Business performance is affected by so many factors – quality of the product, quality of the staff, economic climate, even the weather

Some factors you can’t influence, but others you can, and one that impacts on the success of a business as much, if not more, than any other is the quality of the managers and decision-makers.

I’m sure like me you’ve all had your fair share of incompetent managers – people who leave you wondering how they ever ended up in that position in the first place. Strangely, the best manager I ever had was the one I liked the least as a person. He was also the least educated and academically qualified – but he just got it! He understood what being a great manager and a great leader entailed and, more importantly, he knew how to put it into practice. I respected him.

So what is the difference between management and leadership and is it a gift that some people are just born with? Let’s deal with the former first…

Many people often confuse the terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ but they are two very different things. Manager is a title conferred on people as a symbol of status and hierarchy in organisations. They can be responsible for managing people and/or processes. Leadership, on the other hand, is a behaviour and can be demonstrated by people at all levels of an organisation, not just directors and managers. Not all managers can be good leaders, but in most cases good leaders will make good managers, especially if it involves people – but we’ll come back to that later.

So, are some people just born great leaders? While some will have innate character traits that will mark them out as great leaders and enable them to demonstrate great leadership, you tend to find that the truly great leaders work hard to develop their skills. As in any area, practice makes perfect – even Mozart practised his scales.

When it comes to influencing and improving business performance in the automotive industry, or any other industry for that matter, then clear leadership is the most important tool you have at your disposal. And by providing clear leadership, you can quickly turn around business performance.

Assets of clear leadership
Creating a Vision
Many managers make the mistake of dreaming this up and then imposing it on their staff, if in fact they provide a vision at all. A great way of finding out if your company’s/manager’s vision has been understood and embraced by its staff is to stop them at random and ask. If they’re stuck for an answer then you know that it hasn’t been developed in an inclusive way. Great leaders sit down with their teams and devise the company vision together. That way, whatever ends up on the wall isn’t just something flashy to impress the customers, it is lived and breathed by everyone in the company, because they have created it themselves and taken ownership of it.

Less is more. Sadly most of my worst managers, some of whom happened to be nice people, just didn’t get this at all. They thought the more information they gave me, the more I could do. Not true – people switch off. Great leaders keep things simple, they don’t bombard staff with masses of information, as it only confuses people. They also understand that different people respond to different methods of communication and tailor their style accordingly.

Be strategic
Sadly, strategic-thinking is a skill that has largely been battered out of the motor industry, particularly at dealership level. It is the nature of the beast that people don’t look any further ahead than next month’s target. This is a real issue in the industry today, because many managers struggle to understand the key performance metrics and how to influence them in a positive way, to increase profitability. This results in them firefighting rather than working in a smarter way to achieve their targets.

Delegate, motivate, evaluate
Great leaders delegate. They believe in the strengths of their colleagues and are prepared to set them tasks to develop them, to help them be the best they can be. They realise that delegation is about helping people to improve their skills and they take the time to regularly appraise them and give feedback – not just once a year! This requires total honesty and often managers shy away from this because it can create conflict which they see as a negative. However it is a critical element in achieving great performance. Great leaders understand that people development is a strength.

All these steps create your culture. In your customers’ eyes, this is the most important thing your company can offer – even more than the products and services provided. Great leaders realise this and they actively develop and nurture a working environment free of politics, where people can flourish and where people’s voices are heard. Ultimately, your customers are attracted to the culture of your business more than anything else. They are looking for a brand and people they can identify with, who share their values. Whilst for us it’s just another sale, for them it has a much higher degree of importance. It’s an old saying but “people buy from people”, and it’s true.

The seven deadly signs of poor leadership
1. Politics – great leaders stamp this out. They won’t tolerate a working environment which is subdued, tense and where there is tittle-tattle and backbiting. It’s bad for morale and it’s bad for business.

2. Disorganisation/confusion – a lack of clear direction means there is no vision or clear communication in place.

3. High staff turnover and demotivated staff – people leave organisations for a variety of reasons, but most leave because of their line manager.

4. Training and development is seen as a chore, a reprimand or a necessary evil.

5. Lack of openness – great leaders deal in honesty. Staff members may not always like what they hear, but truth is always valued and appreciated.

6. Team ethic – whenever you hear managers talking about “my team” and “my people” this is a massive turn-off. Leaders say “colleagues”, because ultimately you are all in it together.

7. Poor customer service – this is the resulting outcome of signs 1-6. Put simply, employee satisfaction will lead to customer satisfaction. In Richard Branson’s words: “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.”

If you would like to talk to us about business performance and how to turn it around, please get in touch on +44 (0) 1249 445622.


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