As seen in the January, 2010 edition of HVACR Magazine.

For nearly 30 years I have rarely used the word manager, preferring to choose the term leader. You may have noticed over the years a similar slow and subtle change in many businesses, including our HVAC world, to adoption of the leader term. Many people think of a manager as a person who has control, sets direction and manipulates the resources. The same people think of a leader as the head of a group who shows the way and sets an example.  

Let’s look at some of the attributes of a leader. Leaders coach meaning they train, instruct, discipline and set expectations. They take a sincere interest in helping their coworkers define and achieve their career goals. Unselfish leaders even realize that their coworkers’ career goals may take them from their present company. A good example of this is with professional football coaches where a head coach helps prepare an assistant coach for a head coaching opportunity with a competing team.  

Leaders motivate their coworkers, meaning they inspire them to take action. Some leaders are blessed with motivation characteristics and skills and are basically company cheerleaders. These are leaders with plenty of charisma and can light up a room of coworkers by simply walking in it. However, I’ve seen and worked with probably more leaders who do not have those natural behavior characteristics and get results in a quieter, slower and more deliberate manner. Although they are not high presence cheerleaders they often seem more personal and caring in their actions and in how they treat others.

Recognizing the importance of coworker rewards effective leaders always provide several methods of practicing the principle. In my book HVAC Spells Wealth, pages 69 through 81, I carefully explain and elaborate on five coworker rewards: recognition, self esteem, spiffs, career growth and working for a good company. They all work quite well and bundled as a group will dramatically change a company. It is very important for leaders to understand that “coworkers will do what leaders want when the coworkers share in the rewards”.   

I have visited and consulted with 100’s of contractors over a time span of many years. It doesn’t take long to sense the behavior, characteristics and culture of a contracting company. All I have to do is spend a couple of hours walking around the company and talking with both inside and outside coworkers. Then, when the owner who is most often the general manager, and I meet I always see the same behavior and characteristics that were reflected just hours ago by his or her coworkers. Most owners and general managers of companies do not realize the powerful influence they have on the company. What they choose to talk about, how they express their selves whether one-on-one or in groups, their dress and personal grooming, their behavior, and their action or inaction very clearly results in the actions or inaction of their coworkers.

When bosses are pumped up and always positive, the company is pumped up and positive. When bosses talk how bad things are, they’ll be bad. Coworkers even emulate their bosses. If he always wears jeans many coworkers will wear jeans, if he plays golf there will be golfers in the company, if he is out in the community promoting and selling service agreements coworkers will be selling service agreements. All of this results in owners and general managers having a great opportunity and along with it a responsibility to influence their company in the correct manner.

Providing leadership in today’s tough economy provides an opportunity for all of us become better leaders. If we can learn how to practice effective leadership today we will be even more effective when the economy strengthens. If you as a leader are seen worrying about the state of the company the coworkers will also worry, be less productive and be concerned about losing their jobs. Often times it would be good to lighten up, inspire hope and confidence. Spread some cheer. Celebrate successes with the company! Most companies do not celebrate successes. Keep your door open as a gesture of company wide open communications. Practice Tom Peter’s MBWA, from Management by Walking Around. As you stop and chat with your coworkers focus on the bright side of things. Find positives and talk about them. Above all, remember leadership is not a pure science. It’s an art and if we read, study, associate ourselves with the correct people and with the correct organizations we can continue improving our leadership skills.