by Bill Prosch

My dad frequently spoke on the topic of leadership.

Having served in both WWII and Korea as a Master Sergeant in the Army, apparently this leadership thing was important to him. It was something the Army spent large sums of time and money training him in. For those of us who didn’t serve in the military, we might tend to look at management and leadership as traits that “just happen” as a result of doing our jobs well.

I wasn’t in the Army; I was a floor covering installer, and a pretty good one at that. So good, in fact, that my boss made me the installation foreman, putting me in charge of the guys I used to work side by side with … and all because I showed up on time and installed floors correctly. Not that showing up and doing my job correctly were unimportant, but my idea of leadership seemed to be missing something. I soon realized that overseeing people required a different set of skills and, unlike my dad, no one I worked for had spent any time teaching me how to develop these leadership skills.

As I moved up in the company, my boss sent me to seminars where I learned about mark-up percentages, profit margins, and cost of goods sold. Before long, I knew the numbers, I knew the products, and I knew how to install the products. I also went to college at night, studying business management. Being so well informed made me the perfect guy to manage the company, right? That’s what my boss thought. And, since I knew so much about running a company, it wasn’t long before I decided to start my own. That’s when the real lessons began.

As my company grew, I became frustrated by the fact that I was a complete failure at making people do what I wanted them to do and how I wanted it done. I couldn’t figure out how to make people do things right. Clearly, I needed to get better at holding people accountable. Since I lacked these skills, I did the only other thing I could think of—I threw money at them. Money was a powerful motivator for me, so I figured if I paid my employees more, they would surely work harder and be more dedicated. Here’s what it did — it made me poorer. It wasn’t until I hired my second business consultant that I learned what true leadership is all about.

Today, as a consultant myself, I work with young entrepreneurs and veteran business owners alike. And, even though we are a few decades further down the road than I was in my start-up days, there is still the misguided perception that solid management and good leadership “just happen.” Let me assure you — there is a better way.

We spend a lot of time and money making sure our technicians are thoroughly trained to do their jobs. We quickly recognize that a job performed by an unskilled technician can cost us thousands. But how much time and money do we spend to educate ourselves and our managers on how to lead people? Isn’t there a substantial cost associated with unskilled leadership in terms of profitability, efficiency, morale, and employee turnover, just to name a few?

Let’s look at leadership, both effective and ineffective. In the book, Extreme Ownership, the authors cite an experiment they undertook while training Navy SEAL candidates. They noticed that one of five teams of candidates always won any competition they were engaged in, while another of the teams consistently came in last. The authors took the leader of the consistently-winning team and put him in charge of the perpetually-losing team. Likewise, they put the leader of the losing team in charge of the winning team. The result was that the teams switched positions in the rankings. The winning team became the losing team, and the losing team became the winning team. But both teams consistently finished strong, demonstrating that leadership itself matters. This example also shows that how you lead matters. Obviously, the better of the two leaders knew something the other did not. To learn more about this experiment, I highly recommend reading the book. It’s full of great leadership lessons.

Here’s another example from my own company. One morning, as I was waiting for our weekly production meeting to start, I looked around the table at the male estimators and project managers and noticed that each of them had a goatee, as did I. A week later, I shaved mine off, as I frequently do. Fast forward another couple weeks to when I was, again, awaiting the start of the production meeting. I noticed that all the goatees were gone. Thinking this was a strange coincidence, and for my own enlightenment, I decided to test whether the lack of facial hair was truly coincidental. I grew my goatee back. Sure enough, two weeks later, everyone at the table again sported a goatee. The lesson here is that your employees not only watch what you do, but they also emulate your actions. Once you grasp this concept, you’ll understand how important it is to always be the leader they need.

If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be to critically observe yourself and your organization in terms of the kind of leader you are and the quality of leaders you are developing. Understand that most of us don’t have an innate ability to lead others. It’s a skill that must be learned. Make sure you devote enough time and resources to making yourself into the leader you should be. Then, be sure to focus an appropriate amount of your efforts and budget on training your leaders to lead. Even more importantly, recognize that your people look to you as an example. They will follow your lead, good or bad. Lead them down the right path.

Bill Prosch, CR, is a Business Development Adviser for Violand Management Associates (VMA), a highly-respected consulting company in the restoration and cleaning industries. Prosch is a leading expert in operations and a Certified Restorer. He has a deep understanding of entrepreneurial challenges having owned and operated a successful restoration company for more than 30 years. Through Violand, he works with companies to develop their people and their profits. To reach him, visit violand.com or call (800)360-3513.