Leading the Way

February 24th, 2012 | Simcha Weinstein | Comments Off on Leading the Way

I think it’s probably a fair guess that many of the readers of this article are in positions of management or leadership. Even if your title does not reflect the words manager, director or leader, there’s still a good chance that you are responsible for providing direction to staff members or overseeing various aspects of your operation.

Being in this position is a tremendous responsibility, far greater than just the weight of making sure that your store (or your area of the store) is profitable and runs well. You essentially play a significant role in how someone spends the majority of their waking life. So, what do you do with this level of responsibility? How do you lead?

This is the age old challenge, and not one that everyone necessary rises to. Steve Jobs, was the co-founder and driving force of Apple. By most accounts he was not the easiest person to work for. He could be almost tyrannical at times. According to the stories, he would often micro-manage projects with a pretty strong hand, and it seemed that his people skills were not always as developed as they could have been. And yet, as the stories go, most people loved working at Apple under his leadership, in spite of the fact that at times many Apple employees could barely stand the man. What compelled this love and loyalty amidst such disdain? In a word, inspiration.

There are few business leaders as capable of inspiring people as well as did Steve Jobs. He understood that it’s not what you do – it’s why you do it; and why you do it proves what you believe. It wasn’t that people felt inspired writing code, or figuring out how to make a chip fit into a smaller device. They felt inspired because under the leadership of Steve Jobs, they believed that they were changing the world – changing the way people exchanged information; or listened to music; or communicated with one another. He certainly believed that’s what he was doing, and because he believed it so passionately, and those who worked with him understood that, they ultimately made his cause their own. That’s how you inspire people. And that’s what true leadership is really about.

People want to be inspired. And this is what separates a leader from those who lead. A leader is simply in a position of authority. It’s where you are in the company organizational chart. But leading is something all together different. Those who truly lead, are those who inspire us. And those who inspire us understand that it’s not about the product we sell, it’s why we do what we do.

Most people who want to work at a natural foods store, for example, aren’t compelled to work there simply because they love the peanut butter on the shelf. Sure, it may be their favorite brand, but the reason they want to work at a store that sells healthy food and that cares about the environment is because they believe in what they see that the store believes in. In order to successfully lead that person you must constantly remind them and engage them in what the store is really about. It’s very easy on a daily basis to get lost in the weeds and always focus on the products you are selling. That’s important, as are the numbers, and all the details we must tend to throughout the course of our day. But those activities don’t inspire. Hitting your numbers; making margin and payroll; breaking sales goals are all very important and a very critical and dynamic part of the business. But they are results, and results are not what inspire people. They are the product of what can happen when inspired people work together. If you feel inspired then you will own whatever you are working on. And if you own it; there is a strong likelihood that you will be successful beyond all expectations.

Perhaps the simplest way to say this is that when people believe in what they’re doing a shift happens. They no longer feel like they are working for you. They feel like they are working for themselves. And when that shift happens, great things are possible.

It’s time for us to lead. So which is it – are we selling food, or are we changing the way people eat? There’s a huge difference in those two approaches. If you believe that you are changing the way people eat, and that belief becomes contagious amongst those who work with you – you will inspire . . . and you will lead.