By Diane M. Calabrese / Published November 2015
Too many cooks spoil the soup. It’s an adage we have heard since childhood to remind us that each person adding a bit of this and that—with little thought or knowledge of what came before—can produce a very unpalatable broth.
Whenever a group of people come together to build a product—from machinery to service to soup—someone has to lead. That is, someone has to show the way.
In showing the way, or directing the course of action, a leader promotes good results in the present and demonstrates to team members how to get good results in future endeavors. Developing company leaders is a process that takes place in every interaction.
There are structured ways to develop leaders, such as focused seminars. Yet ultimately people learn to lead by having an example to follow.
In Greek mythology, Mentor, a friend of Odysseus, taught Telemachus, Odysseus’ son. Today, we use mentor to refer to a teacher or coach that knows how to extract the best from us.
“Mentoring is a very important process in the development of our Mi-T-M leadership program,” says Sam Humphrey, the president of the corporation, which is based in Peosta, IA.
Employees that are engaged want to learn all they can, and they want to learn to lead. They are especially looking for someone who can show them the way.
“Good leaders have positive traits that influence young, motivated em-ployees,” says Humphrey. “The management skill sets of young leaders are attained from good, solid experiences.”
The experiences encompass looking toward, identifying, and replicating characteristics of excellent managers. “Young leaders will emulate managers that they admire and respect,” explains Humphrey.
There’s a timelessness to developing company leaders, one that keeps a company strong across transitions. “The process is perpetual and someday these young leaders will be mentoring young leaders that admire and respect them,” says Humphrey.
Not everyone wants to lead in a conventional way, such as managing a group. Irrespective of the role one has, being capable and exhibiting competence is a type of leadership. Call it quiet leadership.
The newly hired engineer who recognizes the excellence and intellect of a veteran engineer has identified a leader. So has the new shipping clerk who observes a veteran shipping clerk handle a delivery gone astray while reassuring the customer and being firm—but not unreasonable—with the transporter.
Getting the right match between applicants and jobs is where the development of company leadership gets a good start. Whether management or non-management, everyone must be prepared to take charge when required.
“The first step for leadership is in the hiring process,” says Gary Scott, president of Alkota Cleaning Systems, Inc. in Alcester, SD. “Make sure everyone has leadership capability. Make sure the new hire has the ability to make a decision and carry through with it.”
Being able to choose and carry through is a must, explains Scott. “There is nothing worse than someone who won’t make a decision, no matter where they are employed—from the chief executive to the janitors.”
Once a good hire is made, the follow through must be solid. It begins with “training,” says Scott. “Give the employee training, make sure they know what needs to be done, then, get out of the way.”
Stepping back and demonstrating confidence in employees is part of leadership. It’s also essential to the efficient operation of a company.
“The one quality that a leader needs is a good attitude,” says Scott. “Leaders can come from all disciplines, but they must have a can-do, want-to-succeed, make-everybody-better attitude.”
Being ready to meet the unexpected is part of leadership. If a manager falls ill for a few days, team members must keep going with full commitment.
“Every employee needs leadership and decision-making ability,” says Scott. “There are times when they will have to make a decision, small or large. If someone cannot work alone and make these decisions, it was a poor employee to hire.”
We all learn from one another. Even the most difficult situations are made less so when the tone is set by a majority of people with a calm and consistent comportment.
“To develop leaders, you have to lead by example,” says Scott. “I do not ask my fellow employees to do anything that I would not do or have not done. Leadership begins at the top and works its way down.”
Someone must know how to make soup. Too many cooks may be a problem, but no one knowing how to cook at all is a bigger one. It’s really an optimal situation if there are many cooks and instead of tangling with one another, they each focus on one part of the meal—soup, salad, main dish.
It’s the same with leadership. When each member of a team is fully engaged and aware, everyone leads at least in a quiet way. Moreover, the more engaged and accountable the quiet leaders are, the more certain management can be team members will be able to continue working without a manager present when necessary.
A staggering number of books on the subject of leadership give ample choices to anyone looking for an opportunity to read and reflect on ways to refine efforts. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) also offers essays on the subject of leadership, such as the uncredited “Being
a Leader” (https://www.sba.gov/content/being-leader), which is particularly interesting.
The SBA essay references Raymond Cattell and details the leadership potential equation that he developed in 1954. Cattell developed the equation by studying military leaders.
Read the short essay—just one page—and decide whether the traits still apply. (In fact, the essay could serve as a good basis for discussion for an in-house leadership training session.) Among the traits are emotional stability, enthusiasm, and conscientiousness, all of which do seem universal among leaders.
Another good source of information from SBA—an opportunity, actually—is the notice of the SBA Emerging Leaders Initiative. (Read the details via https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba-initiatives/sba-emerging-leaders-initiative.)
Some readers of this magazine will have team members that qualify for the training initiative. The SBA Emerging Leaders Initiative offers at no cost the sort of training for executives that otherwise would require a significant investment. There are no restrictions on the types of businesses that can participate and manufacturers and contractors have been among the participants in the past.
The training offered in the SBA program includes peer-to-peer counseling. It is particularly geared toward fortifying leaders and readying them for company expansion, seeing the opportunities for expansion, and accessing capital for expansion.
Whichever path one takes to develop company leaders, the importance of doing so emerges not just in the equilibrium and industry of the day, but also when the unexpected occurs. If there is one inner resource on which leaders must call most often, it is probably persistence.
Things go wrong. Changes must sometimes be made. Not every day runs smoothly. A leader does not sink away from the problem, but instead addresses it. It’s about tenacity, picking up after any stumble over an unforeseen obstacle. The more members of the team that can do the same—i.e., lead, the better positioned a company is to regain equilibrium quickly.