Service Providers

Leadership in hard times

On a recent morning, I visited a dealership where I was the only person on the sales floor — except for one salesman, who sat at his desk with his back to me.

“Hey, how are things going?” I said, hoping he would at least acknowledge my presence.

“Not really good man. But I just resign myself.” That was his reality.

I chatted with the service manager, who informed me that he would stay “until the end, which shouldn’t be long now.” That was his assumption.

Selling season is upon us and although it might not be what we had hoped, now is the time for leadership and management to do what they should be doing best: leading and managing. How your team perceives their situation is paramount. And assumptions can become reality, as the above example amply demonstrates. Where is their leader? Does he believe and behave differently? I doubt it.

During robust economic times we tend to overlook areas that need attention.  Making money can obscure a lot of problems, but we don’t pay attention; business is too good. We’re busy and profitable, so these weaknesses seem unimportant — or at least not critical.

Then the economy slows down, maybe even falls off a cliff, and our problems are still there.  Now they really matter, but our attention is already somewhere else. We’ve just gone into “stay afloat at all costs” mode. We become preoccupied with slashing expenses. No hiring, no training, no nothing. We’re in crisis management.

All the while, your team is watching you. If you overlooked problem areas before, why would your team think it might be any different now? Bad habits allowed lead to bad habits learned. For better or for worse, you set the bar for your team, and they will jump no higher than you do.

This economy is a golden opportunity to build a sustainable business based on good leadership and management principles. Yes, we need to reduce inventory and payroll and watch our receivables and cash flow. But make cuts strategically, and invest in training your team to be the best. Now, more than ever, you need solid, well-trained leaders and managers.

Communicate clearly with your team. What they don’t know, they will assume, and those assumptions can be devastating for morale. Have a business plan that is clear to all. Empower your team with training and knowledge.  Look long and hard at what needs to be done, and do it. If you need help, seek it. Stop bemoaning the loss of the good old days. Stop saying, “It will never be the same again.”

It’s time for us to get over it, get honest and dig in for the long haul. Set the bar, set it high, and your team will follow.

“People will take any hill, walk into the worst situation, if they have faith in your leadership and know what your strategy and objectives are,” ~ Edward Breen, CEO of Tyco International


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