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Wednesday, 31 July 2002 17:00

Leadership: A larger vision

Written by Tom Franklin

Shop owners are generally strong-willed men and women who have had to fight their way to ownership of their businesses, then fight even harder to make their businesses work. As an owner they are in a position of leadership. But are they really leaders, and does it matter? 

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What makes an effective leader? Probably the most obvious answer is that people are willing to follow. Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, "It's a terrible thing to look over your shoulder, when you're trying to lead, and find no one there." The French general and leader, Charles de Gaulle, said, "Men are of no importance. What counts is who commands!"

But does this always mean the leader people will follow is a "good" leader? Obviously not. People willingly followed Adolf Hitler, Napoleon Bonaparte and, more recently, Osama bin Laden, all with tragic consequences.

Fortunately, people have also followed positive leaders like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mohandas Gandhi, and Franklin Roosevelt. But whether good or bad, it's obvious they all had certain characteristics in common that made them effective leaders.

But why should a body shop owner or manager care? Is it that important for business success to be an effective leader? And what does all of this have to do with effective marketing? Let's look first at the role of the effective leader.

Leading by example

Mark Twain once wrote, "Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." A fellow writer, Christian Bovee, added: "Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and approximate the characters we most admire."

And so, when we have a cowboy or a Texan for president, suddenly we see people sporting ten gallon hats and cowboy boots all over the place, and the first lady's hairdo becomes all the rage. So the shop owner who never listens may find his or her employees don't listen either. And the shop owner who puts off important decisions and procrastinates on important advertising and marketing campaigns shouldn't be surprised that people around him or her also put things off and procrastinate on important projects. In fact, that characteristic may have led to one of the truest of business proverbs: "If it weren't for the last minute nothing would get done at all."

One of the curses of leadership is that one's followers imitate both the good and the bad. As one scripture puts it, "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch." (Matthew 15:14)

The larger vision

Body shop owners are almost always fiercely independent, hard-working and self-reliant. While these characteristics are what allowed them to beat out the competition and survive, they can also limit their ability to lead when they are trying to grow beyond being the on-site boss/manager with a few key workers turning out the jobs. At that level, success simply consists of keeping parts and labor costs down far enough to take home some serious net profits.

The great danger at that point is trying to be "the lone ranger." Often we forget that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto to back him up.

The day a shop owner begins to think about hiring a manager or preparing his or her business to eventually sell it, a new frame of mind is needed.

Profits for the owner are no longer enough. Buyers and investors demand a return on their investment, so profits must now exceed what an owner wishes to take out of his or her business. A professional manager will expect to share in the proceeds and growth of the business. And the astute shop owner should know that if he or she hasn't created an upward career path with increasing remuneration for the shop's most productive workers, they will go elsewhere if they get the opportunity. Even Tonto might have quit on the Lone Ranger if he didn't get to share in some of those silver bullets.

A shop owner who provides only for his own wealth and retirement, while allowing his managers and workers to stagnate in a futureless void, is like a general who sends his troops to almost certain death while he enjoys relative safety and security behind the lines.

The inspiration factor

Harry Truman said, "Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don't want to do -- and like it."

Getting other people to do what you want requires using some very effective leadership skills. I have used a familiar set of initials to identify three key elements to getting people to willingly follow a leader. You've all heard of the CIA, but my CIA doesn't stand for the Central Intelligence Agency. It stands for Communication, Inspiration and Agreement.

Whatever your political persuasion, I think that you'll agree that Ronald Reagan was a master of subtle control. He persuaded a predominantly Democratic congress to reduce government spending, to cut taxes and to rebuild the military. How did he accomplish this herculean feat? He communicated directly with the people. The speeches he made were filled with inspirational examples, stories and ideals. And using every bit of charm and charisma he could muster, he worked tirelessly to obtain the agreement he needed to get what he wanted.


I'm sure you know what communication and agreement means, but consider the definition of inspiration: "Stimulation of the faculties to a high level of feeling or activity." Notice that it doesn't say good feeling. Just a high level of feeling. Hitler inspired a high level of feeling and controlled th e minds of the masses. Fortunately Winston Churchill not only inspired a high level of feeling and activity, but it was also a very positive kind of feeling and activity.

A key question a shop owner or manager must answer when attempting to get the best possible performance out of his crew is: "What could I do or say to inspire a high enough level of feeling to get them to agree to do whatever it takes to excel?"

The "vision thing" in leadership

Stephen Covey, author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," wrote another book called "First Things First" (A Simon & Schuster Fireside Book, 1995). In chapter 12 he emphasizes the importance of a "shared vision." Perhaps this is the "A" in the leadership "CIA."

During the past 40 years, I've participated in numerous sales organizations. A uniform practice for sales managers is to post a sales target board with quotas for every sales person. Every week, each person's performance is posted on the board and commissions and bonuses are determined by these numbers at the end of the month.

It's a rare thing, in these same organizations, to recognize the role of the support personnel who make these sales possible. But once again the true leader, whether in battle or in business, must have a larger vision of victory and success for the entire organization. He or she must envision more jobs, more revenue and more profits to share with those who help create the shop's success. By clearly identifying and rewarding the contribution of every individual on the team, it is far more likely that the game will be won. And everyone will broadcast that success in a way that enhances the image of the entire organization.

Leading a marketing mentality

In major corporations across the country, the rule today is "everybody sells!" Management consultants have determined that customers who are turned off by receptionists, store clerks, customer support personnel and even miscellaneous employees they encounter like car wash boys, frequently decide to take their business elsewhere.

During the past ten years, I've met hundreds of shop owners and managers. I've seen the impact of those who rant and rage and scream at their people. And I've seen the effect of those who take time to listen and address the concerns of the people around them. I've also seen shops where the owner led with a firm but positive hand, and shops where the owner more or less let things drift along with no strong guidance at all. It became obvious there is a point of balance where the leader is certain and effective, and yet doesn't alienate employees or destroy their morale.

Vision and motivation

The trick is finding a basis for a shared vision, and then keeping everyone's focus on the purpose (vision) and keeping the end in sight.

Some people are strictly motivated by money. For others it is a secondary consideration. An effective leader will take the time to find out what it is that drives each individual on the team. Many business owners believe the paycheck is the ultimate "thank you." They imagine that it alone is the acknowledgment that an employee has done a good job and earned that paycheck.

The employee, on the other hand, may feel the paycheck was given begrudgingly, out of obligation, and that his or her work was not really appreciated. The astute leader will recognize this need and be certain to express heart-felt praise and acknowledgment for work that was well done.

Perhaps all of this has provided a few answers to that key question a shop owner or manager must answer when attempting to get the best possible performance out of his crew: "What could I do or say to Inspire a high enough level of feeling to get them to Agree to do whatever it takes to excel?" Know your people. Know their wants and needs. Know their innermost desires. Communicate your larger vision. And find a way to align their energies so they achieve their goals while also helping you achieve and broadcast your dream of greater success.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," and "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops." He provides marketing services for body shops. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol. com.


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