Catchy title, eh? Recently I was asked to write a column for a major auto manufacturer helping to define effective leadership as I see it these days. That really got me to thinking about the importance of employing leaders in today’s ever-evolving and fickle dealership environment.
The cult of continuous change, essentially uncontrollable at times, is clearly creating the most necessarily reactive management culture I have witnessed in my lengthy career. The desirable perfection of consistency is taking an unfortunate back seat to adaptability and compliance in all operations, with no end in sight. Yes, in the dealer world we have always experienced change, but not at the rapidity now being hurled at employees trying to maintain some type of righteousness. Adapting to the latest adaptation is an everyday challenge! The pressure-filled evolution of customer, manufacturer, media, and government expectations is punishing to put it mildly.
As a result, I am seeing three types of leaders surfacing from this fiasco, although to some extent all three have been around to a lesser degree in the past.
One has given up and is letting whatever is happening next just happen. Too often, this leader once considered successful, is now just trying to survive each day. Employees are generally controlling the department performance at whatever levels they deem acceptable and doable, so there is a mix of good / bad / indifferent performances, and no one is fearing for their job.
Few hard and fast rules exist and controlling / demanding personalities generally get their way – sort of the inmates running the prison legend we have all heard. Generally the morale is marginal and there is some regular turnover of the non-core scheming group. This leader usually maintains their position because they have held it for so long – no other particular reason. They have seen a goodly number of their superiors come and go, and their stability is seen as an asset.
“The pressure-filled evolution of customer, manufacturer, media, and government expectations is punishing to put it mildly.”
On the flip side, a second management style, which has grown from the culture of “What’s next?” is a controller management style. Here the leader has developed what might be termed as a mean-sounding aggressive presentation style and every conversation is short and to the point – my way or the highway. There’s not much room for anyone’s opinion and especially no room for indecision – right or wrong.
Likely this individual has been around a good while and years ago when change was much more manageable his or her proclamation style of leadership was acceptable and even somewhat successful. The aggressiveness in their approach is driven by the constant pressure they feel from the latest “no, not that way, this way” they have to deal with, the usually falling department performance, and the crummy employees they feel they are blessed with – insecurities abound inside their head – but that can never be known by anyone.
Rather than simplifying leadership principles, they have gotten more complicated, influenced by this ever-changing atmosphere. Years ago I was taught the synergy theory you likely have been exposed to, where two plus two equals five as one definition. The concept here is that the addition of two or more bodies of knowledge, when combined resourcefully, creates a unique databank more intuitive and fruitful than the brainpower individually. Due to the complexities of the current business environment, decisions are best rendered with the valuable input of many. The day of the know-it-all-my-way-or-the-highway leadership style success is over.
An effective leader today is a studious coach, a premium listener, an active encourager, and an executive who can successfully put his or her ego aside in favor of a collective management style. Important decisions and directions are rendered only after full-service input is gathered and considered, in an attempt to create the best possible results.
I Ain’t Skeerd (sic)
This is where “brinkmanship” comes into play – having the strength and wisdom to initiate and then manage input effectively. While the unwise leader rules from their theoretical throne, the wise one assembles and collaborates with the minions, who frankly typically know more issue specifics than the wise one. I see the “chickenship” part as the tough appearing, but actually quite weak, leader afraid of appearing ignorant and wimpy by collecting input. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The fear of appearing weak or not knowledgeable as a consequence of seeking guidance is bassackwards. Some of the greatest leaders I have encountered managed collectively even when they already knew how to proceed, because they understood and appreciated that this approach strengthened and motivated subordinates who must continue to be and feel included.
I calculate that we should all take a step back from time to time to examine what type of leadership we are exhibiting. After all, we are products too (like it or not) of this cantankerous and volatile environment. How about this? If you have the courage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and put on the subject line “Manager Survey-Brinkmanship or Chickenship.” I will send you a simple survey for your employees to take anonymously regarding your leadership characteristics and effectiveness – if you don’t buy into brinkmanship, then you may be practicing chickenship – something to think about.
Author: Ed Kovalchick
Ed Kovalchick is the CEO and founder of Net Profit Inc., Alabaster, AL, an international fixed operation consulting and training firm located in Alabaster AL. Mr. Kovalchick and his firm have assisted hundreds of dealers and manufacturers, and conducted workshops throughout the world for thousands of students since 1979. He has written columns for Dealer Magazine since its inception.