Three Drivers of Success, Part 1 – Leadership

By Tom Dossenbach

Have you ever wondered what makes a good company great? Why do some seem to always thrive while others struggle to survive? Why do some companies have employees with passionate loyalty while others are in a never-ending battle to retain their employees?

These are good questions to ask and to explore in an attempt to improve any company. I have my own strong feelings on the subject and will discuss the drivers of success this month and in the next two installments of Management Matters.

There are three important drivers to a successful company: leadership, innovation and management. Leadership is represented by the cogwheel in blue and innovation (first clockwise after blue) and management (second clockwise after blue) are represented by the two other cogwheels.  

I believe there are three important drivers or elements to a successful company during these challenging times of rapid globalization and uncertainty. They are: leadership, innovation, and management. While each is a separate term, they are all interrelated and, in fact, interconnected as represented by the three cogwheels on this page. All three of these topics are indispensable and must work in harmony to power a successful company.

Note that the bottom cogwheel, leadership, drives the other two, innovation and management. While a company can function with any of the three wheels serving as the driving force, only leadership does it most effectively.

Leadership can be defined as “guiding the way.” In the corporate world this means the way to profitability and longevity. We all have an idea of what constitutes good leadership. In the woodworking industry, it results in successfully competing with other domestic manufacturers as well as imports. The following paragraphs explore the essential attributes of a successful leader.

Consistent Leadership

Do your employees ever try to figure out what kind of mood you are going to be in on a given day? Are you uncertain yourself what kind of day you are going to have? If you are inconsistent in the way you handle work situations, how can you expect your employees to act any differently? A good leader is one that is consistent from day to day — the solid rock. A good leader is predictable in his or her attitude and style.

Employees will notice when a manager or supervisor is inconsistent in the way he or she executes his or her responsibilities. For example, a quality assurance supervisor may enforce the standards for machine tolerances when business is slow, but, on the other hand, be lax when business is good so that the plant cannot keep up with orders.

This inconsistent leadership will undercut the effectiveness of the entire quality assurance program as employees adopt the same attitudes as the leaders around them.

Positive Leadership

When visiting woodworking plants, I often hear managers or supervisors complaining about how bad things are. This attitude serves only to spread unrest, fear and discontent throughout the plant. As an example, place yourself in this situation: Preston Office Furniture has seen a drastic drop in orders and shipments during the past 18 months and has had to lay off 60 employees. You are the company owner and are walking through the desk assembly department one Monday afternoon. Ray, the clamp carrier operator, asks you, “When do you think things are going to pick up?”

You reply, “Well, let me put it this way. If something doesn’t happen soon, I don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Is there any doubt that Ray will start looking for another job that very day? It would be much better for you to say: “I know it has been tough, Ray, but I think we are turning the corner. You know we have gone through times like this before and have come out stronger. That’s what I’m counting on now.”

Ray and the entire workforce will be encouraged and motivated to work even harder with a positive response like that. Leadership can either be negative or positive and you get to choose which yours will be.

A Good Leader:

• Communicates the goals and performance of the company.

• Keeps promises and honors commitments.

• Shares positive and negative information freely.

• Is sincerely interested in others’ personal and professional needs.

• Has a consistently positive personality.

• Gives credit where credit is due.

• Acknowledges and apologizes for his or her mistakes.

• Gives people the opportunity to excel.

• Is innovative and creative.

• Motivates others to greatness.

• Is a role model for others.

Strong Leadership

Unfortunately, some leaders are just plain weak. A person who is undecided or indecisive cannot provide strong leadership. The great leaders in history have been well respected for their strong principles and guidance. Leadership generally originates at the top of the management structure of a company. If there are strong and effective leaders at the helm, they can help form a healthy company core spirit. (See July 2001 Management Matters on

Strong leaders are sure of themselves and not afraid of giving credit where credit is due. A good leader knows where he or she is going and stays the course. A weak leader (as I have said before) is inconsistent and like a boat adrift — just flowing down stream. In almost every case of analyzing a troubled company, I have found weak leadership in the top tier of the management of that company.

Compassionate Leadership

Leadership demands compassion and compassion demands a heart for others. Leaders within all size companies must believe that those that are to follow them are the most important assets of the company.

Every employee or associate in your company is a human being just like you and has the same emotional and spiritual needs. You cannot be a great and effective leader as the owner of your company or as a department head if you do not take a personal interest in others and are compassionate and sensitive to their needs.

Managers and supervisors as well as employees know if you really care about them. Your attitude toward fellow workers and their needs will be perceived as the attitude of the company. If you are a compassionate leader, others will follow you and your company through fire in order to reach greatness.

Creative Leadership

If you want to win an award for excellence in corporate leadership you will have to find creative ways to lead your unique company. Every company has its own challenges and there are many ways to meet them. The truly successful company approaches these challenges with creativity, the management tool of the 21st Century.

Many ways of operating our companies are no longer acceptable the way they were in the past. Some current strategic plans may need to be modified or completely abandoned. Truly, every owner, president, officer, manager, as well as every supervisor needs to demonstrate leadership in new and creative ways to meet today’s challenges.

For example, if you are a furniture manufacturer and are still structured as you were 15 years ago, your company is hopelessly behind the times (unless you were one of the few who embraced the philosophy of employee empowerment back in the ‘80s).

A company with several motivated teams can achieve greatness if these employees are working toward common goals of excellence that have been fostered by its leadership.

My Definition of Leadership

I define leadership as the ability to discern what is and what should be and then to bridge the gap between so that others will achieve the end results desired.

Great leadership will know where the company is now as well as where it is headed. But more importantly, effective leadership has learned where the company should be and how to get there. True leadership has the ability to “guide the company on its way” to achieve greatness.

A company owner or president that is an effective leader is a tremendous asset to any wood products manufacturer or supplier. However, if you are the supervisor of a small department in a kitchen cabinet plant, you can apply these principals as well — just substitute “department” for “company” in the sentences above.

If you are a manager or a department head, you are expected to be a leader and it is your duty to elevate the quality of your leadership in your area of responsibility. This will determine the success of your department or even your company itself if you are in a place of corporate leadership. Sure, it takes a good leader at the top, but that leader needs good leadership support from below in order to make the company great.

Next month we will look at innovation as the second driver of a successful company.

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