Delivering for Best-in-Class Wholesaler-Distributors
December 20, 2018  |  ByJia Wang, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Author

Have you ever been described as a “micro-manager” or “control freak”? Are you the type of leader who needs to have a final say in every decision, big or small? Do you feel the need to protect “your turf”? If you can relate to any of these questions, then it’s time for you to rethink your leadership style.

At the time Gary Garfield became the CEO of one of the world’s largest corporations, Bridgestone Americas, the company had reached its all-time low as a result of the massive Ford Explorer–Firestone tire recall that started in August 2000. From his extraordinary crisis management experience, Garfield gained some valuable leadership insights that helped him identify an innovative approach to changing the corporate culture, breaking down silos in business operations, and fostering collaboration. The result: Bridgestone not only survived the financial crisis, it also grew profits by more than five-fold and outperformed the S&P 500 during his tenure.

What Garfield did to turn the company around offers some relevant lessons for distribution leaders regarding change management:

  1. Know who you are. Garfield believed that leadership begins with yourself. Do you push yourself to grow as a leader? What is your general attitude? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Do you encourage people around you or do you bring them down? Are you emotionally mature? What is your general attitude about work, yours and others’, and about life? If you have emotional maturity, a positive attitude and courage to show your human side, people are more inclined to follow you. So, set aside time to get to know yourself on a deeper level.
  2. Get yourself out there. As the company’s former General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, Garfield spent a lot of face time with different units of the company for several reasons. First, few employees at Bridgestone knew who he was. Garfield wanted to build rapport with his employees so they could get to know him as their leader, and so he had a chance to know them, evaluate them, and place them on the appropriate team. Second, Garfield had a vision for reclaiming the company’s position as the leader in the tire industry. He believed the most effective way to articulate and sell his vision to his organization was through face-to-face communication. Third, Garfield wanted to understand more of the different aspects of the business, and the unique problems and challenges facing the employees.
  3. Leave your employees alone. Most leaders naturally want to take control over what is going on within their company by managing what their employees do. This is not the wrong management approach, but it runs the risk of over-managing or micro-managing. Upon becoming the CEO, Garfield recognized the top-down and micro-management culture of his company when he was asked what wine he wanted to serve for the upcoming football season. With this awareness, Garfield pushed the decision making down the organization and empowered others to make decisions. Instead of giving people preset goals the way it had been done traditionally, Garfield expected people to come up with strategies and goals that were credible and aggressive, but still realistic and attainable. By giving people that latitude, they started to take ownership of their work. In return, his employees surprised him by showing how creative they were in reaching the destination when they were left alone with a clear target.
  4. Hold everybody accountable. Garfield acknowledged that as a leader, he had very high expectations for his employees and for himself, and he tried very hard to hold people accountable for the strategies and goals they developed for themselves. Underpinning these high expectations was his strong desire to assure the job security of 50,000 employees in times of financial crisis. What helped Garfield to bring the company back to profitability and strength was his uncompromising focus on holding people accountable for what must be done to succeed as a company.

Garfield’s leadership approach proved to be effective, because it tapped into the soft side of an organization — using human psychology. When people are held to higher standards and given ample autonomy to explore ways to accomplish goals, they feel valued, trusted and empowered. In turn, they will become more committed to their company and more engaged in their work.

As a distribution leader, when you want to make your employees perform better, take Garfield’s advice: Don’t tell your employees exactly what to do; instead, let them surprise you in their unique and remarkable ways.

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Jia Wang, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Author

Jia Wang, NAW Institute for Distribution Excellence Author

Jia Wang is Professor of Human Resource Development at Texas A&M University. As a scholar, she has been actively promoting individual and organizational development through culture-sensitive and evidence-based research. Her research work has been disseminated through a wide range of academic journals and international conferences. Jia currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief of Human Resource Development Review. With 25 years of accumulated experiences in multi-cultural contexts, she has developed and conducted numerous educational workshops to diverse groups in both the corporate and university settings.

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