Leadership in Action

How to develop leadership talent and become someone employees want to follow

Leadership is a constant development problem for all industries. According to a study from Deloitte University Press, leadership is the No. 1 talent issue facing organizations around the world, with 86 percent of respondents rating it as “urgent” or “important.” So if you are struggling with finding good leaders for your organization or effectively leading your own teams, you are not alone. Thankfully, there are several experts and industry professionals who have tangible experiences with this very problem.

To understand how to best become an effective leader, it is important to start with what defines a leader, which is simple: a leader has followers. He or she has a nature of encouragement and wants to help people.

“Leading is the effectiveness of … initiating action, making change and moving an organization towards its agreed upon goals and objectives,” said Max Strother, founder and CEO of Maximum Innovations.

Maximum Innovations is a coaching and consulting firm that provides synergy services to corporations and non-profit organizations. Strother has consulted CEOs in a wide variety of industries for over 30 years.

Strother has worked with several dealers in the marine industry run by effective leaders, and the only thing these leaders have in common is that they sell boats. Strother said the shift between management and leadership is the movement from managing tasks to leading people to lead outcomes.

“When it comes to leadership, it’s about outcomes and not about activities,” said Strother. “Leading is not telling them what to do – leading is helping everybody go to the same place together. And in a boat dealership, the outcomes are pretty straightforward.”

Dr. Michael O’Connor, executive vice president of Spader Business Planning, said leaders are people who another individual looks to for guidance. They are the influencers. As an example, O’Connor pointed to dealerships with several team managers: The manager whose office has a constant flow of traffic is a leader, and the manager whose office is empty is not.

“You want to see who the real leaders are in an organization? You see who people go and talk to,” said O’Connor. “You’re not the leader if no one communicates with you or is connecting with you.”

Developing and training leaders

Once you know what makes a leader, how do you create or become one? Strother says training is beneficial but it isn’t the only answer, and no one can take a course to suddenly gain leadership skills.

“Leaders are developed. While training is a small piece of the puzzle, leadership development is a ‘hands on’ sport,” said Strother. “The most effective models in America are based on mentoring and coaching. Our experience and expertise is developing leaders in the trenches.”

That being said, training is not useless. Russ Lockridge, vice president and chief human resources officer of Brunswick Corporation, said Brunswick offers training to its managers in technical and people skills. To develop people skills, Brunswick will offer classroom training for leaders to learn how to provide good feedback, communicate well with their team and become open-minded to ideas from their employees.

“Most people fail on the people side, not the technical side,” said Lockridge, who added training should always be supplemented by coaching.

“When ‘training’ is followed by effective ‘coaching,’ both documented research and [Spader’s] experience over the past 40 years has shown that more than 80 percent of all performers are likely to develop and demonstrate more effective leadership attitudes and practices,” said O’Connor.

Strother believes that the marine businesses best poised for success in the future are those that utilize every resource they have to develop effective leadership and give every employee a personal development plan (PDP).

“They’re pouring their resources into their people all the way down to the guy that drives the tractor into the yard bringing boats into the garage for the mechanics to work on,” said Strother. “There’s no thought pattern that every single one of them is going to become a CEO of a boat dealership, but the belief is that every employee needs to have a PDP. They’re moving forward and those employees are being developed. They’re growing and those boat businesses are seeing insane profits right now. That is the new model of boat business and I’m really excited about it.”

Lockridge noted that Brunswick works to provide its employees at all levels with challenging assignments over the years as a primary development vehicle.

“We do training but I think it’s secondary to moving people, giving them new opportunities,” said Lockridge. “We’re constantly coaching our presidents, when they have good people that are promotable, to give them air time in meetings whenever the president [or] CEO comes through. … We work hard at getting that exposure for people.”

Brunswick has a management succession process, which the company calls a “talent review,” where the CEO and Lockridge review their top managers within Brunswick. They talk about those managers’ potential and performance, where they are in their career progression and who of those people have a high potential to be promotable for new opportunities.

“It’s a process that we find very useful and that’s how we’re able to move people so readily, because we kind of have a list of people needing moves and whenever there’s an opening, we can work to get the right person into the job,” said Lockridge. “We promote from within about 75 percent of the time.”

