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Leading With Care

Have you ever had one of those moments when you begin to wonder why you got into this business and, more specifically, what makes your company so much different than all the others? If you have ever been through a corporate strategic-planning process, you know that every company seeks to find that Holy Grail called “The Vision,” which is then ensconced on the corporate lobby as “The Mission Statement.” Theoretically, at that instant, every employee is then mysteriously transformed into a follower of “The Mission.”

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I have been through a few of these experiences over the years, and I came away from them less than totally motivated, especially when the “mission” changes at about the time I have committed it to memory. The problem seems to be that there are too many people involved in watering down the message in its development and it ends up being less than powerful, less than really motivating and doesn’t necessarily mean much to those not involved in its creation.

I think it comes down to the fact that I could never put into one simple sentence the passion and energy I feel when trying to describe why I do what I do. Because I believe in trying to be different, more humane, more real, the classical vision and mission exercise doesn’t seem to work for me.

For me, it is more about the relationships with our clients, the relationships with the people we work with and our ability to amaze our clients and our people with our collective capability. It’s about challenging ourselves to be better leaders and not using the mission statement as a crutch for leadership.

In recent months, I have read and heard a lot about being a “high impact” leader. What I find interesting in the current thinking is that it is not necessarily about being calculating, aggressive and hard-nosed. It’s more about leading by CARING. Yes, caring. I remember reading a book on the Marriott management style, where they first posed the idea of “leading with care.”

The author suggested that the most successful leaders are those that care about their clients, care about their people and care enough to make the tough calls in leading their companies. He related the story of visiting one of their properties and getting a tour from the hotel’s general manager. Not only did the man know each of the several hundred staff member names, but he also knew about them as people … he told stories of weddings, child births and personal achievement. How did he know this stuff? They weren’t just employees to him. He took the time to get to know them. He cared about them. And you can bet that they performed for him.

But what does it take to make the tough calls? Can you be a caring leader and at the same time make the tough calls in business. I think so.

Do you avoid responsibility or take ownership? In a tough situation, do you take the path of least resistance, make excuses and blame others, or do you take charge of the situation. If you care about the people involved (your clients and team) and your business, seems like taking ownership is a no-brainer. But do you do it?

Do you stay silent or champion what’s right? When you see a situation that is wrong or someone that is being wronged, do you ignore it and look the other way or do you speak up for what is right and take a stand? This can be pretty risky, especially when it involves your people and your clients. Imagine a situation where doing what’s right may mean losing a client or a key employee. It may appear to be a losing proposition in the short term, but it will more than likely pay dividends in the end.

Do you seek approval or make the tough call? This is about the fear of rocking the boat versus using care and concern in making tough decisions. Whether you are leading your company, your department or your team, sometimes you must rock the boat, ignore consensus-building and make the tough decision. But that doesn’t mean you do it without concern and humility.

Listen to what Steven Covey says about building profitable businesses. He asks: “How do you get the highest quality product to market at the lowest possible cost? You do it by getting the best performance from your people.” Makes sense. But, how do you get the best performance from your people? You do it by building a trusting, caring relationship with your people. People will perform for a leader they trust, a leader that they know cares about them.

Managers become high-impact, caring leaders when they become a difference-maker. By being a caring leader, you raise the play of everyone around you. Would you rather work for someone who has the “disease of me” – always looking out to improve their own situation at the expense of everyone else, or someone who believes in “you first living” – building a strong team by serving and caring for the group? Who do you think has more loyalty among their staff? Which team do you think will work harder for its leader?

See you on the show floor.

Jim Obermeyer has been in the tradeshow industry 30 years, both as a corporate tradeshow manager and exhibit house executive. He is a partner in the tradeshow and event marketing firm Reveal. He can be reached at jobermeyer@revealexhibits.com.

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