Random thoughts on leadership and attitudes

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Overheard at the Michigan City In-Water Boat Show last week: Two salesmen from different dealerships were talking across the dock to each other about how bad sales have been this summer . . . while visitors were walking by!

Good grief, I thought, with those attitudes each of those dealerships would probably be better off leaving those guys at home. But, what I was hearing may have really been reflecting a breakdown in leadership.

I confess that many times during my 34 years as president of the Lake Erie Marine Trades Association I had to be reminded, when things weren’t going well, the entire LEMTA staff was watching and reacting to everything I did as leader, whether they realized it or not. Simply, the attitude I displayed would be reflected by them.

I’ll never forget the time I was reminded of this by a board member who said: “Norm, remember the story of the two gas company employees who finished reading meters and challenged each other to a race back to their truck. Sprinting down the street, they noticed a woman running hard to catch them. “Is something wrong?” they shouted to her. She yelled back: “Hey, when I see two guys from the gas company running this fast, I figure I should be running, too!” I suspect all of us who head up any business can always benefit from such an occasional reminder.

No matter how good we may be as leaders of a business or organization, it’s important to recognize that it’s really the staff – the sales, service and administrative teams – that do the work and rack up the successes. As for being the leader, check this out: When being congratulated by a reporter for managing the Yankees to another World Series title, the legendary Casey Stengel said it best when he responded: “Listen, managing is just getting paid for home runs someone else hits!” How true.

Still, the leaders shoulder the critical responsibility of making certain a positive attitude is fostered in all the team members all the time. The leader must always exhibit a confident expectation of success ahead, regardless of past results. In the case of the two salesmen at the boat show last week, their attitudes should have been encouraged to reflect: “Yesterday was just a point in time – not a life sentence. Today is a brand new day; we’re at a new show; there are qualified prospects looking at our products; we are going to make sales.”

When it comes to always staying focused on the positives, the illustration I draw on most when speaking to groups comes from basketball’s Chicago Bulls. It was a game in which Stacey King scored only a single free throw while his teammate Michael Jordan totaled 69 points. Asked in a post game interview for his reaction, King said: “I’ll always remember this as the night Michael and I combined for 70 points!” 

Enough said?

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