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5 Common Sense Rules for Leaders

Originally published: 08.01.13 by Greg McAfee

5 Common Sense Rules for Leaders

Guidelines for Leading Your Business Growth

Your team wants to be led. Even if they don't openly vocalize it, they are looking for a leader they can value and respect; one who will create an environment that nurtures excellence, risk-taking, creativity, and growth. Unfortunately, some leaders prefer to intimidate, ignore, manipulate and lie, putting their own egos and desires above the good of their companies.

Here are five common sense rules you must be in tune with in order to be the leader your team will follow.

Act Like a Leader

In our world of HVAC small business, I find that many owners are frustrated due to lack of results, something a leader should naturally produce. Owners start their companies for a variety of reasons: maybe they have good technical skills; or they inherited an already functioning business from a family member; or they are offered a buy-in opportunity for a company where they've worked for a long time. Unfortunately, none of these scenarios guarantees that the new owner is ready to be a leader.

In small companies of ten or fewer employees, the owner will be required to wear many hats and produce results to make that company successful. One of

those hats must have "Leader" embroidered on it. If a company employs a great number of people, the responsibility for producing results may be lifted from the owner, but the primary responsibility of that owner is to facilitate the success of others. In other words, the owner still has to act as a leader. 

The question then becomes: Should you be the one running your business? You may own it, but that doesn't necessarily mean you are capable of successfully leading. If you are struggling in this responsibility, there is no shame in hiring someone else to run your company and lead your employees to success. Acting like a leader means doing what's best for your people and your company; sometimes that means setting the ego aside and letting someone else lead when you can't.

Own the Vision

A well-conceived vision consists of two parts: a core ideology and an envisioned future. The core ideology is what you stand for and why you exist. At McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning Co., for instance, one of the values we stand for is serving people.

If your business closed its doors today, who would care and why? Your answer to that question is your core purpose.

Your envisioned future, on the other hand, is what you aspire to become, to achieve, to create. It is something that will require change to attain. For example: in order for us to serve people better at McAfee, we recently invested thousands of dollars to study our customers and the demographics we serve. We're learning how to relate better with the four living generations of people we serve today, and we will continue to improve our strategy for this. After all, serving people is the glue that holds us together while we grow.

Does this mean the leader has to be the only visionary? No! I'd rather surround myself with people who think, dream and can see the big picture. You may have others on your team who can solve problems and see even farther ahead than you. You must care enough about your vision that you don't let your ego get in the way. Otherwise, these talented people will be a resource that goes untapped, and they will grow bored and find other jobs where their talent is more appreciated. Harry S. Truman once quipped, "It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit."

Develop and Maintain a Culture

I recently read that 31 percent of companies are unhealthy. The key to health is to build a strong culture. Culture is the sum of the beliefs and values that shape norms of behavior and dictate the ways things get done. Your strategy must be in line with your culture.

In my book, "It's My Your Dream," I talk about the advantages and disadvantages of being first to market with an idea. For instance, we were the first in our market to come out with after-hours service at daytime rates. This was a big risk, and we developed a strategy to make it work quite well.

An organization teeming with bureaucracy and one that is afraid to take risks will have little chance of getting things off the ground. If you want to have the highest quality service with the lowest callback rate, yet you run an organization where rules are lax and people make decisions quickly without much data to back those decisions up, chances are you'll be chasing a dream and experience little to no progress.

Be a Change Agent

It's reiterated often to my management team that, although it's our job to keep our customers comfortable, it's also important to make sure our managers don't get too comfortable. As a leader, you have to know how to agitate just enough to stimulate and create change. According to Harvard Business Publishing's annual survey of leading executives, building the capacity to contend with the increasing pace of change is a top leadership development priority.

Take a look at your own company. Are your leadership competencies properly defined and refined? Are your programs and systems designed to adapt to tomorrow's changes? What does tomorrow look like in your business? No one can see the future, and I don't have a crystal ball in my desk drawer, but at McAfee, I'm always preparing for a new way of doing business.

We have notebooks in place for all field personnel, and these allow techs to access customer information from a basement at two a.m. if need be. We provide our people with better tools, better equipment, and digital cameras to help them perform service calls more efficiently. We offer after-hours service that works better for today's busy generation. We've discovered new selling and closing techniques that work. Our commitment to customer service will never change, but how we do business will continue to evolve. One of my business advisors and mentor, Dave Sullivan, is known for saying, "Your business will change either by design or default. It's up to you how."

Set an example

By their very definition, leaders are watched and often looked upon as role models. In a small company, the leader works side-by-side with their team members day-in and day-out. Some may find themselves getting so close it is impossible to stand out as a leader at all. In larger companies that have a management team, the leader should be leading and empowering them to manage others.

Whatever the size of the company, a good leader will set an example, and his or her actions will be consistent with personal and company values. Good leaders walk the talk because they understand their actions speak louder than their words. If I preach to my team about the importance of being on time, yet I'm always arriving late to work or to meetings, it would be inconsistent with our company values and would send mixed signals to my team.

The team might begin to see me as a hypocrite and lose confidence and faith in me as a capable leader. Over time, this will erode the trust they have in me. Without trust, leaders cannot achieve greatness.

Articles by Greg McAfee

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