Your Job at the Top

Prosperity is just around the corner for those who learn leadership.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Charles Dickens,
A Tale of Two Cities, 1859

That sounds like many of our businesses today – two opposing perspectives on the current reality in the automotive services industry. Foundational shifts in the underpinnings of our businesses are scribing a new line in the sand, one that separates the “bucket half-full” from the “bucket half-empty” perspectives.
Why the differences? It’s all in how you look forward, not behind. It’s the courage to leave trusted practices of the past and the joy to see them disappear that underpins the optimists. If the lessons from other industries that have weathered similar transformations hold up, it will be the ones with optimism whose fortunes swell while others fare much worse.

What can we take from the fashion, furniture, airline and computer industries? They all navigated dramatic shifts in their formulas for success, then settled into new norms and practices. Here are a few ideas:

They all center on “the job at the top” – of a company, a business unit, a department or a project team. Why? Because it’s the single greatest determinant of business success. Proven factors for success at the top include:

• Visionary leadership that challenged everything that anchored past success.

• Personal magnetism to inspire zealous followership.
• Obsession with understanding and interpreting shifts in societal standards, economics, tastes and technologies.
• Courage to experiment broadly.
• Resilience to being wrong, recovering and trying again.
• Patience to not over-plan but to work hard, expecting your new path to produce learning along the way.
• Passion to make your enterprise a crusade rather than a financial exercise.
• Persuasiveness to make everyone your business touches a crusader.
• Creativity to paint your business as a story of real people, doing real things that make real contributions to peoples’ lives.
• Enthusiasm to tell and retell your story to anyone who will listen, and to those who won’t.
• Trust to understand that others, not you, will come up with the greatest ideas and make the greatest breakthroughs.
• Humility to give everyone else the credit.
How do you settle into this mode of leadership? Some people can’t. But if you find someone in a position of high responsibility who isn’t wired to take on these attributes, look for someone else.
A majority of people will blossom under these challenges. How do you find out if you’re one of them? It’s easy but uncomfortable at first. Block out 60 minutes three times a week to think about the big picture. Think about three questions:
• Where are we today?
• Where could we be in 30 months?
• What three to five big things do we need to do differently to get there?

Most executives grow to see these 60-minute thinking sessions as the most rewarding part of their jobs. If it works for you, others in your organization will feel it too. And they will be grateful for the centering and leadership you’ll provide through challenging times.