Innovator managers are more than caretakers: they lead. They know the path to follow. They make it fun.
What leaders know…
First line managers are leaders if they want to take the employees they supervise to a higher level of performance. I learned that sometimes you have to keep this journey a secret from the employees. First, you may know the direction you want take; but, the path may not be clear, even though you know the leadership process. Second, even if you tell employees you know the path, some employees may not follow; and, some will create resistance.
When I was a boy in Verbena a friend of mine, Benny Baker, said he knew where a cave was on Chestnut Creek. I and my buddies wanted to go. Benny took us on the journey. We walked past the old Baldwin Mansion, we stopped, looked in every window. Walking past the barn, we stopped to look at a couple of their old horse buggies. These were fancy rich folk’s buggies. We then proceeded on the path that led to the cave. We crossed a log across a small branch. The journey took us through the woods over hill and dale. The journey was great. We finally made it to the cave. Now, we had our vision of what a cave was. This was no cave. Actually, it was just an overhang on the side of a cliff overlooking Chestnut creek. Benny had shown us the way, now we knew it was not a cave. If Benny had told us that it was an overhanging rock we might not have followed him. We went back several times not because of the cave but because of the journey.
Point is: sometimes the vision we have as leaders will not inspire our employees to follow. We may have to keep the destination a secret. We head out on the path. We have done this before. Leading our group in a new direction, keeping all our options open. We and our employees are on a mission of discovery. We need to be flexible, stop and look at a buggy or two along the way.
In 1985, I became a Business Office Manager for an electric utility company in West Blocton. On my first trip to the warehouse I brought back two transformers. The next day, I came into the office, the two linemen were disgruntled. I asked, “What is the problem?” One replied, “It took us years get rid of those transformers and the first week you get here you bring them back.” I looked him straight in the face and replied, “For some reason I am suffering under the illusion that we cannot run an electric utility without transformers”. If I told him that he and I would be pulling up a transformer with a rope and a gin within two years to serve a customer; he would not have believed me. Actually, I did not know that was where I would be taking them, but that was where we were going. It came naturally, because on the trip to this position we visited a few buggies. They came with me on the journey.
The West Blocton office employees sold $47,000 in merchandise in 1984. If I had told the office reps that in two years they would sell $213,000, they would not believe me. But that is what they did. How? First I read, “Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale”. I had to get back into the salesman mode of mind. I had been a salesman for two years before coming to this company. I had to get my mind right, Zig, did that. Then, I knew, it costs 5 times more to get a new customer than to keep an old one. I asked for a print out of all our customers. On this print out I went back to 1974 marking every customer that had purchased and what they purchased from the office. I sent them a sales letter and brochure, thanking them for purchasing that item/items from us. I personally signed each letter. I placed a “Baptist Thermometer” in the back of the office with our office’s goal at the top. Each week I posted the previous week’s sales figure on the thermometer. I made a sales book for the reps that listed all the dimensions and features of each appliance we sold. I did more; but, you get the point… we were on a different path. The first sales campaign of the year we sold $45,000+. This was good enough to place first in our division. For the whole year we sold $99,968 in appliances. I know because I missed a personal award by $38. That is not the point. I was not doing this for a personal award. I was doing it because I knew the way; I wanted to take the office to the cave.
Leaders know the path. Leaders know too, if they follow the path of leadership they can take their organization where it has never gone before. They know how the employees will feel once they reach the designation. The fun is the journey. The employee’s will know how to get back to the cave, with or without you. This is the essence of leadership; showing employees that “the journey to accomplishment” is challenging and fun.
What I believe: leadership is a spiritual quest; it is the greatest mystery of life.