Final Coat: Lessons Learned in Leadership

As I write this, I’m celebrating my sixth anniversary with NWFA. I had many ideas about leadership before becoming your President. Some of them worked; some of them didn’t!

Today, after learning a few lessons firsthand, there are two things I know for certain about successful leadership:

  1. Put the right people in the right places, doing the right things.
  2. Create, and then protect, a healthy culture.

Let’s take people first. Everyone has worked with someone who isn’t in the right company, environment, or job role. Employees who are working out of sync in one of these areas tend to bring down the people around them who are in the right place. As a result, profitability and morale sink.
If an employee is in the right place, but isn’t in the right job, that’s fixable by investing in skills training, and more importantly, by investing in the employee. If a leader sees potential, it’s often possible to shift someone’s focus and responsibilities. That’s a good problem to have.

If, on the other hand, an employee possesses the right skill set, but not the right attitude, that’s not fixable. Good leaders address the attitude issue head-on and insist on change. If that doesn’t happen, it becomes hard, but necessary, to remove negative or inept employees from the workplace.

I have yet to ever meet a leader who wishes he or she would have waited longer to remove incompetence or someone with a bad attitude. And in fact, productive co-workers generally rejoice and are more than willing to cover any responsibilities left by the departure.

No leader regrets making room for others who are positive and willing to learn and change, especially those individuals who know how to put the organization’s goals above their own personal goals; understanding that the whole is bigger than their part. People with this attitude are in on a big secret: put your organization first, and your organization
will prosper, generally leading to a personal reward beyond your expectations.

Now for culture. As a leader, your number one priority is to create a culture in which your team can thrive. This sounds easy, but it’s hard, and it can take a long time to create. Effective leaders are constantly assessing themselves and their teams for improvements. True success comes when every individual is dedicated to the mission versus their own needs and is also constantly assessing the organization’s needs.

Good leaders exist in every rank of your organization, whether others report to them or not. They understand their value. Good leaders at every level are in tune with whether the right people are in the right places, still doing the right thing. Once people are in the right places, above all else, a good leader protects this culture, because this culture, not any one individual, puts the organization in a perpetual, forward motion that no one could create on their own. Collaboration — this is where the magic happens, and the best ideas come to life.

To maintain culture, create experiences for your employees that keep them dedicated to being part of the team — surprise them with “what’s next?” This often comes in the form of fun in the workplace. Yes, fun!

Unless you work with a family member, you spend more time each day with the people you work with than your children, spouse, and friends. We might as well like being with one another! Not to mention, profitability and quality go up exponentially when employees are in a culture that rewards productivity, and nourishes and grows its people.

I bring these things up because as our industry moves forward, the generational mixes in the workplace create potential conflict as well as opportunities to learn from one another. None of us are going to have enough people, so a big key to success will lie in having enough people dedicated to the cause, willing to do whatever it takes to keep their company moving forward. And yes, sometimes that is going to mean doing the work of two people.

People are going to have more choices in where they work, which means your work culture becomes all the more important. Many studies show that good employees don’t leave because of money; they leave because of bad leadership and/or a negative culture.

Our industry will only remain competitive if these philosophies are embraced. This is why NWFA has created a new Emerging Leaders Network, designed to help nurture our young leaders in their career paths, keeping our industry vital and committed to growth.

The network will kick off during an exclusive reception at the 2017 Wood Flooring Expo, followed by online conference opportunities throughout the year. The Network will be developed by NWFA’s Emerging Leaders Council. Members include:

  • Matt Casey, Bona US
  • John Dupra, Installers Warehouse
  • Allie Finkell, American OEM
  • Jessica Hickman, Allegheny Mountain Hardwood Flooring
  • Libby Horne, Haines
  • Toby Merrill, DuraSeal
  • Laura Mullins, Graf Brothers Flooring
  • Josh Neuberger, Pallmann
  • Aaron Schaalma, Signature Custom Flooring

Get involved by contacting Liz Peuster at NWFA, liz.peuster@nwfa.org.

To accompany these initiatives, later this year, Hardwood Floors Magazine will produce its first “40 Under 40” special issue, helping our industry to recognize and grow its future leaders.

Look for more details in the future.