Cleared for Takeoff

Myth: It is a core responsibility of leaders to motivate their people. Dynamic leaders can motivate almost anyone to boost professional discipline and performance. Reality: Motivation is largely an individual phenomenon. Each individual brings his or her own measure of drive. This drive is, for the most part, a function of both genetics and upbringing (nature and nurture). Leaders cannot give people

Myth: It is a core responsibility of leaders to motivate their people. Dynamic leaders can motivate almost anyone to boost professional discipline and performance.

Reality: Motivation is largely an individual phenomenon. Each individual brings his or her own measure of drive.

This drive is, for the most part, a function of both genetics and upbringing (nature and nurture). Leaders cannot give people the wings nor create the want to fly. When leaders act as the prime motivational force, the inadvertent message to their employees is: “You're basically inadequate without me.”

This is different from the message of great leadership. That is: “You're an eagle. Let me help you exercise your wings and then clear the way so you can soar.”

Psychologists may disagree about the age by which the basic dynamics of personality have been laid down. But they agree those basics are largely set by childhood experiences.

That means the trajectory of development is largely determined long before someone joins our workforce. Yes, it's possible that major life-changing events, particularly trauma, may modify that trajectory. But motivation is largely an issue of internal chemistry and has limited vulnerability to external forces by adulthood.

Sure, success breeds confidence which is likely to breed more success. But this is a gradual process for most people, spanning years. A sudden soaring we occasionally witness in our employees was usually there waiting for the right time and circumstances to set it free. Most of the credit goes to the employees. After all, they are doing the flying.

There are variations from person to person. Some individuals need more care, some less. Some respond to goal-setting and strong direction, some are more intuitive and respond better to sincere encouragement.

Good leaders help bring out the best by adapting to these variations and creating a supportive and focused environment. This includes articulating a clear vision and purpose to the business and showing staffers how their activities directly contribute to it.

It also includes regular training and coaching that patiently cultivates them from their current abilities, not from where we wish they would be.

It includes providing good technological tools. It includes some aspect of compensation based on performance. Good benefits are important, too, as is a work schedule that makes people feel we respect their right to a life beyond the dealership.

Finally, the general environment should be one of clear purpose and collaboration, appreciation and achievement. A culture of appreciation and esprit de corps in which people regularly and authentically congratulate and encourage each other will outdo recognition “programs” every day of the week.

So, we should make a consistent effort to bring out the best in people, but shouldn't congratulate ourselves too much.

Instead, let's focus on how we as leaders can foster the full potential of an entire workforce — not how we can become the grand, stem-winding mythical motivators who expect to be beloved by all and showered with accolades. That puts the wrong emphasis on leadership.

Great leadership is about serving others, and trusting that all will benefit, including ourselves. Profit follows customer loyalty. But it follows employee loyalty first.

This brings us full circle to the issue that has dogged us the most in the car business: getting the right people. People basically have the wings and the want in varying degrees before we even talk to them.

Some have the wings (talent) but not enough want (drive). Some have the want but not the wings. We need to identify people with both, develop a way to recruit them and welcome them to a home with “skies to try” meaning lots of encouragement and opportunities to fly in different ways.

This also means we should celebrate effort, not just results and welcome failure if it educates and improves, not criticize and contain people because they had dreams, but crash landed the first time out. Much success is built on initial failure.

Bottom line? We can't be great leaders without a great hiring process and the ability to reposition or terminate people if it becomes clear that they lack the necessary wings and want.

With new hires, this is a revelation that usually emerges within three to four months. Pay attention. Make the cut-or-keep decision and carry on.

With our more tenured employees, perhaps it's time to take a fresh look. Wings and want are present or absent in a variety of ways.

It's common to find people who have operational talent and drive but abuse their colleagues and your customers alike. They undermine our ability to create a stable, ethical and performance-oriented work environment. Their operational wings are strong. Their cultural wings are weak. A great leader realizes operational and cultural ultimately are not separate.

Many of us have 20-year veterans who fit this description. We've been dancing around their abuse for years, turning a blind eye. But in making allowances for them, we've hurt a host of other people who have to deal with them daily. Abusers clutter up the sky. Other people become frustrated in their efforts to soar and may well seek a better environment elsewhere.

Abusers also tarnish our reputation and limit the loyalty of our customers. What does this cost? Carl Sewell calculated that one loyal customer was worth $332,000 to him over the lifetime of car buying. Moreover, consider the cost of losing a potentially great employee who says, “I don't need this.” They rarely say it aloud.

A dedication to wings and want, performance and culture, finding the right people and helping them soar leads to employee loyalty and customer loyalty.

Top leaders bring together a flock that soars — and flies as a team. That's why great leaders succeed. Not because they're mythical motivators, but because they find the right people with the right stuff. And give them plenty of sky to try.

Automotive retail veteran Bob Kamm is heads Kamm Consulting. He can be reached at 805-235-1718 and [email protected].

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