True Leadership Goes Quietly

There's an old Zen saying, "The best leaders of all, the people know not they exist. They turn to each other and say, 'We did it ourselves.' "'

Nowhere is this as true as in the kitchen and bath industry, where myriad partnerships between designers and clients, manufacturers, distributors, installers, sales reps, subcontractors, customer service reps, finance people and assorted allied professionals define and shape the final project in ways both subtle and significant.'

Defining leadership is a tricky business. There's no question that the hallmarks of leadership are inextricably woven into the fabric of a business' inner workings, from the efficiency of its day-to-day operations to the aesthetics of its designs, from its reputation in the industry to its showroom displays, from its marketing program to the overall disposition of its staff. And of course, the staff is as much a mirror of the existing leadership as the company is of its staff. But how do you recognize leadership in a business with so many components?

Every business has its super stars, of course. In baseball, it's the slugger who knocks the ball over the fence at the bottom of the ninth, bringing home the winning run. At the ballet, it's the principal dancers who steal the spotlight with their stunning displays of artistic grace and physical dexterity. In the kitchen and bath industry, it's the award-winning designer who can bring dreams to life with little more than a pencil and a healthy dose of imagination and creative genius.

But what most people forget is that the big home run wouldn't matter if the quiet, steady first baseman hadn't successfully fielded all those routine ground balls the opposing team hit his way earlier in the game. And that neither of these would have mattered if the manager hadn't created a solid lineup, negotiated savvy trades, scheduled extra batting practices, given pep talks when the team was slumping and decided when to pinch hit or send the closer in.

Indeed, the biggest part of leadership often takes place behind the scenes. It's about planning and managing, creating and motivating, tracking and sometimes choosing to go off track to find a new, more successful direction. It's about making the really tough decisions, and making the equally important day-to-day ones.

In our industry, it's a given that beautiful designs will get the top billing. Building a marketing campaign from the ground up, updating product displays, software and equipment, managing customer service functions or formulating effective training programs just isn't as exciting as designing a knock-your socks-off kitchen even if it is every bit as important.

In fact, true leadership is rarely recognized, perhaps because under the best leaders, things seem to flow so easily and smoothly, it doesn't appear that the "leader" is doing much at all. Yet take away the linchpin to such an operation, and the whole thing falls apart.

We at Kitchen & Bath Design News believe that the value of strong leadership is not found in the glory of the spotlight, but rather in the teamwork it inspires, in the innovations it pioneers and in the empowerment and pride it brings to the industry at large.

That said, there's nothing wrong with a little glory to the deserving! With our second annual Industry Leadership Awards (see story, Page 49), we recognize the people who make it all happen not just the big stars, but the men and women who quietly create, inspire, teach and innovate, setting the standards for the industry at large. Winners were named in eight categories, ranging from best business management and retailing strategies to outstanding community service.

Through their hard work, dedication, commitment, industry knowledge and business skills, these leaders offer benchmarks that the rest of us can admire, learn from and emulate.'

Although they may not always be the guy who's hitting the ball out of the park in the bottom of the ninth, they are, in the end, the ones who guide their teams to success, and guide our industry to even greater heights. For that reason, K&BDN dedicates this issue to all of the leaders in the kitchen and bath industry, with our gratitude and appreciation for giving us something to strive for.