedure.
Challenge: Too many callbacks.
Project: Pick a few frequent callback topics and create procedures and training to prevent them.
Challenge: Need two more technicians, like, yesterday.
Project: Formalize a recruiting, hiring and training system for building careers for willing people with no experience.
Challenge: Our uniforms are scratchy, hard to keep clean and the techs don’t wear them.
Project: Overhaul our uniform standards and procedures.
Challenge: Time wasted writing up a fence-testing employee for the umpteenth time.
Project: Commit to a progressive discipline policy and incorporate it into the employee manual.
Challenge: Spending all day on sales calls.
Project: Identify someone else at the company who may be willing and able to do sales. Adopt a sales training program.
Get the idea? Jot down all these projects on your master list of projects. Use a flip chart or Word doc or an electronic list app like Trello or Wonderlist. It will be a loooooong list!
We’ll address how to get projects done in “Leadership Material — Part Two." Tune in next month as we continue the important, empowering, liberating and satisfying work of leadership development. l