Know What Kind of Leader You Are

Most owners and managers of kitchen and bath dealerships are so busy handling day-to-day activities and putting out never-ending fires, they rarely have the time or take the time to really manage.

More than ever, today's employees want to know that they're an important part of an organization that's going somewhere. As a leader, you need to paint a specific vision of where your company is headed that will make your people want to follow you there. And, you have to let people know that they're an important part of your company by sharing information with them, by showing them respect, and by involving them in decision-making and other important work.

Leadership emerges when a person is intolerant of the status quo and is committed to change. Leadership often evolves because of a person's intelligence and organizational "common sense."

Leaders are motivated by a drive that focuses their actions on what's right when it comes to ethical, legal, human and financial considerations. Leaders are flexible they take what the prevailing situation offers and work with it. They're not bound by convention just because it's convenient or because it has "always been done that way." Leaders possess strength and tenacity in the face of adversity.

Okay, that's my definition of what leadership is. Now, let's see how you measure up. What follows is a list of questions (and answers) that you might ask yourself.

1. What's a quick acid test that I can take to see how my leadership style is working?
Focus on your attitude and approach to working to see if it attracts or repels people. Think about how you treat peers and employees. Do you keep people in the dark, or do you create an environment that allows people to build competence and confidence, while growing to their potential?

2. How would I characterize my leadership style?
Are you the "little dictator" who demands, pushes, pulls and leads on faith alone? Or, do you offer people something of value that gives them the energy and dedication to support your leadership?

3. What can I do to lead my team in a manner that gets the job done well?
An important part of the leader's responsibility is to ensure that the team has all the tools it needs to accomplish its tasks.

4. What attributes distinguish me from others?
Think of people you know and admire who serve in leadership positions. Make a list of their qualities. Now make a list of yours, and compare the two. Put any qualities that others have and you don't to work for you.

5. What do I need to do to get my employees to follow me?
Don't get wrapped up in your own success; instead, get wrapped up in theirs. Stimulate their minds. Allow for growth. Know and understand each individual their needs and aspirations, and how you can promote them.

6. What behaviors can I exhibit that will draw out my employees' commitment and stimulate them to carry out my vision?

You need to reach down deep and exhibit enthusiasm, energy and confidence. You have to refuse to fall into a negative attitude that will affect and infect others.

Now that you've done a bit of self assessment, allow me to share a few traits that I believe form the foundation of strong leadership:

1. Take a stand. People are attracted to those who move in a reasoned, affirmative, innovative and forceful direction.

2. Communicate often. If you want people to follow you, they must know who you are, what you represent, what you can do, and what your vision is. To do this, you must tell them.

3. Build and develop strong followers. One of the traits of strong leaders is that they've surrounded themselves with intelligent, action-oriented, dedicated, loyal followers. Show confidence in your employees' abilities, provide challenging assignments and encourage development. You'll earn respect, loyalty and better performance.

4. Be a great listener. Here, the "two ears/one mouth" rule should apply. You should be listening two-thirds of the time and talking one third of the time. Good listening will build sensitivity and knowledge that will help you be a better leader.

5. Know your strengths and play to them. This also means you need to be aware of your weaknesses and always work to improve them.

6. Be yourself and believe in yourself. A positive self-image will help project an aura of confidence that will inspire others.

7. Be politically aware, and learn to effectively utilize politics and the political system. If you're naive in this area, you'll never be a strong leader. So much of what leaders do involves negotiating the political nuances of the business. Understand people and what makes them tick.

8. Make yourself visible. Share your successes. There's nothing arrogant or inappropriate about letting others know what you've done or can do.

9. Have and keep your integrity. There will never be anything more important than your word so keep it. Be true to your values and what you think is right.

10. Have genuine interest, concern and passion for your employees and industry partners. For people to follow, they must believe that you care for them and value them not only for what they can do for the organization but also for who they are as individuals.

11. Understand that teamwork is essential. There's no leadership without "followership." While you're the leader, never forget that there are many others who have contributed to your success.

12. Learn from your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, so don't agonize over them. Instead, find ways to keep the same mistakes from recurring.
Leadership is about moving forward, not wallowing in the past. Remember, too, that leaders aren't born they're made. It's an art and a science that needs to be learned and practiced.