Leadership: The Most Neglected Ingredient in Business Growth
Some floor covering businesses succeed in spite of themselves. Vigorous economies, like the one the United States enjoys today, allow such success. Indeed, as George Bernard Shaw observed, “Success covers a multitude of blunders.” However, when the economy weakens or a tough competitor moves in, such businesses struggle — even to the point of failure.
Those challenges, like the refiner’s fire, consume poorly managed businesses and even scorch and damage the better-run organizations. Yes, success covers a multitude of blunders, but only over the short term. History tells us that we can count on “refiner’s fires” to rage, sooner or later, through every floor covering business.
Some 96% of all businesses fail within their first eight years. Owners who have survived great challenges know that some crucial elements protect them from fire damage. Too many, unfortunately, have neglected one element and created a void can be lethal to any business. The most neglected ingredient in promoting business growth is leadership.
Some owners and managers ignore leadership simply because they lack management experience or are unaware of it’s importance. Typically, these people are great at “doing the business.” Often, they’re highly skilled at selling or installing carpet. In fact, they spend most of their time selling and laying.
If these managers and owners are former installers, who performs the installation when an installer doesn’t show up for work? If they are great salespeople, who sells the most? You’re right, they do! And because they spend most of their time doing business, who’s responsible for making sure the business is running properly, together with systems for operations, human resources, marketing, and the like?
These types of people spend the majority of their time “working in the business” instead of “working on the business” and providing leadership. They compensate for their lack of leadership skills by working harder and longer.
Knowing is half the battleMany owners and managers fail to recognize this one vital fact: a company’s effectiveness cannot rise even one degree above the quality of its own leadership. These managers deny that they set the tone for the entire business by shifting any blame to the products, suppliers, customers, or employees.
They may even cite the results of a recent survey. About 50% of employees said they only put enough effort into their work to just hold onto their jobs. And 84% said they could work better — if they wanted to.
These managers focus on that phrase: “If they wanted to…” They know this kind of employee. “See,” they say, “few people today want to work hard. They’re not motivated!” Sometimes they’re even heard to say, “One just can’t find good workers today”, or “If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.”
The managers are correct in identifying a “motivation problem.” However, they’re incorrect about the source of the problem. They think it’s the employees. In fact, it’s the leadership.
Leaders are largely responsible for their employees’ level of motivation. As proof, I submit how these very same employees conduct their personal lives. They cultivate families, buy homes, plan vacations, take on large projects, continually learn, and serve in voluntary organizations. Few are lazy by nature.
If that’s true, what mysterious motivation-sapping power invades their souls on their morning commutes to work? And, why doesn’t that same power put managers under its spell?
“It’s the economy, stupid!” The answer turns out to be the “economy” of the workplace — in other words, how the managers structure the whole work environment. Some unwittingly reward bad behaviors. Some push employees toward goals that mean little to them. Too many owners micromanage the work processes, as well as the results they want. Most expect results that employees haven’t heard, let alone understand. Altogether, many managers are undermining, rather than undergirding, their employees’ self-confidence. That is de-motivating at its best!
People are naturally motivated to work towards goals that they have chosen, goals that fit what they value. Too many managers never learn to align the company’s goals with the employees’ personal goals. A leader is continually challenged to inspire employees to apply their natural motivation on the job.
This is not to say that the most effective managers find the task to be an easy one. In every business and with every senior leader, a wide gap exists between the highest demands of the office and the native abilities the leader can supply. It’s the law of supply and demand, again. Good leaders feel inadequate, because they are inadequate. Fortunately, all managers can learn to become inspiring leaders.
Granted, hiring extraordinary people is one solution, but most of us are ordinary. Learning to hire the best is a skill of inspiring leadership. But even when extraordinary people are hired, their motivation needs to be fueled or it will die out. Productive managers use this strategy. They search to uncover the unique powers of each employee.
They look deeper into the characters, competencies and goals of their current employees. While investigating them, they honor this principle: “Different people develop at different rates, and the best motivators are always on the lookout for hidden capacities.” They also remember that:
Some research, notably that of Harvard University’s Howard Gardner, suggests that every human being is a genius in some form. The manager’s challenge is to find the form of each employee’s genius. By doing so, leaders produce optimal results through others. Leadership takes advantage of synergy.
In my experience, 99 times out of a 100, it’s more expedient to sharpen the leader’s skills than to wait until one can hire wholly self-motivated employees. (Besides, a manager can ruin the best in others’ motivation.)
“The genius of a good leader,” said newspaper columnist Walter Lippman, “is to leave behind him a situation which common sense, without the grace of genius, can deal with successfully.”
Great leaders provide systems and leadership that inspire ordinary people to produce extraordinary results. By mastering the skills of Inspiring Leadership, owners and managers learn they can inspire employees to work more effectively. And they can help employees feel happy at work, and loyal to the company. Happy and loyal employees yield happy and loyal customers.
A business short on capital can borrow money, and one in a poor location can move. But a business short on leadership has little chance of survival. Leadership is the most neglected ingredient of business success. And without it, a business cannot thrive.