Green Guides features a rotating panel of LCOs sharing their real-world experience on how to build and grow a successful lawn care business.
Many green industry businesses started out as I did 33 years ago. You buy a truck, or a van in my case, put some equipment into it, print up some stuff, and work out of your garage. It’s just you trying to figure out things on the run.
And for those fortunate enough to work hard, learn and grow, the business expands and eventually you need other people to do what you were doing, or things that were not even on your radar. So you become a leader, with your employees following your lead. And if you are like most young leaders, you figure that out on the run also. If you do learn and develop into a leader, others will follow, and your business grows to the next level.
If you’re good, and all else falls into place, then your business could make that next jump, where you will then need to find and develop others to lead smaller groups within your business. And this is where the road ends for many small business owners, as they just cannot figure that one out. “I just can’t find good leaders” ranks right up there with “I just can’t find enough people” as the biggest challenges facing most businesses in our industry, or any industry.
So what’s the solution? It’s important to have the right strategy and a system for developing leaders in your organization. But one can’t just throw money at the problem, bring in some high powered consultant, attend a seminar, or try to fix the problem with more information and training alone.
In the words of Peter Drucker, “culture beats strategy every time.” And that culture is in large part dependent upon having solid values and having the right people on your team to work with. Building that great culture mainly rests on the shoulders of the leader.
If you have people who are capable of developing into leaders, and I’ll bet that most reading this actually do, then the most important thing you can do at that point is to trust them. Jack Welch has said that leadership is all about truth and trust. Trust can be earned, and it can be given. If you want to develop leaders in your business, you extend trust to them, and allow them to fail at times. I learned this firsthand seven years ago, as I left my business to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail in 2010, mainly for a good cause in raising money for local charities. I could say, “I trust you,” but when I left LawnAmerica for almost five months, the leaders especially heard and saw “I trust you” very clearly. In fact, as I look back on the years before 2010 and the years after that, 2010 was a turning point for our business in many respects. It was then that we did a much better job of developing leaders, our company matured and brought even better results especially with profits.
Now I’m not saying to leave your business for months on end and you’ll have folks just magically develop into leaders. You still have to have an intentional strategy. Individuals must take responsibility for their own leadership development, such as constant reading and learning from other great leaders. But people have to be trusted, and they need to learn in the trenches and not just in the classroom. They have to be free to make some mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.
There are no magic bullets or simple answers in developing leaders. But I’ve come to realize that the most important thing a business owner can do, even more important than trusting your people, is to look in the mirror. What type of leader are you? Who are you? Can you be trusted? Are you the type of person people want to follow, or do they just tolerate you? Do you tell the truth? Are you in the battle for them, or is it all about you?
People will learn leadership from you, from what you do or don’t do, what you say, who you serve and who you are. So now as things may be slowing down in your business, it’s a great time to take some time and get away from your business, seek solitude and take a humble assessment of who YOU are. Not perfect, still learning, but can you be trusted? You just may be the root of the problem as to why leaders cannot be developed in your business.
Brad Johnson is founder of LawnAmerica.