Leadership : Three Steps Toward the Extraordinary

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.

In my interactions with clients and other coaches, I am often amazed at the phobic reluctance to be the leader, or more specifically, to actually look someone in the eye and ask them to do something. It often seems a borderline miracle that we actually get anything done and more amazing that we get it when and how we want it.

To my core I believe that there is no substitute for your stepping in and being the leader, but training, process and communication can make this more comfortable for you and your staff and even assure a better result. At its most basic, leadership is little more than you asking somebody to do something, providing motivation (money, fear, time off) and making sure that the task is completed to your specifications. We all know that it gets very complicated and difficult when we involve human beings, but we can be much more assured of success if we have trained our people, if we have great procedures in place that anticipate the unexpected while demanding our best efforts and if we are careful and specific in our communications.


Training assures that our people are capable of following through on the tasks we would assign them and gives us the early opportunity to set expectations for performance. Too often I see competence and lack of knowledge as major impediments to task completion and all the motivation in the world will not overcome a lack of knowledge and core skills. Your people have to be capable of completing a task before you can set them free to do it. Money, fear or time off will not allow an incompetent employee, willing or not, to do the things you would ask.


Confessing to being one of those bull in a china shop alpha dogs, I have spent far too many of my professional years bemoaning process and those who would seek to organize, measure and audit all that I would do. I have always been of the opinion that action is better than analysis in getting things done. I have made a career of jumping in and though mostly this has worked for me, clean-up has always been an unfortunate part of the process. It was only later in life with my marriage to an accountant (How did that happen?) that I suddenly became aware of the wake I was leaving behind and found myself reluctantly exploring the virtues of process. How do we do it? How do we measure it and how do we hold our people accountable to the results? This is where we dissect how we are currently doing things and look for ways to make us more efficient, more productive and more profitable. Suddenly I was able to put plans together and able to think strategically. I was able to do this and not have to worry about the mess I had usually left behind. I can guarantee you that my various employees appreciated this evolution in me and in my being clearer in my expectations, I suddenly started seeing weird behaviors such as initiative and attention to detail. It seems as though training, having a great process and setting clear expectations allow things to improve and your employees to grow. Damm!


Finally in all of this I reaffirmed the importance of good communication. Even in my previous life I was successful (or occasionally not) because I was an avid communicator. I was very happy to define the task, to set standards, to communicate concerns as we progressed and to celebrate loudly when the job was done. The difference was that with training and process, I was much better able to define each individual’s task, to track their progress and identify issues as they occurred. With this, my leadership actually became less obvious but many times more effective. Instead of chewing out the group I was able to counsel and mentor the individuals. Instead of collapsing over the finish line, frustrated because I felt by myself in accomplishing the task, I was able to celebrate with my team and enjoy our combined success. Those faceless bean counters that had angered and frustrated me all those years would laugh to hear me say it, but process matters! It is the difference between good and great, average and extraordinary. Combined with training and good communication, it is the difference between a solitary success and a broad team victory.


Leadership is not leadership unless you are taking your people along when you charge up that figurative hill. Your job, your responsibility as the leader, is to train your people so that they are capable of doing the great things you need them to do, to provide them with a road map showing where we are going and how we are going to get there and finally to communicate the task and your very high expectations. Your determination and strong leadership can assure the hill is taken. Training, process and great communication can assure the survival of the team in the effort and allow you to own rather than occupy that hill. Ownership is where it’s at!


 Copyright 2008 Brian Canning

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