Leadership : Responsibility as a Prerequisite to Leadership

Brian Canning's first foray into the automotive industry was as a Goodyear service manager in suburban Washington, DC. Over the next several years, he enjoyed a successful management career that ultimately led to his overseeing several stores and then the entire sales region. Currently, Canning works as a leadership and management coach with the Automotive Management Institute (ATI), where he interacts with shop owners and managers in the automotive service and tire industries. He adds that he is a passionate student of leadership in all of its forms.

One of the greatest challenges facing the shop owners and the Service Managers I talk to is in their taking on the role of leader. We can have the very best of intentions, the most thoughtful of business plans but until we are willing to lead our people, little of substance is likely to be accomplished. The automotive industry, in all of its facets, is decidedly challenging and decidedly unforgiving. Creating the perfect shop process will not make your people follow it and will not make sure your standards are met. Only leadership assures the quality of the effort. You making it happen.


Many months ago, as I watched the two Generals most responsible for the medical care and rehabilitation of wounded soldiers returning from Iraq, I was struck by the contrast in their willingness to be accountable for the failures that had occurred at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In preparing to speak before the Senate, the current commander, who had only recently taken on these huge responsibilities, turned to several of the veterans and family members and apologized for what had come to light in the newspapers and evening news. In testifying this senior officer was obviously shamed by what had occurred on his watch and took responsibility for the command failure that allowed these returning troops to suffer the neglect and mistreatment they experienced after returning wounded from war. There was little attempt on his part to defend or make excuses for what would seem inexcusable and he accepted the censure and criticism correctly leveled at him. He was responsible and accepted that. In sharp contrast, his superior and the previous commander, who was most responsible for the deplorable conditions, did everything to deflect and reassign any blame that came at him.


At one point, when pressed hard to explain the squalor that wounded soldiers were being forced to live in, he asked in exasperation “What would you have me do? I assign tasks and responsibilities. As a commander I have to assume these sub-commands and commanders are doing the things I have asked them to do. I don’t see that there was anything else I could have done!” Maybe it’s because I am a veteran, but I was horrified to hear him say these things and attempt to deflect his responsibility. Would he be taking the credit if the facility was being praised for extraordinary performance? In blaming his team (sub-commands) he reminds me of a basketball coach who blames his players for the loss and accepts no responsibility for the team’s failure. His players didn’t do what he had asked so in his mind they are responsible. Leadership without real and tangible accountability and responsibility is a facade without support or substance.


Leadership, because it goes far beyond rank or position, is both in the appearance and in the exercising of authority in the accomplishment of tasks. To those that would take on a task come the expectation of success and the weight of that responsibility. A leader’s job is to lead, assign tasks and succeed. And it’s that succeed part that will get you every time. Leadership is all about success. Within legal moral and behavioral bounds, it doesn’t much matter how you get there, as long as you get there. It doesn’t matter if you are promoted into a position or arrive there by default, you are paid and responsible for shouldering the load, involving your staff members in the effort and making it all happen. As a business owner, you might get to define the “it” but the load is just as heavy and success might be the difference between hamburger and steak. Leadership demands as much of you as it does your Service Manager or that General. Will it be steak or hamburger on your plate tonight?


In becoming a leader it is essential that you take on the role in ways and in practices that you can be comfortable with. Asking Patton to be Gandhi or Gandhi to be a Patton will not work. Before you have any chance of getting your staff to believe in you and what you are doing, you have to believe in it yourself. You need to be comfortable in that role or willing to grow into it. This is a tough journey without a doubt but you get to select the destination, choose the players, do battle on your terms and risk destruction on your way to that ultimate success. Isn’t that worth the risk? To flounder along as you have been would not seem to be an option and it is far too late to turn back. Most important here is that you take on the role, decide where you are going and put that first tentative step forward. There is no doubt that there is someone waiting to stomp on your foot but it doesn’t matter, it’s time to go.


Like justice, leadership is one of those things that needs to be seen, heard and felt and in every way possible, evident. It involves commitment, accountability and a willingness to make unpopular decisions. It need not be lonely but it is solitary in blame and responsibility and decidedly impatient of success. Not for the faint hearted or shallow, leadership is a rock; reliable, steadfast, substantial, strong.


It’s 9:00 o’clock; do you know where your techs are?



Copyright 2008 Brian Canning



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