In this challenging automotive market, it's hard to keep our leadership bearings, and easy to succumb to the “idea of the month” put forth by well-meaning, but short-term thinking colleagues.
How do we avoid this, keep good people and achieve best results in all dealership departments? By fostering a core principle that has been around as long as humans: Trust. Our workforce — from the person with the least responsibility to the one with the most — must trust us.
There are three essential aspects of trust we must embody in our daily actions.
First, the commitment and talent of our people will flower for someone whose basic decency they trust, someone who believes in being fair, open, honest and caring.
Let's call this trust of heart.
Second, our folks will give their all to someone whose sense of vision of the organization they truly believe in. By vision, we mean not only specific achievable (not pie-in-the-sky) targets in gross, volume, return on investment, market share and customer loyalty.
On a broader scale, a leadership with vision asks: “Who do we want to become as a workplace community? What kind of people are we? What should our relationship be to our town or county?”
This embraces a clear sense of the kind of personalities and talents we're looking for in every position, from department heads on down, because those personalities will be the raw materials from which we form who we are to each other and the outside world.
Let's call this trust of vision.
Third, diverse talents and personalities need to have faith in their leader's competency to turn his or her heart and vision into tangible and timely action.
It isn't enough to be a caring person with a beautiful vision. Leadership is an action word. It must deliver and do so consistently with steady hands that handle short-term solutions and shape long-term goals.
Let's call this trust of stewardship.
It's also not enough just to be a person of action. Actions must embody the kind of heart and vision that make people eager to work for us. Each of the three trusts is necessary but insufficient alone. They are equal and joined at the center.
If you think about these three trusts of leadership, you'll realize that whatever previous model you've looked at — whether from Tom Peters, W. Edwards Deming, Peter Drucker, Jim Collins, Warren Bennis, John Kotter, Robert Greenleaf, James O'Toole, Daniel Goleman, Robert Quinn, Michael Hammer, Jack Welch, Andrew Grove or any number of other business thinkers — they all fit here.
Each of the three has its own field of competencies, some of them overlapping. Let's get right to the essence.
For people to trust your heart, then your gifts and skills must be strong in what is now called emotional intelligence. Work on these:
- Know yourself, be yourself, allow yourself to be known.
- Speak your truth and speak it consistently.
- Connect well with others.
- Err on the side of over-communicating.
- Listen to people and inspire and guide them with unfailing empathy.
- Be humble and give credit for accomplishment.
- Be willing to openly and sincerely apologize as soon as you realize you've erred.
- Be willing to ask for help, recognizing you can't do it all yourself.
For people to trust your vision, you must be strong in the following:
- The spirit of inquiry by being a student for life.
- Big picture thinking.
- Synthesizing the best ideas in the air at any given moment.
- Strategy development.
- Entrepreneurial imagination.
- Consistently inviting participation and co-authorship.
- Communicating with clarity.
It's worth saying a bit more about the necessary communication skills to win trust in your vision. Be confident enough to allow people to understand in detail how your mind works, where your ideas come from, how you developed as a human being and how that development serves you in formulating a view of the future and how to get there.
For people to trust your stewardship, you must:
- Consistently go the final yard to get the job done.
- Possess a strong intuitive capacity for making tough decisions with appropriate input in a timely manner.
- Focus your passion for living your heart and vision.
- Have an advanced talent for hiring great people, coaching them and delegating responsibilities equal to their maturity and skills.
- Be firm and demanding but never mean-spirited.
- Have conviction but also be flexible and adaptable.
- Stay the course in the face of temporary set-backs. Don't lurch from pillar to post, short term.
Stewardship skills comprise what Deming called “constancy of purpose.” Put simply, great leaders execute, execute, execute.
They have a passion for results, hire people who share that passion and create an environment in which collaboration is as ever-present as oxygen.
Congruency is a key in all of this. If you say you really care about people but are mean-spirited and keep them down, you will sacrifice all three trusts.
If you say you want your people to have rich personal and family lives, but establish or tolerate 80-hour work weeks for the staff, you will sacrifice all three trusts. Through direct experience, people will come to see you as a hypocrite.
The same is true if you espouse openness and participation, but dominate meetings with your ideas; or talk up innovation, but lack courage to try new ideas; or espouse commitment to a comprehensive strategy, but coil away from it every time things don't go as hoped.
The three trusts will challenge you to keep asking: What inspires trust in my heart, my vision and my stewardship?
There is no better example of leadership embodying the three trusts in American political life over the last 50 years than when President John F. Kennedy publicly took full responsibility for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
Kennedy learned his lessons well, a fact that was lost on the Russian premier, Nikita Khrushchev. Soon afterwards, when the Russians tried to secretly set up missile bases in Cuba, they encountered a JFK who was much sharper and clearer, mobilized all the brilliant people at his disposal and threaded the needle of excruciatingly difficult decisions. The Russians backed down.
Trust-centered leadership applies to any setting and any endeavor, from how you lead your family to how nations are led. It reminds us that we must constantly work to be worthy of our followers, for without them, we are alone.
Great leadership is complex and continuous. But cultivating the three trusts can make it easier, especially in confusing times.
Auto industry veteran Bob Kamm is president of Kamm Consulting, a leadership development firm He can be reached at [email protected] and 805-235-1718.