By Doris Valade, Business and Leadership Coach, The Malabar Group
The Boss has been Fired!!
Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.
- Simon Sinek, Author and Inspirational Speaker
In 1982, when I first started my business, the business owner was the boss, in every sense of the word. The boss made all the decisions, often alone and behind closed doors. He or she was expected to be the position of authority, the “expert” on everything to do with the business. Being the boss could be a lonely place. Business norms at the time dictated that the boss did not socialize with employees; even joining employees for lunch was discouraged. At the time, I was young and I was learning. But I knew I wanted to do things differently. Since I was the boss, I made an important decision. I fired the boss!
Let me explain …
During high school and university, I played competitive sports. Our team was always at the bottom of the win/loss game season. Early on, I learned that we could only win if our team worked together. We were only as good as our weakest player. I was often captain or co-captain, with the responsibility to ‘lead’ the team, but I couldn’t win by myself. It was about the team. I learned to look at each player to identify their strengths and weaknesses and support them to improve. Our games improved. And so did my leadership skills. Each game was no longer just about winning, it was about all of us doing our best as a team. These were valuable leadership skills I would carry with me throughout my career.
Perhaps you’re still thinking that every company must have a boss. But what every company must have is strong leadership. In today’s business world, successful companies have fired the boss. Today, leaders encourage their teams to collaborate. At least the successful ones do! In 1982, most people didn’t ask, “Do I enjoy going to work?” They just went! Most bosses didn’t wonder, “Are my employees happy?” “Are they filled with purpose?” They just expected people to show up and work. Things have changed. Today’s employees, particularly the younger ones, believe that their purpose goes far beyond just doing their job. They want meaning in their work. More than 9 out of 10 employees … are willing to earn less money to do more meaningful work? Good leaders understand this and the company reaps the benefits.
Purpose and People Above Profits
As business changes, so must your role as a business leader. The impact of digital technology, new approaches to boosting productivity and more recently, the burdens of the pandemic, have been instrumental in pushing innovation and opportunities for businesses to do things differently. The emotional impact of the pandemic also highlighted the benefits of being compassionate leaders. In his 2021 book, The Heart of Business: Leadership Principles for the Next Era of Capitalism, Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, describes today’s leader as putting purpose and people above profits. Business leaders are learning to recognize and appreciate the value of human skills (e.g., communication, empathy, compassion, self-awareness). I always admired the leadership of the late Colin Powell (U.S. Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005). I was asked to give a talk to members of our local Chamber of Commerce a few years ago and I quoted from the management book by Oren Harari, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell. Those secrets centre around clear and supportive communication that inspires the people around you. Powell said, “when you make people feel like their work is part of something larger than themselves, you’ll win their trust and respect.” (Forbes.com Oct 19, 2021, Colin Powell’s Best Communication Advice for Motivating Teams.”)
For leaders of small businesses, this challenge can be particularly difficult — our days are spent putting out ‘fires’, keeping customers happy and trying to balance inventory against orders. But inspiring our teams is still possible. Bringing a team together with the shared purpose of growing the company, being open and transparent, encourages them to provide solutions and own the results. A collaborative approach encourages a variety of unique insights which generate new ideas and new solutions. Your team is motivated to do more, to come together and support each other, which supports you and the company.
Where do you begin? What do you do? How do you do it?
In my company, we wanted to bring the team together to share ideas with a focus on continuously improving our day-to-day operations. We came up with two ideas to engage and empower everyone.
The Roundtable: Learning from your peers
The first was a roundtable that included at least one person from each area of the business – accounting, customer service, sales, purchasing, warehouse operations, production and shipping/receiving (we outsourced our marketing and HR programs). We created a worksheet in which each team member presented either an objective, or a hurdle, specific to their area of work. Open discussion followed to gather ideas on how best to support fulfilling the objective or overcoming the hurdle. Follow up discussion considered threats, available resources and possible next steps (which had to be clear, measurable and achievable). Many of our daily activities included each of our team members, so it made sense to get their input and perspective too. That way, we also avoided unnecessary mistakes. Meeting as a roundtable gave us a much better perspective of each other’s work. Equally important, we had the opportunity to help each other with solutions. It was terrific team building. We would put together a course of action and once the objective was met, or the hurdle resolved, the worksheet would include “key lessons learned” for discussion so that the improvements would become part of our daily operations.
The Contest: Healthy competition creates healthier teams
We also created a company-wide contest based on Sales Up/Expenses Down. Recognizing that everyone has an impact on either increasing company sales or reducing company expenses, all team members were included. The call-out was for new ideas — gift cards were presented for ideas that were implemented. Our sales and customer service team came up with new ideas to promote our products as well as new marketing approaches. Accounting and Purchasing teams sourced a more economical freight carrier, which reduced our delivery costs. Production came up with ideas on how we could save on packaging. Everyone wanted to get involved. They realized that they could all make a difference in the business and benefit from their input. Today, after successfully surviving a pandemic, I would include a contest centred around community support/team spirit. How can the company use the strengths of its team to reach out and support the local community?
It’s a new world. As the company’s leader, you are no longer expected to have all the answers, all the solutions or even the next steps and being the leader doesn’t have to be a lonely place. If the pandemic taught us anything, it hammered home the importance of collaboration and innovation. Businesses that survived and thrived will tell you it took teamwork. Your greatest strength will come from empowering your team around a shared purpose that allows everyone to take responsibility for their own (and everyone else’s) performance, learning and well-being. John Maxwell, whose books on leadership have sold millions of copies, said “leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” When your team is truly empowered, everything is possible. So, although the boss was fired, good leadership will always be required.
Are you tired of leading your company alone? Let’s talk … just email me to arrange for a phone call: email@example.com
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About Doris Valade
Doris has been involved in the meat and poultry industry for over 35 years. She has sat on the boards of Food & Beverage Ontario, the Canadian Meat Council and the Canadian Spice Association. Doris has been included on the list of Profit magazine’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs from 1999 – 2005 and again in 2016. Meat and Poultry Ontario recently awarded Doris the Lifetime Member Award for her outstanding contribution to the industry.
As a business and leadership coach, Doris mentors and supports small business owners and entrepreneurs through the challenges of running their business. You can request a free (no obligation) phone call and conversation with Doris by sending her an email request: firstname.lastname@example.org