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Leading by Example


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Release date: 2/18/2020

Leading by Example
By Mark Boada


Have you ever worked for a bad manager? If so, then you know the damage they can do: crush the morale of the people they supervise, lower their productivity, inhibit their creativity, and, in the not very long run, cause their employees to quit, taking with them the skills and accumulated knowledge the department needs to succeed.

There are many ways bad managers achieve negative results. The list is long, but here are some of the most common:

• They’re unclear about departmental and individual goals, standards, and objectives.
• They criticize while rarely if ever offering praise or encouragement.
• They use command and control management strategies.
• They do not encourage collaboration, and they micromanage.
• They fail to foster teamwork.
• They take credit for their workers’ contributions.
• They do not manage problems holistically by finding systemic solutions.
• They seem to care more about themselves than the lives and careers of those who work for them.

Leadership in a tech-infused culture

Leadership has become more complex in a high-tech industry such as fleet management. This is particularly true for managing today’s ambitious next-gen employees. They come to the workplace with a different set of values. Monetary reward is driven by being recognized for making meaningful contributions and, on a larger scale, trying to improve the world. They look to their managers as role models and want to learn from them how to become effective leaders.

According to authors Jeffrey Schwartz, Josie Thomson, and Art Kleiner in their article “10 Principles of Strategic Leadership,” strategic leadership is defined as “the ability to handle complex problems for which there is no obvious short-term solution, in which the stakes are high, and in which influencing others is essential.”

They add, “If you’re a professional — whether you work for one company throughout your career or move among organizations — you’ve probably already experienced some of these challenges.

The dynamics of any large organization — indeed, any complex human endeavor — are rife with unacknowledged interpersonal tensions, seemingly arbitrary restrictions, and murky priorities.”

So, what does it take to be a great leader? It is a fine balance between art and science. According to Schwartz, Thomson, and Kleiner, there are seven key factors in strengthening your skills as a strategic leader.

1. Mastering impulse and emotion (Hint: Knee-jerk reactions can be behavior-modified over time to chart a course that engages stakeholders and encourages them to get on board with a vision.)

2. Thinking about what other people are thinking (Hint: They are not necessarily thinking the way you are, so innovation and change may be more a threat than a path forward. Surround yourself with intelligent people who think differently to ensure a diversified, holistic look at any given situation.)

3. Becoming habitually self-aware (Hint: You can’t help other people move past their comfort zones unless you are self-aware enough to recognize your own hidden thoughts and motivations and reframe them where they matter.)

4. Integrating integrity with pragmatism (Hint: Short-term gains or long-term success?)

5. Managing the side effects of success (Hint: Highly innovative and creative people who are independent thinkers are not necessarily the best candidates to promote into management to run groups of people that need to be nurtured, coached, and managed into success.)

6. Expanding your aspirations (Hint: This is only possible by working in a collective environment with deep collaborations, inclusive teams, and diverse ideas that weave into a holistic solution.)

7. Building a legacy (Hint: The biggest barrier is not bringing your managers and employees along with you on your journey to transformation.)

Leading by example requires a balancing act of being a coach, good listener, systems thinker, nurturer, delegator, collaborator, and inspiration. You’ve already learned by example. Think back on your best bosses and adapt their greatest skills to your own personal style of leadership.

Fleet leadership lessons

We talked to several successful fleet managers to get their input on what makes a good leader. There was consensus among all five of the fleet professionals we spoke to about four key factors that help make them effective managers who lead by example.

1. Respect and care about the people you manage

Treating others with the same respect you expect is the key to keeping employees productive and motivated. For Bob Martinez, Deputy Commissioner of the New York City Police Department and Head of Fleet Operations, treating people with respect gets results. “You’ve got to show respect up and down the food chain. Treat everybody the same way you would want to be treated.”

According to Steve Saltzgiver of Mercury Associates and past VP of Coca Cola’s North American Fleet Operations, “Good managers are people who know that their employees are their most important resource and demonstrate that they care about them. Managers I’ve known who don’t put their people first weren’t liked or respected by their employees and weren’t successful. To care about the organization and its goals, your people need to know that you care about them.”

