Real leadership requires us to face our fears and do things that can seem against our nature at first.
By David Rogers
Over more than 20 years of coaching and consulting, I’ve noticed that shop owners nearly always fall into one of two camps, each at the opposite end of the personality spectrum.
On one end of that spectrum are owners who despise conflict. They want their workday to be productive and positive and want to hire a team that feels the same way. They don’t enjoy dominating others and would prefer that the team operate as a flat command structure, with everyone on equal footing.
In the pursuit of a conflict-free day, however, they avoid uncomfortable discussions and don’t challenge their teams to change processes or systems…meaning improvements come slowly or not at all. This type of owner allows unhelpful or inappropriate behavior to take place and foment, and their teams are often dysfunctional as a result.
At the other end of the spectrum are dominant owners who head into each day looking for a fight. They take no prisoners as they seek to root out problems and grow their business, and, as a result, their business is often successful from a purely financial standpoint.
While this personality is traditionally viewed as the most effective type of leader for a business, they often leave a trail of blood in their shop as they dominate employees into submission and correct behavior. And, while the shop may be financially successful, it typically has a revolving door of employees, as team members feel hurt, used and displaced.
Conventional wisdom views the dominant leader as more effective and better suited to lead.
So, what kind of leadership do successful teams need?
Neither of these leaders is acceptable. In politics, the extreme position is rarely the best way forward, and the same is true here.
So, again, what kind of leader do shops need?
In order to answer that, let’s break down the good and bad of these extreme positions and use them to construct the ideal leadership style.
Trying to build a low-stress, low-conflict workplace is not a terrible goal. The problem comes in trying to achieve this goal by ignoring or avoiding problems.
Worse, building a workplace through inaction, rather than by building processes and procedures that eliminate chaos and stress, creates a feedback loop. Introverted, conflict-avoiding owners become cemented in their inaction because each time they avoid solving a problem, it becomes easier to ignore the next one.
In the same way, trying to build a successful, growing business isn’t a bad goal. The problem is when the owner does this through confrontation and fighting.
Growing a shop through domination and control pushes away team members and creates unnecessary strife for the team. And the longer it goes on, the harder it is to break the cycle…after all, winning fights feels good, and it’s only natural to want to keep winning.
In other words, it’s not the goals of either of these owners that are the problem. It’s the execution. Which is why striking a balance and aiming to be an owner who doesn’t operate on either extreme doesn’t mean erasing your identity.
Striking that balance does mean realizing, however, that both extremes create significant collateral damage.
Building a culture where the team has lower stress isn’t bad; the issue is allowing your shop to wither and problems to fester. By that same token, owning a successful, growing shop isn’t the problem; it’s burning through relationships and forcing out valuable employees to reach that goal.
In both cases, the biggest obstacle to growth isn’t the owner’s intent – it’s the owner’s comfort.
Real leadership, the kind that our shops need to grow and be healthy long-term, requires us as leaders to face our fears. We must be able to put ourselves in an uncomfortable place and do things that can seem against our nature at first.
If you’re the kind of owner who seeks peace and calm, this means not avoiding issues, but seeking them out and addressing them long before they can fester and rot. The more time you invest in teaching your team exactly how to act and what procedures to follow – and holding them accountable for following that training – the sooner your team will create the healthy, low-stress environment you crave.
And if you’re an owner who is determined to win and succeed at all costs, the goal should be to create a culture of accountability and transparency. When you acknowledge mistakes and make yourself as accountable to processes and procedures as everyone else on the team, you foster an environment where your whole team will want to work harder to help your shop succeed.
These aren’t immediate solutions, I know. They require investigation, asking questions, and constant measurement so that you can confidently delegate, orchestrate and build confidence.
But, if you believe that people can change – if you know deep down that leaders can adapt and grow so that their teams become stronger and their businesses become more successful – then it doesn’t matter that the solutions aren’t immediate, because leadership is a journey.
What matters instead is what actions you can take today to be the leader your team needs and deserves.
If your comfort zone is in avoiding conflict, today’s goal should be to identify one area of the business where you can document your policy and procedure, train the entire team on their responsibilities, and measure the results. Top performers thrive in cultures of accountability, and your team will be happier and work together better because of the changes you’re making.
And, if your comfort zone is at the other end of the spectrum, today’s goal should be to look for ways to build up the team around you. Find something tangible and positive that you can say about each team member and recognize them for it. You’ll build their confidence and teach them that they’re working hard to support the team and the community, not just to make you happy. Top performers need more than just financial motivation.
I can confidently say that leadership is a journey worth going on because it’s one I’ve been on for years. My personality and background in the military both mean that my comfort zone is in being a command-and-control leader who demands my way or the highway.
But, that’s not what my team needs, and it won’t make my business truly successful…so it’s my responsibility to be uncomfortable, because that is what creates sustainable, long-term success.
You can do the same! I’m living proof that people can change, and that undergoing that change has incredible rewards. Twenty-five years after I took over management of my shop, it continues to set sales and profit records because our culture is one of transparency, trust, recognition, and accountability.
And, with over 20 years of consulting experience in hundreds of shops, I can also confirm that the same is true in every shop.
How can you operate in that uncomfortable place today, and how much growth will you see as a result? The opportunities for your shop are incredible, and I promise the journey is worth the effort.
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