Leadership : People That Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Be Leaders

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.

Our leaders, who are responsible for delivering positive results, carry the weight of the world on their shoulders and, working through our employees, oversee every aspect of our business. They are very literally the ones who take our ideas and turn them into action, take our goals and turn them into driven reality. Though human like all of us, in moving and in motivating, leaders need to be focused, task driven and nearly bulletproof. They do things that many of us would choose not to do and by stepping out from the crowd and highly visible, they are often convenient targets, blamed and discredited at every step. We would be lost and rudderless without them and in their ability to move us and our agenda forward, despite their many imperfections and our reliable resistance (kicking and screaming comes to mind); they find ways to make us extraordinary.


I could easily pull examples from history that would support any comment or claim I would choose to make about leadership but a more useful exercise might be to look at successful competitors and work to understand what they have done to not only survive but to grow and prosper. Look at your own operation over the years and track your highlights and lowlights. I would suggest to you that in the case of your competition it wasn’t great ideas alone, it was also leadership and thoughtful implementation.


It wasn’t marketing, it was drive and motivation and the courage to implement a great plan. Ideas and exposure by themselves do not win us market share. The conviction that something needs to change and the will and determination to see it through are what take a great plan and make it into a success. Look at your own operation and look at your greatest successes. There were great ideas there but anger or a new determination or very real necessity made your dedication more complete, your determination more urgent. Take an idea and make it a new reality. Great leadership is where it begins and where it ends.


I know an individual who many would describe as brilliant but whom I see as a distraction and even an impediment to the things we try to do. There is no doubt that he is intelligent, that he is very aware of the challenges facing the industry and that he has great, innovative ideas. The problem is that he takes great pride in his demeaning interactions toward those he works with and would seem more interested in his own agenda and self promotion than in making the group better or more effective. Instead of bringing concerns forward and his offering solutions, most typically he mounts an attack on current policy or procedure, that unfortunately includes staff members and though somewhere underneath it all there is likely a great idea, rarely does anyone see the benefit. His genius is lost in his scorn for those he is forced to interact with. He, I am sure, ends up frustrated. The company, the team, those mere mortals around him, end up with no benefit of his genius. It is without a doubt the messenger and not the message but remember; leadership is not leadership unless we can move our people. Scorn would seem a poor choice in getting people to move.


I would assure you that I could go into great detail in describing all of the traits that would make up the ideal leader. I could supplement this description with a list of principals that this hypothetical leader would live by. I could even display a genuine passion and belief in these traits and principles but underneath it all I know that a willingness to be a leader is more important. An acceptance of responsibility and a stubborn determination to succeed and overcome, will serve you much better than anything else. I would suspect that even if you don’t love people, you at least have to respect them and have an appreciation for them.


You have to be willing to both lift them up and ask them for better. And this no matter how tired or busy or overwhelmed you already are. By description you are expected to have the answers even when they know you don’t, to show the way when you don’t have a map and are already lost, accept the blame even when it wasn’t your fault and refuse to quit or give up, even in the face of many doubts. You are the leader and this is what leaders do.


And don’t worry about making mistakes or bad decisions; your loyal staff will be happy to note and expound upon and remind you of every one of these, ad-infinitum. They are your people and that is what people do.


Many of the clients I talk to are concerned about leadership style, most specifically frightened by the prospect of having to be a Patton when they feel more like Pee Wee Herman. Second only to the willingness to jump in that I describe above is the importance of being a leader you can be comfortable with. I admire Patton but also admire Eisenhower, who was much more the diplomat and though nearly always far from the fighting, was able to hold an alliance together and win a war. Be a leader. Be who you are comfortable with.


Copyright 2008 Brian Canning

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