Face and Fix Weak Leadership

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Two business colleagues at meeting in modern office interior

There’s just no warm and fuzzy way to say this: our business is littered with weak leaders. They’re ubiquitous. They come from all generations, genders, and ethnicities; represent every franchise; and are likewise commonly found in variable, fixed, office, and management company positions—including the dealer. What’s more dangerous than being a weak leader, or having a weak leader is:

  1. Failing to realize you are one.
  2. Knowing you are one and thinking it doesn’t matter.
  3. Being so out of touch you don’t realize you’ve settled for weak leaders.
  4. Knowing you have weak leaders, but being so complacent you do nothing about it.

To force reality into your potential situation and help you identify trouble-spots, here are some signs, a sampling of things weak leaders are prone to say:

  • “I just can’t get my people to do ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ or ‘Z:’ use the online training, get to work on time, follow up with their customers, etc. etc. etc.”
  • “My people just aren’t committed.”
  • “I’m surrounded by idiots in my department.”
  • “I probably should replace him but he’s loyal; he’s been with me twenty years.”
  • “My people won’t buy into anything new.”
  • “I’ve had a bad run of luck the past few months.”

For the sake of perspective, following are some counter-thoughts to each of the preceding statements:

  1. “I just can’t get my people to do ‘X,’ ‘Y,’ or ‘Z:’ use the online training, get to work on time, follow up with their customers, etc. etc. etc.”

I wouldn’t be admitting this out loud if I were you, because by doing so you make two confessions: you don’t have the leadership skills to get your people to do what you’re paying them to do; and, your people are running things, you’re not.

 

2. “My people just aren’t committed.”

It’s your job to earn their commitment or to find people who are committed—get people better or get better people. You may need to consider the possibility that, as a leader, you’re not offering enough vision, leadership, inspiration, accountability, growth opportunities, or structure to help them become committed.

 

3. “I’m surrounded by idiots in my department.”

Since leaders attract who they are, not who they want, this statement would indicate you’re the chief idiot in your department. If you’re surrounded with poor performers, then you must consider one thing they all have in common: you.

 

 

4. “I probably should replace him but he’s loyal; he’s been with me twenty years.”

Loyalty is not a synonym of tenure or seniority. Loyal is defined as faithfulness to one’s duties and obligations. In other words, loyalty is performance; and, failing to get results is one of the most disloyal things someone can inflict on their organization. If someone has been with you a long time and they perform well, consider them an A-Player and take great care of them. But don’t confuse showing up with stepping up.

 

5. “My people won’t buy into anything new.”

If your people haven’t bought into you, they’ll not buy into what you’re trying to do. You have to earn buy-in, even if you own the place; otherwise you may gain compliance, but never commitment. Until people buy into your character, competence, consistency, compassion (you care about them), and commitment, don’t expect them to buy into your new vision, schedule, pay plan, strategy, or other changes.

6. “I’ve had a bad run of luck the past few months.”

Anyone can have an occasional good or bad break, but over the course of a few months, a career, or a lifetime, failure isn’t an accident; nor is success. You either set yourself up for it or you don’t. While this may hurt the feelings of some, here’s my offering for a high performance culture’s definition of “bad luck:” the perfume of choice losers spray to disguise the stench of their mediocrity, their bad decisions, anemic work ethic or absent discipline.

This article isn’t about finding fault, but mustering the courage to look reality dead in the eye and act upon it quickly. The good news is that leadership can be developed. There are training courses, books, and mentors that can provide the tools and insights one needs to improve his or her leadership skills. But weak leaders who live in denial, or blinders-on dealers who overestimate a manager’s leadership ability because he can “close deals” but who have little regard to his or her ability to create the right culture, attract and develop people, hold people accountable, or lead by the right personal example, are rolling the dice with their life’s work. Even if the product, location, or brand they have is so powerful they attain success despite their mediocre leadership they’ll miss their potential by miles. And the difference between merely being successful and reaching one’s fullest potential is staggering, and the quality of leadership is what ultimately makes the difference. You can’t work around weak leaders. You’ll need to get the leaders better or get better leaders; which means your own leadership skills need to improve as a priority. In other words, the answer to improved leadership in your dealership starts in the mirror, not out the window.