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The Four C's Of Leadership

Furniture World Magazine


Communicate your vision, boost productivity and lift morale through effective coaching, cooperation, counseling and correction.

Leadership skills determine the ability of a storeowner or retail manager to overcome difficult problems and take advantage of market opportunities. These skills are perhaps the most important factor determining the success of any retail promotion, store expansion, warehouse renovation, operational adjustment or policy implementation.

A leader must have a vision for his or her company (see Larry Mullins’ excellent series on vision in the marketing management index on www.furninfo.com) and be able to communicate this vision to others in an organization.

It is possible to be an effective manager without being a great leader. Managers, who simply place themselves at the center of an organization and handle every problem, spearhead every promotion and direct each project can be very successful. This manager is like the hub of a wheel providing motive force that directs organizational movement. Employees and projects dance like spokes around him or her. In this “Spoke Type” management style, success is limited by the ability of the manager to multi-task and also by the company’s size and complexity.

Larger organizations have longer spokes that move with greater velocity, making problems and projects more difficult to handle. At the point where this type of management style breaks down, it might more appropriately be termed management by “Juggling”.

As an alternative to this style, every manager has the option to develop the skills of a true leader. Great leaders multiply their effectiveness through skillful interactions with other members of their organizational team.

Four basic skills; coaching, cooperation, counseling and correction (four C’s) are the basics that can help you to become a truly great leader. No matter what the size of your organization, these “C’s” help you to communicate your vision, boost productivity and lift morale throughout any retail operation.

Coaching in the form of continuous education and frequent encouragement should be a basic part of the corporate culture in each of the five basic functional areas of your business. Your sales, merchandising, advertising, operations and administration departments should each have a coach-manager responsible for; transmitting the corporate vision, providing educational tools necessary to achieve this vision and holding departments and individuals responsible for getting results. If your company is too small to afford a coach-manager for each division, then the owner or manager needs to be in charge of more than one. All divisions need an educational system. All divisions must have a person accountable for coaching.

Any coaching effort needs to be continuously applied and frequently offered. When golfers, after years of intense practice, finally make it on tour, they don’t quit training. Too many owners and managers in the home furnishings industry think, “we had the training last year and it just isn’t working”. First of all, we train animals; people receive education and encouragement! Organizational resources continuously and frequently offered, remind people what they should be doing personally and as part of a team to achieve success (as defined by the corporate vision). Continuous and frequent education in all departments has added power because it reminds team members that the company cares about them, is willing to invest time and corporate resources in them and that it believes in their ability to thrive. All this would be a mute point if results are not measured, and results fed back to your team, in an appropriate manner.

Another way that great leaders multiply their effectiveness through skillful interactions with staff is by fostering cooperation. Real cooperation between and among line employees, managers and owners is necessary for a company’s vision to be realized; yet true cooperation cannot exist unless people understand what is expected of them. In addition to understanding, they need the skills, the opportunity and the will to cooperate. We’ve already discussed the need for frequent education and continuous coaching to provide skills and promote general positive mental attitudes. Giving people the opportunity to cooperate is management’s responsibility. Without proper policies and systems that support and enhance cooperation, people become frustrated and resist change.

The seeds of cooperation take root when managers take the time to communicate information in a way that helps people to work toward achieving organizational (and compatible) personal goals. Managers need to work hard at leaving their egos “at the door” when asking for the cooperation of superior or subordinate co-workers. A “team” mentality that takes into account the personalities of other team members as well as their personal and corporate concerns helps to get results.

It is not surprising that employees are looking for co-workers they trust, for managers they can look up to (whose problem solving skills can be emulated) and for mentors who can assist them. These kinds of co-workers enhance cooperation in an organization. This in turn makes the achievement of corporate goals happen faster, better and with total participation.

If all the elements for cooperation seem to be in place yet progress toward this end is slow, having professionally done psychological profiles of staff members can help.

Many retailers find the idea of bringing in a behavioral psychologist unusual, but these professionals can find simple solutions to difficult organizational and people problems. These solutions are less expensive to implement than large-scale changes in personnel and organizational processes. It is much less expensive to find out why people are not communicating with each other than to fire and re-hire over and over.