Maria Neve, a member of NAFA’s Board of Directors adds, “Effective leaders consider the whole person. Work is only one part of their lives, and managers who don’t have tunnel vision about that will have an easier time with motivating employees. It all comes down to treating people with the respect you wish to receive.”

While effective leaders display concern for every individual, Neve cautions fleet managers not to become each employee’s friend: “You can’t be your employees’ best friend. Leaders can’t lead effectively if they’re worried that they won’t be invited to this week’s happy hour. You can’t gossip or break confidences in the name of ‘venting about work.’ Leaders need to be self-aware and know what to say and when.”

2. Cultivate and participate in teamwork

Effective managers need to show that they are part of a team united to accomplish its goals. William McCarty, Director of the Office of Budget and Management for Springfield, Illinois, says, “I have always taken the approach that my team members are colleagues, not subordinates. If people feel that they are working with you rather than for you, they are more likely to maximize effort and will respond better to managerial guidance.”

For Neve and Saltzgiver, the first requirement is that fleet managers must be willing to get directly involved in responding to challenges. Says Neve: “Employees have to believe that their managers are willing to get into the trenches to do the job and will advocate for them.”

Adds Saltzgiver: “Managers have to walk the walk and not be afraid to get their hands dirty. Employees must understand that their leaders are willing to do any job that they assign to their employees. Leaders must be willing to jump in at a moment’s notice to help employees as needed.”

Behavior modeling is especially valuable during emergencies, as it was for Martinez on 9/11 and when Superstorm Sandy hit New York City. “Every day, I had to keep the fleet rolling and my people focused and committed. I needed to be alongside them and roll up my sleeves to keep fuel flowing and vehicles rolling. People wanted to go home and take care of their families, but we had to stay and do our job, and we did.”

Other elements of teamwork that good leaders practice include delegating responsibility to team members, empowering and giving them the tools and support they need to do their jobs; trusting them to do their jobs without micromanagement; sharing ideas, celebrating team accomplishments, and giving credit where credit is due.

Martinez says he strives to create “a climate of motivation and learning. Empowered employees are more productive, more satisfied, and more innovative.

On the other hand, empowerment means that a leader gives up control, lets others make decisions, set goals, accomplish results, and receive rewards. It means people other than the leaders him- or herself will get credit for success.”

3. Practice clear and strong two-way communications

From organizational goals to job descriptions and performance evaluations, the fleet professionals we spoke with cited clear two-way communications as critical to effective leadership. Tim Wier, Fleet Manager for Springfield, Illinois, says, “Effective communication is a high priority to managing fleet professionals. You have to speak clearly, but you also have to listen carefully to your employees’ concerns and ideas to determine the best path to resolution.”

Saltzgiver agrees: “As a fleet manager, you need good communication, organizational, and follow-through skills to ensure that all team members are informed on a timely basis and kept in the loop. I found the most effective management skill is the ability to assemble goals and objectives that keep the fleet team and executive management consistently on the same page as the fleet works to achieve its goals and drive continuous improvement.”

Neve adds: “A good practice is to have accurate job descriptions in place and to make sure employees understand their individual goals and objectives and how they contribute to the organization’s overall success. Then, managers need to hold employees and suppliers accountable through reviews that are at least quarterly and design corrective action plans as needed.”

4. Stay calm under pressure

At times, manager demeanor can make all the difference between success and failure. For Martinez, overheated emotions are counterproductive, so remaining level-headed at all times is important to keeping department stress levels down and productivity high. “Stress is a killer in any organization, and good managers do everything possible to eliminate it, first and foremost by handling problems by remaining calm and analytical.”

Saltzgiver says a fleet manager can reduce the stress that often builds up within a fleet organization by remaining approachable when subordinates bring them issues to resolve. “Fleet managers need to be approachable [and] involved and possess the ability to motivate their team members in a positive way to reduce the stress involved with day-to-day travails. A good sense of humor and people skills are helpful as well.”

Mark Boada is a longtime fleet industry journalist and serves as Executive Editor at Fleet Management Weekly.