Effective leadership is a marathon, not a sprint

Posted on Written by Mary Elston
Mary Elston

Every six months I visit my dentist for a cleaning. It’s a quick fix; one hour later I have fresh, sparkling teeth. As I waited for my recent turn in the chair, I surveyed the patient pride wall displaying before-and-after pictures of dental success, including geeky kids with tin tracks bolted to their bicuspids.

Years ago in the same office, those geeky kids were my own two boys. After thousands of dollars and dozens of visits, my sons gained gleaming new grins. No quick fix; it was long-haul dentistry. We stuck to the basics of judiciously brushing, regular bracket adjustments and never missing a follow-up appointment. We paced ourselves for the long haul, then – poof! – two fabulous new smiles.

As a manager, you’re faced with long-haul challenges all the time. With 2010 kicking into gear, what are your plans for managing another 14 months until a boating recovery in spring 2011?

Do you: A) drink more beer and complain, B) hold your breath and hope it gets better soon, or C) find ways to pursue the long haul? You know the answer. It’s “A,” drink more beer (just kidding). The answer, of course, is “C,” find ways to pace yourself and productively sustain your business for the long haul. What’s the best way to do this? No matter what short- or long-haul management challenge you’re facing, it’s always smart to apply proven management basics.

Great managers apply great basics all the time. I’ve compiled a few favorite management basics into what I refer to as my Top 20 Management Morals. I’ve shared these morals with hundreds of professionals and they also appear in my book. These management morals focus on basics many leaders insist they know but forget to practice. While staying on top of cash flow and keeping costs and head count in check – as well as continuing to market, service and gain customers – positive management basics will help you handle the long-haul recession and stay in shape for a market recovery. Let’s start by looking at the first five management morals from my Top 20 list.

1. Keep an open mind: Whether taking on a fresh challenge, starting a new management job or hiring a new employee, in a lot of ways management is like dating – you often don’t know what you’re dealing with until you’ve taken the time to get acquainted with what’s in front of you. Stay sharp in 2010 by keeping an open mind and pondering options you may have dismissed earlier, particularly when it comes to marketing, cost-cutting and strengthening customer relationships. Keeping current customers is more important than ever, as is gaining new ones. This can mean adding e-mail, social media and free boating Webinars (virtual learning is big) to your marketing mix. Openly consider how decisions and dealing with your latest challenge will impact your business today, six months and a year down the road. Something ignored before may now be an opportunity; something previously attractive may need to be delayed. Whatever the topic, keep an open mind, run the numbers, get input and choose wisely for optimum short- and long-haul impact.

2. Inform as the norm: Keep your team informed about your expectations for performance and what generates success. Consistently communicate down to your team and up to your boss. As you manage through another 14 months of soft sales, let everyone know how it’s going. Consider initiating an   e-newsletter if you don’t have one or beefing up information-sharing methods you’re using now. Think of information as the fuel to keep your team going as you run the market marathon. Make information nourishment easily accessible, high quality and full of terrific mental and emotional nutrition. As you inform, keep team spirit and morale percolating with periodic potlucks and coffee clutches.

3. Be nice: Be pleasant and reasonably agreeable (but not patronizing) with everyone. This is important during the extended economic and psychological stress accompanying a recession. At times you may need to grit your teeth a bit, but the benefits are real. This helps build your credibility as a confident, savvy manager who has a realistic outlook. Don’t whitewash reality, but keep a positive attitude and show concern for your team. Your employees will, in turn, see you as a manager with whom they want to align and go the distance. While you’re doing this, act with managerial authority and don’t be a wimp – wimps get no respect. Balance is essential with this “be nice” concept. Don’t be intensely hard-nosed, but don’t be overly tolerant and let your team steamroll you either. If being diplomatic isn’t your strong suit, step up; it’s time to polish your approach while you continue to be an effective manager.

4. Keep it clean: Using foul language demeans your character and authority. Hard to believe? Yup, it does. Foul language is often spewed when people don’t have enough creativity or forethought to come up with something more appropriate to say. Nasty vocabulary isn’t really tough talk at all. Vent your verbal spleen cautiously and only among trusted friends and confidants. Keep ugly words and other messy, verbal goo out of the mix. You’ll project a strong managerial demeanor when you do. Cultural atmospheres in some work environments may make foul language a standard. Do what you have to do; the fewer foul words the better.

5. Don’t “dis” the boss: Never put your boss down or disrespect him or her to others. Why would any owner or executive want to maintain a manager who has a big mouth and isn’t smart enough to keep it shut? Think your boss won’t hear about it? He or she will. Always speak kindly of your boss among others. The same holds true when speaking about manufacturers, suppliers or business partners – don’t openly “dis” them either. Bad blood circles back, and it’s usually not worth it, especially when managing through uncertain times. If you have to gripe, do it privately where it won’t be overheard, repeated or shared in any form.

While you’re internalizing these first five management morals from my Top 20 list – we’ll look at additional morals in future columns – you may be saying to yourself, I know that. I thought you did. Are you actively practicing these management basics to serve you and your team well for the long haul? Revisiting basics helps keep your leadership style adept and fresh.

Just as long-haul orthodontic dentistry for my boys required tenacity and pacing, so does managing through an extended market downturn. As you look ahead and realize 2010 will not have a quick market fix, actively pursue the boating market marathon in front of you by applying solid management basics. It will help you stay in shape, endure the long haul and, when the market becomes brighter, emerge with a confident grin.

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at mary@masteryoursuccess.com.

This article originally appeared in the February 2010 issue.

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