MHEDA’s young leaders offer insight on leading the way during tough times.
Every month in MHEDA Edge, and every quarter in The MHEDA Journal, one of the industry’s rising stars is profiled in the “Meet A Young Leader” feature. These profiles represent some of the association’s best and brightest young minds and, ultimately, the future leadership of the material handling industry. So when MHEDA Edge decided to do an article on leadership during tough times, we knew just who to talk to. We sat down with nine young leaders and asked them a series of questions about their leadership philosophies and strategies. What follows are the fruits of these interviews. Each leader offers their unique take on a specific leadership strategy and how to harness its capabilities during challenging economic times.
Thoughts from MHEDA’s Young Leaders on…
Know Your Limits
If there’s one leadership lesson that I’ve taken from the last 12 months, it’s that you can’t do everything by yourself. You don’t know it all, nor can you do it all. Listen to those around you, from the person who cleans up the shop to the person who owns it. You can learn from each of them. The old axiom “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is not always true. It’s probably more accurate to say; “if you want something done right, give it to someone you trust, then move on to the next item on your list.” As hard as it is, and trust me, it’s not easy, you have to delegate what you can.
Keep an Even Keel
As a leader, one of the most important things that you can do is to stay grounded. Try to remain as calm and Level-headed as possible throughout all the ups and downs. Turbulent times are much less jarring for employees if they see steady leadership on your part. Also, try and keep yourself as available as possible. Communicate information—good or bad—as accurately and as quickly as possible. It can be easier to weather a storm if someone feels that they’re apart of a group rather than standing alone.
As simple as it may sound, the most important thing that a leader can do in times like these is maintain a positive work environment. We’re all experiencing the pressure of these economic times and everyone is concerned. It has created a very selfish state among employees. We must continue to provide the confidence that our company is strong. This confidence will be evident in their voice and attitude when dealing with customers, vendors and co-workers. Set attainable goals, no matter how simple they may be. People like a challenge and need to be rewarded for successes. Give your people a compelling reason to believe in what you do and reinforce it every day. Be energetic. As a leader, you are always on stage.
Obviously, this has been a tough year for the industry. No matter how good of a sales force a company has, the economy is bound to affect morale eventually. Thus, leaders have to be looking for ways to keep staff morale up. I’ve tried to do that by narrowing the calls I send salespeople on. I try to provide only quality projects to the sales force and weed out the tire kickers the best that I can. I want them calling on customers where we feel that we have a good enough relationship to win the business. Everyone has to be more efficient today. Stats are cut down across every firm in the country, so if you try to go after everything, that will make morale even worse. That’s not to say we’re not aggressively calling on customers, but we want to remain closely focused on our key accounts.
A good leader always needs a positive attitude and a winning outlook. Part of that involves looking for new ways to make money. You have to constantly be looking for ways to evolve. This year, I spent a great deal of time developing new business avenues and go-to-market strategies. We’re also greatly expanding our Web 2.0 presence in a “leaner marketing” effort. When employees come into work and they’re constantly seeing new ways to make money and evolve the business, they get excited and look for ways to pitch in.
This is not the first downturn that the economy has seen, and it probably will not be the last. The thing every young leader needs to remember is to stick with the basics. Understand what works, and stick with it. Maintain your presence in the marketplace. Keep building that name recognition. Remember that, if you do so, customers will remember you. Then, when the economy turns, they will still call on you to meet their needs. Also, don’t be afraid to lean on the men and women who have been through these times before. Knowledge and experience are more valuable than ever.
With all the chatter about the economy and this and that going on right now, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters. As a leader, you have to stay focused and keep your nose to the grindstone. Make sure you’re still out there every day building relationships now, because when things do pick up, you want to be the company that people are calling. Part of that focus is keeping your eye on the prize and refusing negativity. A true leader views a negative situation as an opportunity. By staying focused and choosing our attitude every day we create a positive work environment that promotes success.
For any young leader, motivating employees is a tricky thing. There’s no magic tactic that will produce instant results. Every single employee at your company is motivated by different ideas or things. Day-to-day, the biggest thing you have to do is not figure out what motivates “people” in general, but what motivates your individual co-workers. For one person, motivation may come with a pat on the back; for another you may have to suggest a strategy for talking to a customer or selling service. Keeping employees motivated involves a series of sincere efforts. It’s about figuring out what motivates each individual and then taking that avenue.
I think it is extremely important for any leader to try to keep lines of communication open with everyone on the staff. It’s critical that the entire team understands where you stand as a company as it relates to profitability and what needs to be done to improve the situation. In the end, employees are looking for security in their work, so if we keep them informed of our income and expenses, they know what needs to be done and will do their part to help the team attain goals. I also think it’s critical that you communicate openly with superior managers. Personally, I consult regularly with my father, Jack, who is our President/CEO, along with a couple of our vice presidents who have a great understanding of our business.