Similarly, Correct Craft asks its employees to fill out a skills assessment and all open positions are posted internally, encouraging employees to apply.

“This has been extremely beneficial as we have been able to utilize our employee’s skills in other departments when a position becomes available,” said Correct Craft CEO Bill Yeargin. “Correct Craft is still growing and is looking at other potential companies. As things change there will be more opportunity for employees to grow.”

Correct Craft also offers weekly leadership training, which is open to managers and non-managers who are interested in the week’s topic, such as stress management. The classes include role-playing and other interactive tools and games to involve students.

“To see a leader evolve over time is a great reward for me personally. You can see how they start to handle situations differently and how they address the people that report to them,” said Yeargin.

Mentoring and coaching in 20 groups

David Parker, president of Parker Business Consulting, said that good leaders are always looking for new and better ways to do business, and one of the best methods for continuous learning is joining a 20 group. He said that while going to training is important, the 20 groups hold leaders accountable for taking action.

“So many people go to training, and they’ll get all excited and learn all these wonderful things, but they don’t go back and actually change, unless there is some reinforcement,” said Parker. “That’s where the 20 group comes in, where we enforce that continual learning process.”

In leadership, there are two types of roles: mentoring, which is someone who has the quality or position a mentee aspires to obtain; and coaching, which is someone who may not have that quality or position but knows how to help people develop. In a 20 group, there is an opportunity for members to play either or both of those roles.

“In the 20 group, they typically will get [mentoring or coaching] from another individual, and sometimes the entire group gets it from one of the members,” said O’Connor. “People bond together and often become resources to one another.”

Feedback: Better to give and receive

One of the key characteristics of any leader is an awareness of his or her strengths and weaknesses. Parker said good leaders know how to position their businesses for success by recognizing those strengths and weaknesses and hiring employees who are strong in areas where the leader is weak. That way, all temperaments and skill sets are covered.

“We all lead with our own natural strengths unless we recognize our own weaknesses and complement them,” said Parker.

Leaders are also willing to listen to their employees and change for the better. Lockridge said having a feedback mechanism to help leaders understand how they come across and their strengths and weaknesses help build leadership skills.

Brunswick uses 360-degree feedback, which includes direct feedback from subordinates, peers, supervisors and a self-evaluation. Lockridge said 360 tools and techniques can be purchased and there are consultants who are licensed to set up this mechanism in a company.

“It’s a small investment [we] can make to really see a big improvement in [the company’s] leadership capabilities. We use that a lot and it helps our managers to continue to develop and move on to different levels of their capability,” said Lockridge. “[Small businesses] may look at what I’m [suggesting] and say ‘Well that’s easy for Brunswick because they’re a billion-dollar company, but I’m just trying to make ends meet here.’ I realize [and understand] that, but on the other hand I think some small investments and hiring the right people can really pay off in a big way, no matter how big the company is.”

Good leaders don’t just receive feedback to change for the better; they also provide good feedback for employees, and that feedback helps employees feel empowered. Strother said leaders should ask employees to self-evaluate how well they are completing their goals. If the employee is stuck, effective leaders ask, “How do we help you move forward?” They also express that it’s ok to be stuck sometimes and they want to help the employees get unstuck, rather than executing punitive consequences.

A PDP for an employee, therefore, should include psychometrics to understand what makes each individual employee tick, said Strother. Everyone is built differently and should be treated by how they are uniquely wired to reach their PDP goals.

“How you get there is irrelevant – [what] matters is we get there in a way that’s most effective for that employee,” said Strother. “It’s time to put right shoes on your right foot and left shoes on your left.”

“But what if they leave?”

Developing and training employees is expensive; there is no doubt about it. And if a business invests in an employee and the employee leaves, that hurts. However, Parker and Yeargin both pointed to a Zig Ziglar quote they felt was important for the industry to keep in mind: “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them.”

“There’s always a risk when you invest,” said Yeargin, “but if you don’t invest in your employees then how are they able to help you grow the company and take it to the next level without training?”

“It’s [about] developing the person to help them get better at what they do,” said Craig Brosenne, general manager of Hagadone Marine Group, most recently ranked as No. 15 in the Boating Industry Top 100. “Whether it’s with our company or with another company, I want to see people grow. I don’t want to see them stand stagnate in the same position for a long period of time.”

