Editor’s note: As part of the 2013 PestWorld “Thought Leader” program, Terminix’s Stanton E. Cope gave a presentation titled “Tips for Improving Your Company and Motivating Your Workforce.” Cope provided attendees with leadership tips based on his 23-plus years experience in the U.S. Navy and in the private sector. Cope expands on these leadership lessons and provides additional thoughts on leadership in the following article.
Inherently, most of us know what leadership is and recognize it when we see it. Trying to define it can be more difficult. This article will attempt to define leadership, examine six components of successful leadership, compare leadership vs. management and explore several “random tenets of leadership.”
We can all cite good leaders — whether in politics, sports, education, humanitarian efforts, social change or the military. Leadership involves motivating and moving people, usually towards a common goal. A good leader must be passionate about the organization’s mission and values as well as their own personal values. One definition of leadership is “an interpersonal influence directed toward the achievement of a goal or goals.”
Components of Successful Leadership.
Now that we have a working definition, let’s explore some components that make leadership work. These components apply not only to the leader but also to the group being led. First, there must be a dynamic relationship between the leader and members of the group; a dictatorial environment, in which the leader simply tells the group what to do and how to do it, risks failure. Group members must feel empowered to discuss ideas, raise concerns, question decisions and the leader must be willing to listen.
Second, there must be mutual influence. The group must respect the leader’s authority and recognize that the leader has the final say. In turn, the leader must be willing to interact without being overly critical and should be prepared to change the course of action when necessary.
Third, clear goals are paramount to success. Have you ever been part of a committee and during a meeting, you want to shout, “What exactly are we trying to accomplish?” One helpful practice to achieve clarity is at the first meeting, the leader should ask each group member to: briefly state what the group is tasked with accomplishing; what that individual expects to get out of the evolution; and why he/she was chosen to participate. The leader can then mold this input into clear goals, which results in buy-in and helps all to feel that their contributions are important.
Fourth, collaboration is key — not only between the leader and the group, but also among group members. They must be willing to work together and stay focused on the goals, not on individual agendas.
Fifth, the group must be motivated, but for what, exactly? To succeed with the task? Certainly! However, the outcome of the group’s effort may be flawed or lacking in substance if they are not disciplined enough to follow a sequence of steps, including, but not limited to: 1) defining the issue; 2) examining the history of the issue at hand; 3) researching all pertinent information relating to the issue; 4) engaging in lively and critical discussion; 5) laying out all feasible options; 6) picking the best course of action; 7) implementing the plan; and 8) after a predetermined period of time, evaluating the plan and making any necessary changes.
Finally, the group must be empowered to affect real, intended change. Have you ever been part of a committee that worked very hard, only to have the recommendations completely disregarded by decision makers?
Leadership VS. Management.
I see leadership operating in four major areas:
- Change — Recognizing the need for and implementing the change in the least disruptive way. This rarely is easy, as most people initially resist change. However, after the change takes effect, don’t be surprised if many people tell you, the leader, that it should have been done long ago!
- Inspiration — Leaders inspire their organization through their decision making, passion, behavior and adherence to personal values. Employees who are inspired feel good about themselves and where they work, and they want to do the best job possible.
- Motivation — Motivation is different from inspiration. Employees who are highly motivated will take initiative, finish projects on time or even ahead of schedule, work extra hours and give their best effort.
- Influence — Good, respected leaders influence members of an organization individually as well the organization as a whole. In addition, they set the tone and culture of the work place on a daily basis.
A good leader will spend much of the time functioning externally from the organization — being visionary, proactive, seeking new business, and anticipating future trends and problems.
What about management? I see management as primarily an internal function. Tasks such as meeting goals, implementing strategies, maintaining good equilibrium in the workplace, employee training, scheduling social events and many other day-to-day operations fall into the management realm.
Successful Leadership Tenets.
Next, let’s look at several “random tenets of successful leadership.” Why the term “random?” That is because there are many more tenets that could be considered, but for the sake of space, we will only look at a few.
1. Everything we do can be improved upon. This does not imply that everything your organization is doing is inefficient or ineffective. Instead, this tenet represents a way of thinking: that every process, technique or standard operating procedure should be scrutinized periodically. A good practice is to list all pertinent items for review, create a regular rotating schedule for reviews to occur and appoint appropriate groups to carry out the review.
2. Fix problems, not blame. When something goes wrong, we tend to find someone to blame rather than focusing on fixing the problem. Fingers get pointed and tempers flare. When examining what went wrong, however, be sure to differentiate between reasons and excuses, as reasons will provide a valid platform for correcting the problem.
3. Correct mistakes with timely action, then move ahead. It is relatively easy to praise the efforts of an employee, however, few supervisors are comfortable addressing mistakes and shortcomings. When this becomes necessary, it is imperative that two things happen: 1) any discipline or corrective action is commensurate with the issue being addressed; and 2) corrective action must be timely. Call the employee in, discuss what happened, explain your reasoning, provide an opportunity to respond and then move ahead.
