Author’s note: This is a story from my first management position, not my first “leadership” position. I think you’ll agree, I was a manager with a leadership problem.
My first management opportunities came with very small groups of people. This story is about the time I became branch manager of a small trucking company. The headquartered in one location for 10 years and were opening a branch office in another state. The objective was to open a branch facility by moving the existing business from the HQ to a warehouse 400 miles closer to the primary customer’s distribution points.
The initial start-up was wild. We worked almost around the clock for the first few weeks to get the sorting lines setup, procedures established, and people hired. My bosses (the chief and his partner) were people I had known and worked for before. The undertaking was tremendous because we were obligated to make twice-weekly deliveries of necessary merchandise to a number of chain retail stores. No merchandise meant no sales. The customer needed merchandise to sell, so we had a tight timeline.
After a very few weeks one of our over-the-road drivers (OTR) quit! They refused a dispatch and quit. Driver turnover is a big problem in the OTR trucking business, so I chocked it up to a bad hire. Within a few days, a 2nd driver quit. This one told me what was going on. He was told he wouldn’t have to go to New York City.
One of the great challenges in the trucking world is driving a truck into New York City proper. There are specific rules, everything takes forever, space is tight, there’s no place to park, or be, and freight coming back isn’t as plentiful as you’d like. When drivers are paid by the mile, they make very little money for their time in NYC. Unless companies made special arrangements, a trip to NYC was a bad week for most OTR truck drivers.
Because of the busyness of setting up the warehouse, I had delegated the driver recruiting to another employee. This person was telling drivers that “we never went to NYC.” Obviously, this was a communication problem.
Many leaders and coaches at this point might call this a communication problem. I didn’t communicate well. And to that point, they’d be right. This is why communication is often sighted as a key factor in a leader’s success. If leaders don’t communicate well, they won’t lead well.
But, after I approached the employee and discussed the disconnect, I learned communication wasn’t the problem. A lack of a shared vision was the true problem. My dream for the company was that we would create a work environment where everyone pulled equal weight. If someone had to go to NYC, we’d do our best to get them some gravy on the following week. Each person would chip in their best effort to make the organization successful and the organization would, in turn, share that success with the people who contributed. My vision of a successful company created this need to go to NYC. It created this need for people to take the good with the bad.
This employee’s vision was just for his job. He had been asked by the chief to recruit so he did. Getting them signed up was his job. Whether or not they stayed was my problem. The lack of a shared vision with equal individual buy in and commitment was the core problem. My lack of clear communication and delegation postponed the true identification of the real problem.
There were other issues that contributed to both the reason for this issue and the actual end-result that occurred. But rather than take you through what I did, we here at Lead Change would like to know.