Leadership expert John Maxwell is famous for noting that everything rises and falls on leadership. The success of a company, a team or an individual is often linked to how well they lead themselves and others.
Alas, leadership is often seen as positional. If you are above someone in a company, or if you are a manager, you are seen as a leader. To a degree, that is true, but at the positional level, people only follow you because they have to. Some people mistakenly believe that this is the highest level, but Maxwell would have it that there are still four levels above that (2. permission, 3. production, 4. people development, and 5. pinnacle)!
A person does not reach the pinnacle without diligent, consistent effort. They work at developing themselves every single day, even if it's only a little bit at a time. Successful comic Jerry Seinfeld was said to have used a big year-at-a-glance wall calendar to track his joke writing habit. He would put a big X on every day that he wrote a joke, and he would endeavor never to break the chain. It's a small action, but compounded over time, it led him to success and stardom.
Leadership is all-encompassing. It's an integral part of how a business or an individual manages everything from their clients, relationships to finances. I've prepared a couple of real-life stories to demonstrate how it affects an organization's employees and clients.
Refurbished Laptop Outlet
A couple of years ago, I used to work for a refurbished laptop outlet. I only stayed there for six months, and it didn't take long for me to see that there were some real issues with management. It's easy to criticize, of course, but that's not my intention. I give this example to demonstrate how mismanagement can affect a work environment.
The franchise owner was clearly not interested in the growth of his salesmen. I was one of the salesmen working there, and though he would remind me daily to "get numbers", there was very little hands-on practical training. I think it amounted to:
- Don't let the customer go; keep asking more questions
- Sell something to everyone; don't let them walk out without buying something
- Look busy when nothing else is going on; clean the store and rotate the signs even if unnecessary
My manager discouraged me from doing things that would have solidified a good impression with the customers. Some people would come in with computer issues that were very easy to solve, so instead of checking in their computer, bringing it to the technician, making them wait several days and charging them $10 - $20, I would troubleshoot on the spot. It was something that was above the call of duty, but the owner didn't like that very much.
However, that's small potatoes compared to this: he was paying me less than minimum wage. He would pay me arbitrarily when he felt like it (fortunately I did get all of my cheques eventually), and he was half-hearted about tax deductions, which made my income tax situation the following year quite interesting.
What do you think the overall impact was? Lack of loyalty and turnover of employees. Lackluster sales performance. Idleness and time-wasting. Angry, frustrated customers.
Ultimately, it didn't stop me from giving my best in the work environment, but I knew that my employment there was temporary. There's no way I would stay long in a situation like that. A lot of good lessons came out of it, however.
A couple of years ago, the transmission in my car gave out, effectively making the vehicle un-drivable. I somehow managed to get it to my dealership so it could be repaired. However, they told me that they would need the car for two weeks because of parts. They didn't offer a courtesy car, rental or any other substitute, so I had to go rent a car on my own to keep up with my busy schedule.
Two weeks passed. I didn't hear anything from my dealership, so I gave them a call. They said that it would take two weeks. Wait. What? You told me the same thing two weeks ago! "Yeah, but the parts come from Japan and we don't have any control over when they arrive". Okay…
Ultimately, this continued for six to eight weeks. They didn't let me know when my car was ready; I had to call in. When I arrived at the dealership to pick up my car, they didn't even apologize that it was late. Then I was handed a bill well over $400 for the repairs and service. I was not charged for the parts, but this was still a little excessive under the circumstance.
I met with the manager. I explained my situation. I showed him my rental bill. They were not very sympathetic at all. He said that maybe they might be able to cover part of the rental bill but that was all they could do.
In subsequent weeks, I had similar conversations with the owner of the company. He reiterated everything the manager said. "No, it's not our policy to do anything exceptional unless you've been a long-time customer." I was. I bought my car there. I brought it in for every service appointment without fail. He still didn't do anything.
So I dealt with the country's headquarters directly. They agreed to reimburse me of one-third of my total expenses, with a part coming from the headquarters and the smaller part coming from the dealership. The cheque from the headquarters arrived in a timely manner, but I didn't see a cheque from the dealership.
I called the headquarters again. The lady on the other end sighed. "You might have to call them directly and remind them". So I did, and I finally got my cheque, but it didn't seem as though they were in a hurry to get it to me, and had I forgotten about it, I may not have ever seen that money.
In both cases, you can see how leadership trickles down and affects the attitude of its employees. At the laptop outlet, the employees really weren't personally invested in the success of the business. They were there for a paycheck and that's it. At the dealership, the policies were not in favor of the customer. Their policies were followed closely by their employees, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. However, they didn't seem eager to keep the customers they had.
I'm not here to tell anyone how to do business. I believe that customer service should be a priority if long-term patronage is expected. Regardless, leadership will determine how successful a business and their employees or team can or will be. It has influence on the attitude and morale of the entire business.