4. Respect and follow the chain of command. Put another way: try to resolve issues at the lowest level. If you have a problem with a co-worker, try to address it directly. If this does not work, then take it to your next-level supervisor. Skipping over two or three levels of supervision to try and get a resolution that is favorable will almost always come back to bite you. Also, if you are in a leadership position, continually remind your folks about this concept.
5. Value and embrace diversity in people, ideas and methods. The term “diversity” is thrown around quite a bit. People bring different backgrounds, experiences, expectations and ideas to your organization. It is important that as a leader, you cultivate and value this, and work hard to ensure that your organizational culture is infused with all that diversity has to offer. Some people are less likely to express their opinions than are others, especially in front of a group. One useful technique at meetings is to call on each person and ask for their thoughts and ideas. This results in two positive outcomes: 1) it generates more discussion and suggestions; and 2) people come to the meetings better prepared because they know they will be asked to contribute.
6. Strive to do the right thing, even when no one is looking. Some will refer to this tenet as a definition for “character” or “integrity.” If you are in a leadership position, your people will observe you closely and will follow your example. You will set the tone, every day, for the culture and work ethic. If you regularly leave early (which some bosses do!), your staff will feel that they can, too. If you take liberties with the company credit card, guess what? Here is where it is important for the organization to have a strong set of values that are adhered to by the leader and recognized by all employees.
7. Never stop learning. Promote personal and professional growth. In this day of shrinking budgets, the first things to get cut often are training (excluding required training, such as safety), conference attendance and self-improvement courses. Look for other opportunities to stay at the leading edge of your field. There is now a wealth of opportunities out there through Internet training, correspondence courses, webinars and other venues. Consider appointing someone to serve as the “training officer” to identify such opportunities, assist others with scheduling them and tracking progress.
8. Expectations go both ways. Ever had a boss call you in for a mid-term progress report or end-of-cycle evaluation and say, “You’re doing a good job — sign here?” This can be frustrating, as well as non-productive, and is not fair to either party. Whenever you meet with one of your employees, especially when careers and job performance are involved, be fully prepared and ready to take the time to have a full discussion. No phone calls, no computers, no texts — no interruptions. Also, keep your employees informed of job performance and expectations throughout the year — there should be no major surprises when evaluations (and perhaps bonuses) are handed out. And remember, that expectation goes both ways. Ask your employee what you can do to assist them in their job, and what they expect of you as a leader or boss.
9. Indicate what needs to be done, but not always how to do it. This is a fairly common occurrence in certain professions. In pest control, someone may start out as a route technician and eventually end up as a region manager or higher. When you have held a job that one of your employees now has, it can be tempting to assign a task, and then immediately give detailed instruction as to how that task should be accomplished. It is best to refrain from this in most situations, as it may negatively affect innovation and personal pride in your employees. Give people a chance to surprise you, and they will!
About the author
Stanton E. Cope Jr., served as a medical entomologist for more than 23 years in the United States Navy, retiring with the rank of Captain. He holds a master’s in entomology and a Ph.D. in public health.
During his time in the Navy, Cope held several distinguished roles, which drove his passion for leadership, including Commanding Officer, Naval Institute for Dental and Biomedical Research; Director, Armed Forces Pest Management Board; and Director, Defense Pest Management.
He joined Terminix International in September 2012 as manager, technical services, where he serves as an in-house entomology resource and a media spokesperson. Cope has authored more than 80 technical and non-technical publications; has delivered more than 100 presentations at scientific meetings; and has given numerous lectures to community groups and civic organizations.
10. Take responsibility and give credit. If a group or organization you are leading suffers a failure, it is up to you to step forward and take responsibility. Don’t try and duck the spotlight by blaming a committee process, someone else’s decision or an outside influence. You are responsible to your chain of command for what happens in your organization, period. Conversely, when things go right, be sure to give credit where credit is due. We have probably all had bosses who were scarce during the lean times but always front and center, taking all the credit, when things went well. If this is your style, your people will quickly come to resent you and morale will tumble.
11. Don’t mistake that rut you are in for the edge of the horizon. Here are seven words that will quickly put your organization on the road to irrelevancy — “That’s the way we’ve always done it.” This is what I like to call, “same old, same old.” You may think that your group is perched on the cutting edge of your business but, in fact, you are only seeing the edge of the rut that you have fallen into throughout the years. To avoid this, encourage innovation, promote continuing education and periodically conduct internal reviews of all significant processes, flow charts, standard operating procedures and company policies.
Finally, be decisive and don’t be afraid to implement necessary change, even though it may be unpopular. With leadership comes responsibility, and you cannot be fearful of that or you risk failure. And remember —people willingly follow leaders because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to. Now, go motivate and inspire!
The author can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.