Craft your leadership bench
April 21, 2022 | 9:30 am CDT
Moser Eastward Bench

The Eastward Bench from Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers is a contemporary interpretation of a traditional Shaker design. Jim Bouchard says woodworking businesses need to craft their leadership bench just like making fine furniture.

Just the other day I toured the Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers facility in Auburn, Maine. Thanks, Will Sampson for arranging this visit!

For those not familiar, Moser crafts some of the finest furniture and cabinetry in the country (Thos. Moser is #232 on the FDMC 300). One item that really impressed me was a simple bench. The design was elegant. The joinery was seamless. The finish was immaculate. 

This made perfect sense as we toured the plant. From design to finish, even to shipping and the front office, I met people who truly cared — people at every level who were committed to quality and craftsmanship. 

A leadership bench needs to be crafted with the same level of commitment to quality and attention to detail.

After meeting many of you last year at EBC, I see that this dedication to quality is the standard, not the exception in this industry. It’s obvious that this is the reason so many of you create a long-lasting legacy of quality that your customers can trust for generations.

Let’s break down the steps to create a strong and deep leadership bench:

1. Start with quality materials.
You take great care in selecting the best materials that go into your products. What are the best raw materials for leaders? I’m talking about leadership here, not management. Both are important skills and roles, but as Admiral Grace Hopper said so well, “Management is about things. Leadership is about people.”

Look for the human-centric qualities in a person that makes them someone people follow — willingly. Most of the best future leaders are those people who are already doing just that. You’ll see people on the front lines following the lead of these people — willingly — at every level.

Leaders are people who inspire, empower and guide others. They see what needs doing, and they do it. And they do it regardless of rank, title, or position of authority. 

It’s much easier to train good leaders to be good managers than it is to try and convert a manager lacking in people skills to lead effectively.

2. Practice mentorship – always.
The best companies I work with are invariably those with a strong emphasis on continual mentorship. Again — at all levels, the front lines to the C-suite. 

Moser is a great example. They told me they connect every new employee with a mentor. I asked if this process continues. It does. And without having to make it formal. At Moser it’s become a natural part of the environment.

This is the single most important part of leadership development that can be incorporated as a tangible and measurable process. And it’s simple:

Make sure aspiring leaders are paired with a mentor. Be patient with the process. It sometimes takes a couple of tries to make a good match. Create a process where mentors can change as skills and needs develop and make sure you support your mentors as part of this process. Sadly, very few organizations provide actual training for mentors and mentoring. This is one of the key areas of focus in The Sensei Leader Movement. 

3. Share your secrets.
To be frank, this means train your replacement. Always. 
There are so many amazing legacy businesses in the Woodworking Network. You create this legacy by continually sharing the “secrets” that make your products outstanding with each generation of crafts people. Otherwise, your best products would vanish. 

The same is true with leadership. Too many leaders are hesitant to truly share their wisdom and experience with the next generation, and specifically with a candidate they may see as a challenge to their position. 

I get it. It’s understandable. But, it doesn’t work.

One of the saddest stories I hear is the tale of someone who was looking forward to a new opportunity, only to be told they’d have to wait because there was nobody ready to fill their shoes. 

Strong organizations don’t ask you to train your replacement to get rid of you. It’s so you can move on to something bigger or better. I’m not saying there aren’t companies who simply want to you to train your cheaper replacement, but if you’re in that situation –– leave!

The best leaders share their wisdom and experience unconditionally. You don’t always know how it’s going to turn out, but the alternative is dismal.

A couple of years ago I saw this interesting exchange on social media. The first person asked, “What happens if you invest a lot of time and money training someone and they just leave?” The answer: “What happens if you don’t make that investment and they stay?”

And this is how you make the joinery in your leadership bench seamless. This is how you avoid the “generation gap” that so often happens when you have a shallow leadership bench. 

I did say earlier that this process is simple — and it is. 

Simple — not easy.

Results in leadership development are not always easy to measure. It takes time to see a return on your investment. Worst of all, it can often seem to be the least efficient process in your organization.

However, the results from not investing in this process can be catastrophic and irreversible. 

As Admiral Hopper said, “Leadership is about people.” Invest in your people. Continually craft your leadership bench and you will create a successful and lasting legacy. 

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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About the author
Jim Bouchard | President/Owner/C-Level

Jim Bouchard is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, executive mentor, and author. His books include “The Sensei Leader” and “Think Like a Black Belt.” You can connect with Jim on LinkedIn at http://linkedin.com/in/jimbouchard and contact him directly at [email protected] Phone him at 207-751-4317.