Is your staff all leaders?


“You don’t need a title to be a leader!”

I didn’t say it … Mark Sanborn did. It’s the title of one of his eight books.

If his name rings a bell, it’s because several years ago in this blog I urged dealers to give a copy of Sanborn’s first book to every employee.

Remember it now? It was “The Fred Factor,” the true story of Fred the mail carrier who brought extraordinary creativity and commitment to putting mail in a box.

Sanborn, whose speeches are as entertaining as they are motivating, often assures his audiences that reading “You don’t need a title to be a leader” is safe. He says: “If you’re already a leader, this book won’t mess you up, as long as you do it right!”

A title really isn’t a job description, contends Sanborn. It may be useful internally in the business, but it’s not a job description. It can suggest having some responsibility for others or for getting some result, but it can’t define what a person does. Rather, leadership is integrally linked to service and, thereby, increases the ROI. That’s not the return on investment for the business, but increasing relationships, outcomes and improvements that lead to the other.

Sanborn is as much a story teller as a motivator. He often cites stories of people who lead by improving the service they provide the customer. But they’re not customer service stories, per se, he warns. “Customer service is about doing what you’re supposed to do to help the customer. When you act as a leader, you go above and beyond the call of duty.

Did you know, for example, the person who suggested the idea of a store greeter that is now synonymous with the Wal-Mart brand wasn’t a manager, he was a cashier — you know, one of those non-titled leaders? Or, for years, a first-rate hotel wanted to identify returning guests before they reached the front desk. Was there a way for staff to acknowledge them before registration? A clever bell cap came up with the answer: When he greeted each guest’s arrival, he would say: “Welcome to the hotel. Have you stayed with us before?” If they said yes, he would tug on his left ear to signal a returning guest while he handed them off to someone to help with luggage.

The book includes what Sanborn believes are the Six Principles of Leadership. A personal favorite is Principle No. 2 — “The Power of Focus.”

He describes a friend, Bill, who placed a bird feeder in his backyard but almost immediately squirrels were hanging off the feeder chasing the birds away. So, off to the local hardware to buy a guaranteed “squirrel-proof” feeder. But before sunset the squirrels were hanging off this feeder!

Now upset, feeder in hand, Bill demanded a full refund. “Calm down,” said the store manager, “there’s no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder.” Bill was in disbelief. “You mean we can land a man on the moon or send instant messages via satellites but our brightest engineers can’t design and build a bird feeder that can outsmart an animal with a brain the size of a pea?,” Bill exclaimed.

“May I ask you something, sir,” the manager replied. “How much time have you spent trying to keep squirrels out of your feeder?” Bill responded: “Maybe 10 to 15 minutes a day.”

“And how much time do you think the squirrels spend each day trying to get in?”

The answer, Bill learned, is almost every waking squirrel moment; squirrels spend 98 percent of their waking hours looking for food. That’s the kind of focus the squirrel brings to its mission.

The moral of the story says Sanborn: “Focus and determination beat brains and intellect every time. You don’t necessarily have to be smarter or better educated to succeed. Your power lies in your ability to focus on doing what’s important. If you focus on the right things, and work on them often, you will achieve exceptional results.”

The book is loaded with sound, motivating advice. It’s also an easy one-night read and the examples alone are worth every minute. Suggestion: Get a copy for every member of your dealership team with a personal note asking them to read it. Then, have a team meeting to over pizza to talk about what everyone gleaned from it.

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