When an employee or another team member gets off track, your job as the leader is to move them back to center. Spontaneous yelling matches in front of other employees or team members are all too common in this industry. These are counter –productive, and managers should consider “biting their tongue” and waiting to work with employees in private. This one-on-one review should focus on specifics and cover areas of personal improvement that need to take place for the good of the company or the project.

There are systems leaders can learn to develop the skills necessary to provide in house counseling. Again, this is where professional profiling stands out as a critical element, because it suggests the best ways to communicate, and what style to use with each team member.

This type of communications and leadership training can produce dramatic results. Problems throughout the home furnishings industry occur not only because of the things we say to co-workers, but how we say them. Skilled counseling can salvage an employee’s career and save the company the cost of recruiting and training a new team member. Sitting one-on-one with an employee or team member is another way that management can project a caring attitude and show that they are willing to invest resources to help individuals. Counseling provides an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive situation for the company, the manager and the employee.

This is often the last-resort approach for a leader/coach. We are speaking here not about a simple mid-course correction offered in a counseling session, but disciplining the employee for not following the company rules or established guidelines.

Correction must be approached with professionalism and with the dignity of the other person in mind. In this area, try to focus on correcting the action, not the person. In our culture, people, faced with criticism or disciplinary action feel that they are being treated like children, and all sorts of negative emotions result (anger, insult, betrayal, persecution). It is, therefore, so important to correct properly as the “word” can spread fast. What was a private meeting will become public if the employee feels he or she has been wronged and not treated with respect. Correcting a person in an un-professional way may result in your every word being repeated on the floor. Correcting in a professional way can include the following principles:

•Don’t correct a member of your team when you are angry or full of emotion. Your feelings will be telegraphed (even if you think you can conceal them) and be reflected back at you. Try to relax and sit or stand with an open posture (body language).

•Adopt the attitude of a mentor who has his or her employee’s best interest at heart. You don’t want to be condescending, but you do need to explain why you feel your actions are necessary and how the employee can be redeemed and even thrive if work habits or attitudes are changed. You want the employee to leave your meeting thinking, “this is something I need to work on,” instead of “that manager is a jerk, how dare he tell me what to do.”

•Don’t let personal preferences or previous conflicts allow you to judge members of your team by different sets of standards. If you have a zero tolerance policy for certain infractions, this policy should be applied in an evenhanded manner.

•Keep control of your meetings, but allow employees to speak and to express themselves. Hold a firm idea of your purpose, but listen carefully and, if possible, with understanding and compassion.
It is not uncommon for groups of co-workers or for an entire workforce to be so upset for months (because they perceive “one of their own” has not been treated fairly or properly). The result is that attitude and productivity suffer. Again, proper methods of correction can be learned. Managers and owners are thrust into these situations with varying degrees of leadership skills. Correcting a fellow employee or even a management level co-worker is one of the toughest jobs, and one of the most important.

How owners and managers embrace these leadership skills (the four C’s) determines the corporate culture of a business and its ultimate success. Owner/manager and manager/employee relationships have changed dramatically in the past thirty-five years. Leaders must change with the times and learn the skills that match up with today’s acceptable norms. Many of the owners and managers who built the great furniture store businesses of the past with a “top down”, “my way or the highway” management style would be lost in today’s business environment. Our industry is all about building relationships, and there is no better way to start than within our own businesses.

Exposing your management team to the benefits of incorporating the principles of the four C’s will pay you back many times over. You can start the process of encouraging leadership skills by:

•Creating a line item expense for education. Most of the top 500 home-furnishing retailers have a budget for education.

•When you go to conventions and markets take advantage of the many free seminars.

•Look into using the resources of local colleges.

•Share industry articles with your staff. A treasure trove of articles can be found on FURNITURE WORLD Magazine’s website www.furninfo.com.

•Consider having a professional come in to evaluate your leaders and to profile and educate your management staff?

John Egger, CEO of Profitability, Inc., helps retailers refocus their marketing strategies from the current M.A.D. (Mutually Assured profit Destruction) policy trend, to compete against other industries and stores based on value. Inquires can be sent to John care of FURNITURE WORLD at jegger@furninfo.com.