Lockridge said the way small marine businesses can leverage the loss of a good leader is to keep the pipeline of well-trained, high potential employees full throughout the business, recognizing that some of them may leave but there are more talented individuals behind them.

“I always think good people don’t cost, they pay. I’ve yet to see an organization that was blessed with really good talent that wasn’t thankful they had it for the period of time they had it, and if they lost them, they wished them well and they’ve got more people ready to move up behind them,” said Lockridge. “It’s kind of a game where you’ve got to keep it flowing with good, young talent that can move up through your organization [and] recognizing [you] can’t keep everybody, but while they’re there they are making a huge contribution.”


Generational and Entrepreneurial dealers

Strother identified two general types of dealerships: The dealerships that are entrepreneurial, where the current principal built the business from the ground up, and the dealerships that are in the second or third generation of the family. He said it is important to understand which one a dealership is because the metrics of leadership are significantly different.

For entrepreneurial dealerships, the entrepreneurialism requires creating a new lifecycle, building systems along the way and the ability to visualize where you’re going without being there.

For generational, the metrics are relationships. Change is more difficult and slower, and it involves multiple family members and generations.

“An entrepreneurial dealership does not need to have the relational skills of working with peers that a family dealership needs to have,” said Strother.

Strother said one challenge for dealers, generational or entrepreneurial, is the moment when the existing principal hands off the business to the next generation. The persisting question is “Will I feel confident handing leadership of my boat dealership to the next generation and can my son or daughter do the job like I did it?”

“Our kids are never going to do it like we did it. One, they’re not like us but two, the Millennial just thinks differently. So it’s kind of hard for ol’ Dad here to pry his hands off a business, not because our children can’t run it as well – it’s because [Dad] thinks they have to run it [his] way and it’s really hard for ol’ Dad to get it in his brain that ‘You know what? They’re not going to run it my way but they’re going to be just fine.’ That’s a harder, more difficult challenge … but that’s been going on for the history of the world.”

Developing Millennials for leadership is no different than previous generations, said Strother. While they may think differently – are more explorative and likely to question the methods for doing something – the results are unchanged.

“The outcome is still the same. The ability to lead people, initiate change and move an organization upon its agreed-upon goals and objectives are the same whether you are a Builder, Boomer, Gen Xer or Millennial.”

To read more on managing intergenerational dealerships and how to plan for ownership
succession, see the feature article in the February 2015 issue of Boating Industry at BoatingIndustry.com.


Library of Leadership

bookIn discussing the dealers within David Parker’s 20 groups, Parker noted that many of the excellent leaders he works with are active readers, absorbing leadership texts and finding relevance in their own businesses.

“They’re reading these books [and] they’re discussing them. ‘How can we apply this [principle] in our dealership or our business?’ That kind of training on a regular basis, I think, is an integral part of a company that is providing leadership,” said Parker.

Correct Craft holds a monthly corporate book club for its employees. Each month, one employee selects a book for the club to read and discuss what they learned.

“The book club for employees adds value by continuing education, improving communication and understanding how others process information.  It allows an engineer to see firsthand how a person in marketing or in operations interprets the concepts of the book being discussed,” said Yeargin. “This has been a great asset for our team.”

We asked dealers, manufacturers and consultants to make suggestions for industry professionals who want to start learning more about ways to become an effective leader. Below is a list of their collective recommendations. They can be used for individual growth or for discussion through a company book club on how to apply the texts to a small or large marine business.

These books are available in hard copy and on select e-readers.

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
– Stephen R. Covey

– Carol Dweck

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error
– Kathryn Schulz

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard
– Chip Heath

How to Win Friends and Influence People
– Dale Carnegie

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t
– Jim Collins

The New Articulate Executive — Look, Act and Sound Like a Leader
– by Granville N. Toogood

The 5 Levels of Leadership: Proven Steps to Maximize Your Potential
– John C. Maxwell

The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You
– John C. Maxwell

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It
– Michael E. Gerber

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action
– Simon Sinek

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
– Bo Burlingham

Drucker & Me: What a Texas Entrepreneur Learned from the Father of Modern Management
– Bob Buford

QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life
– John G. Miller


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