Leadership and Learning

When I was five, "follow the leader" was one of my sister's favorite games. This was, perhaps, no surprise, as her status as a worldly eight-year-old ensured that she got to be the leader most every time we played. However, as leaders went, she was good at it, frequently "leading" us to my parents' hidden stash of potato chips, toys that had been placed out of reach or the small hole in the closet floor through which one could hear private conversations taking place downstairs in the kitchen.

It's been a lot of years since those childhood games, and I no longer follow blindly at the call of a potato chip (well, not usually, anyway!). Yet, as Kitchen & Bath Design News' Industry Leadership Awards program goes into its fifth year and I find myself once again contemplating what truly defines a leader, I'm drawn back to those childhood memories.

As children, we follow those with the wisdom of experienceor those who can lead us to the good stuff. We follow those who develop a habit of grabbing onto the reins and taking chargeand those who motivate us with whatever our own particular "potato chip" of choice might be. We follow big sisters and strong-minded teachers and those who convince us that they have the creativity to take us someplace exciting ' and the strength and staying power to get us there, no matter what obstacles show up en route. Mostly, we follow those brave enough or smart enough or confident' enough to take action.

Author Gail Sheehy summed it up well when she said, "The secret of a leader lies in the tests he has faced over the whole course of his life and the habit of action he develops in meeting those tests."

Nowhere is this more true, I'm convinced, than the kitchen and bath industry, where change is the only constant, and leadership skills are essential to staying on the cutting edge.

This month, K&BDN celebrates some of our industry's leaders individuals and companies that have shown an extraordinary commitment to their clients, their employees, their industry and their community. Leaders who aren't afraid to take action, and who make it a habit to raise the bar in everything they do, from retail marketing to showroom displays, supplier support services to community or industry service. Profiles of each of these winners appear in this month's issue to inspire you in your own pursuit of excellence.

But I don't need to tell you that leadership isn't just about winning an awards plaque, or seeing your name in print. It's not about lighting the torch and forging forward to glory. Rather, it's a way of living. A lifetime of habits that make you set goals and go after them even when there's no one there to cheer you on or honor your successes. It's about motivating those around you with your energy, integrity, commitment and passion, day after day, year after year, in good times and bad. Even when there's no one there to notice.
If you look in the pages of K&BDN each month or anywhere in our industry, for that matter you may be surprised at how many acts of leadership happen daily, sometimes barely noticeable, yet having a powerful impact all the same. From designers cooking up exciting new innovations for designing with glass to dealers maximizing exposure while minimizing costs with creative marketing strategies, examples abound.

According to John F. Kennedy, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." Like many wise men, he knew that change is one of life's constants, so the best leaders never stop learning, growing, and preparing for the future.

To that end, our industry offers myriad ways to keep the learning fires burning, from educational programs, such as K&BDN's Designing for Profit seminars, and trade shows to association chapter meetings, buying group seminars, manufacturers' training programs and interactive online forums, such as the KitchenBathPros.com Web site.

Educating yourself is one of the best ways to build your leadership skills and those of our industry as at large.

It's also the best way to ensure that you find those "hidden potato chips" whether they take the form of new business, recognition among peers, increased profitability or merely the chance to set the standards that generations of kitchen and bath professionals will learn from.