Surviving Tough Times: Use your leadership skills to create your vision
August 14, 2011 | 6:09 pm CDT
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If you have been following this series you should have already considered several steps in the process of preparing for the challenges we are facing now and in the foreseeable future. First, I suggested a visit by your CEO to your top 10 or so customers to determine what their needs were going to be and to instill confidence that you were going to be a survivor of this recession. I then encouraged you to determine your current state by analyzing industry trends and conducting a comprehensive internal SWOT analysis. Last month, I encouraged you to take the information and develop a vision of what your future state should look like — and to begin planning how to get there with new or revised goals and objectives.

I want to conclude this series by encouraging you to use your leadership skills to bridge the gap between your current state and the future that you envision.

Getting Everyone Involved
It is time to broaden the number of people you have had involved in the process of preparing for your future. If you are a small shop, it may be advisable to get everyone integrated into the process now. In larger companies, it may be best to get supervisors and managers that have not been on the original vision team involved at this point. After you have set goals and objectives that frame your vision, you need as many stakeholders as possible to become familiar with and involved in implementing the change initiatives that will be necessary.

This is the most critical step in re-engineering or making changes to adapt to new circumstances affecting your company. I have never been in a company where the workers did not know at least some of the basic reasons why the company was struggling — many that management may have been overlooking for years. If you ever think that you know all of the solutions of how to achieve your goals and objectives, you are doomed to fall short of your potential. Every member of your operation sees waste and mismanagement from a different perspective, and theirs can be most enlightening because they often know the root causes that cannot be seen from an ivory tower.

Unfortunately, many who go through exercises similar to the ones I have been writing about these four months will finish by drafting a set of goals with a budget, and then put them in a memo to senior management as a mandate. The memo-method of communication is a sure path to disaster and will almost certainly lead to failure. A small company owner may just try to go it alone and be marginally successful at best. Another method often used to launch a re-engineering initiative is to hold a face-to-face meeting with management and supervisors in the conference room to lay down the law as to what must be done. This is a slight improvement, but will still result in falling short in achieving the highest and best effort for the company.

What is missing in these approaches is the motivation of every employee in your organization. Your entire operation — not just management — needs to be convinced that this “new program” is good for them. How can you get everyone involved in something as huge as re-engineering your company? The answer is by exercising superb leadership.
Leadership Required
Any manager or supervisor has to be a leader to a degree. The higher the responsibility that you hold, the greater your leadership requirements will be.

Leadership is the ability to see what is (your current state), and what should be (your future state) — and to get others to bridge the gap between what is and what should be. Getting others to make the changes is going to be critical in order to be successful in these new times.

Today’s circumstances require more than a little tweaking here and there. For most, major changes need to be made throughout their organizations to adapt to a rapidly changing economy and world market. A cultural change in your company may be required to achieve your objectives and one person or a small isolated management team cannot make such a change alone. It will eventually take total employee involvement and it may fall on you to provide the leadership to make this happen. No matter who you are or what responsibility you have in your company, you can be the leader that gets things rolling by at least discussing this with the owner or CEO of your company. Anyone can be a leader within one of the smaller groups that make up a company.

Some may think that they are not a natural born leader. However, I am convinced that there are no born leaders, but rather those that have developed a profound caring about people. If you really care about your customers, if you really care about your employees, you have what it takes to be a leader: a willingness to be transparent so that others see that your motives for this re-engineering or change are just and honorable.

Bridge the Gap Between
Assuming that you are the owner or general manager of your company, it now behooves you to explain to all of your employees the reasons that they must work together to make the changes necessary during the challenging times ahead. You must make it clear that your company’s mission is to do what it takes to satisfy customers’ requirements, and that by focusing on this and making your customers successful during the process, their jobs will be much more secure.

You already have spent a lot of time talking to customers, looking at industry trends, examining your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT), and you have set goals and objectives. You now need to explain to your entire organization what your team’s analysis has uncovered and what changes must be made in order to accomplish all of this. You should do this in as large a venue as possible so that you are addressing every member of your company at the same time, if at all possible.

Remember what I said about being willing to be transparent, so that others will see that your motives for this re-engineering or change are honorable. If you are honest and straightforward with your employees, most of them will ask, “What can I do to help?” What they need is the opportunity, and you are going to give it to them. You are going to be transparent enough to admit to them that you cannot do it alone. You are going to ask for their help. You are going to explain to them that you believe in their abilities to make the necessary changes so much that you are going to empower them to bridge the gap between what is today and what should be for the company to survive.

Total team participation is what is needed to create the transformations necessary to compete today and in the future. Gone are the days when the boss had all of the answers. You and I know that this is the kind of management that employees whisper about with comments such as: “Has he lost his mind? Is she blind? If they would just ask me, I could fix this!” Leadership, by definition, demands delegation and empowerment of others. If you ignore this fact, all you have done will have been for naught.

Times are tough in the wood products industry, but these are also times of opportunity. As a manager or supervisor at any level in your company, you need to help energize your company with leadership that will drive good management and the change and innovation your company needs to meet the challenges of the future. If someone else in your company needs to read this series, start demonstrating your leadership abilities by sharing these ideas with them.

Tom Dossenbach is the president of Dossenbach Associates Inc., a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. Contact him at (919) 775-5017 or e-mail [email protected].

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About the author
Tom Dossenbach