“The first big problem that leaders have when they come into a new job (or business) is they are always sending a signal and they need to be aware of the signals that are being sent.” This is one of the first points that Tom Stewart makes on a Harvard Business Review pod cast called “The Test of a Leader.” This applies especially when you are running your own business. Your customers, community, co-workers are looking to you. They are watching your signals and trying to decipher them. They wonder about your work style, level of integrity, ability to lead and inspire, they wonder how they will “fit” into the system that you have created.
Leadership is an ongoing issue in the business world. Too many leaders think that others should follow them because they “say so”. It’s a little like a parent who answers the question of “why” presented by an inquisitive child with “do it because I say so”. This may work the first time but after a while the person asking the question will want to know more. They will want to understand. In reality they will try to relate to you because they are a part of your organization. They will want to identify with you as the leader or business owner. If you are not aware of your leadership “presence” you will send all kinds of confusing signals. This leads to break room complaints and negative chatter. In the worse case it leads to negative customer chatter which can be death to a business. You know how the saying goes: they tell two friends and so on and so on.
There was a new restaurant in town that I loved to visit. They served a southern style cuisine with the best sweet potato pie around. While I enjoyed the delicious food I had a problem with how things were going. It always took quite a while for the food to arrive to the table, even with this it was worth the wait. My biggest concern or complaint was that I never knew when the restaurant would be open. The sign on the door listed the hours of operation, but several times I’d arrive with friends, prepared to have a nice meal and the place would be closed. The sign said “open for business” but the door was locked and the lights were out. The first time this happened I didn’t think much of it. After the third time I gave up. When others in town showed interest in checking out the new place on 5th street; I’d caution them to either call first or be prepared to go somewhere else because there’s a good chance they were not going to get the friend chicken or cornbread they were hoping for. Why was the place closed so much? Well…because they said so. It was just closed. No explanation, no invitation back next time, no acknowledgement of my presence at all. A potentially good customer was lost. It was only a matter of time before the place went out of business. The customers just did not understand the signals that were being sent. Did the restaurant want to provide great meals to the community? Were they having a problem with permits or employees? No one knew but the signal “no delicious food” was understood loud and clear.
Just as you take the time to build your business plan, your marketing plan and your growth plan take the time to plan and understand the type of “signals” that you want to send through your business. What do you want others to know about you? If you want them to know you aim to be the best in customer service, you don’t need to post on a sign (although you can). What would send the message out loud and clear is the service you provide. Make it the best. Let your actions speak for themselves. Your customers will tell their friends who will in turn tell their friends.
What signal do you send as a leader, business owner, and community leader? Do you inspire others to follow you or do you demand them to do so? Do you inspire your customers to return to your establishment? Do you treat them as if they are only one of the many fish in the sea? What signals are you sending?
Good leadership is vitally important to the life of any successful venture. You can’t escape the fact that you send signals. You can however control the type of signals that you send. Be intentional; make them work for you and not against you.