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It’s Better To Be a Leader Than a Manager

Originally published: 01.01.10 by Ron Smith


Leaders motivate, guide coworkers toward goals, and accentuate the positive.

For nearly 30 years I have rarely used the word manager, preferring to use the term leader. You may have noticed a similar slow and subtle change in many businesses — including our hvacr world — to using this term. Many people think of a manager as a person who has control, sets direction, and manipulates resources. The same people think of a leader as the head of a group who shows the way and sets an example.

Let’s look at some of the attributes of a leader. Leaders coach (meaning they train), instruct, discipline, and set expectations. They take a sincere interest in helping their coworkers define and achieve their career goals. Unselfish leaders even realize that their coworkers’ career goals may take them from their present company. A good example of this is when a head football coach helps to prepare an assistant coach for a head coaching opportunity with a competing team.

Leaders motivate their coworkers, inspiring them to take action. Some leaders are blessed with natural motivational ability and skills and are basically company cheerleaders. These are leaders with plenty of charisma who can light up a room of coworkers by simply walking into it. However, I’ve observed more leaders who do not

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have those natural behavior characteristics and get results in a quieter, slower, and more deliberate manner. Although they are not big-presence cheerleaders, they often seem more personal and caring in their actions and treatment of others.

Effective leaders recognize the importance of rewarding coworkers and always practice this principle in several ways. I’ve written about five coworker rewards: recognition, self-esteem, spiffs, career growth, and working for a good company. They all work quite well, and bundled as a group will dramatically change a company. It is very important for leaders to understand that coworkers will do what leaders want when the coworkers share in the rewards. In my book HVAC Spells Wealth, pages 69 through 81, I carefully explain and elaborate on the five rewards.

I have visited and consulted with hundreds of contractors over many years. It doesn’t take long to sense the behavior, characteristics, and culture of a contracting company. All I have to do is spend a couple of hours walking around the company and talking with both inside and outside coworkers. Then, when the owner — who is most often the general manager — and I meet, I always see the same behavior and characteristics that were reflected just hours ago by his coworkers. Most owners and general managers of companies do not realize the powerful influence they have on the company. What they choose to talk about; how they express themselves whether one-on-one or in groups; their dress and personal grooming; their behavior; and their action or inaction very clearly results in the actions or inaction of their coworkers.

When bosses are pumped up and always positive, the company is pumped up and positive. When bosses talk about how bad things are, they’ll be bad. Coworkers even emulate their bosses. If he always wears jeans, many coworkers will wear jeans; if he plays golf, there will be golfers in the company; if he is out in the community promoting and selling service agreements, coworkers will be selling service agreements. All of this results in owners and general managers having a great opportunity and responsibility to influence their companies in the correct manner.

Today’s tough economy provides an opportunity for all of us to become better leaders. If we can learn how to practice effective leadership today, we will be even more effective when the economy strengthens. If you as a leader are seen worrying about the state of the company, the coworkers will also worry, be less productive, and worry about losing their jobs.

It would be better to lighten up, and inspire hope and confidence. Spread some cheer. Celebrate successes, something most companies do not do. Keep your door open as a gesture of open communications within the company. Practice Tom Peter’s suggestion of MBWA — management by walking around. As you stop and chat with your coworkers, focus on the bright side of things. Find positives and talk about them. Above all, remember leadership is not a pure science. It’s an art, and if we read, study, associate ourselves with the correct people and with the correct organizations, we can continue improving our leadership skills.

Ron Smith is a well-known authority in the hvacr business with more than 45 years of experience as a contractor, franchisor, consolidator, and consultant. He is the author of HVAC Spells Wealth and HVAC Light Commercial Service Agreements.


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