Follow The Leader

What are the leadership traits worth following?

When you find it, it’s rare.  When it’s real, you know it right away.  And when it’s real, it can be life altering.  Thousands of books have been written about leadership. There are many experts in the world who profess to know about leadership.  I am not one of those experts.  But I have experienced true leadership.

In my career I have been placed in many leadership roles.  My leadership ability ranged from OK, to pretty good.  I have headed up news departments at radio and TV stations.  I have led a wide variety of non-profit organizations.  Never has that ability peaked to a level of life-altering leadership. All leaders would like to think they have super powers in leading others, like the picture at the top of this blog, but it is seldom true.

Recently a dear friend of mine wrote a Facebook post for an obituary of her former boss.  She talked about working for many wonderful leaders, what she called – “…people of great vision, integrity and humanity.” It caused me to think about those who were leaders in my life.  

To be perfectly honest, most of the leaders in my life were just like me.  They were people thrust into leadership positions and didn’t always have the leadership training or temperament but did the best they could.  There were others that just didn’t try to be a leader.  These were people that demanded you do what you were told, because they were the boss.

For me, the person who epitomized leadership was Bill Marsh Sr.  He owned the car dealership group where I worked for more than two decades?  I considered Bill to be one of a handful of professional mentors in my career.  Bill had an office across the hall from me and I would often stroll in to learn what I could from the master.  We would talk about business and marketing for a short period of time.  But for a longer time we would talk about family, faith and he would talk about his love of Ireland. 

Bill Marsh Sr. in 2014

In 2014 I sat down with Bill for a training video and we had a deep discussion on a wide range of topics.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that interview ended up being his obituary.  He died two years later from Alzheimer’s.  I was honored to record some of the reasons Bill was a respected businessman in the community.  He talked about leaving his law studies at Yale to help his dad with a struggling Ford dealership in Newtown, Pennsylvania. He explained how he got hooked into the car dealership business.  

The world would have been a little poorer if Bill kept to studying law and never got into the business world.  He summed up leadership with one word: Trust.

And we did trust Bill. We viewed him as a visionary. Bill set a clear direction for the company and let everyone know where we were headed.  We were not just selling and servicing cars, we were building relationships.  We were to become an important part of the community and get involved in a wide-range of community events.  None of us had to be ashamed that we worked in an industry that was loaded with negative stereotypes.  Bill made it very clear that we did the “right thing” for the customer, even if it wasn’t the most profitable thing for the company.

While many thought Bill was a risk-taker, he didn’t share that belief.  Even when he attempted to buy the Buick franchise in Traverse City, Bill faced opposition from GM.  Bill had a family history with Ford and GM was reluctant to sell this Ford guy the Buick franchise.  He sent a letter to GM that made a wild offer to give them the franchise back within a year if he didn’t make it the top performing Buick store in the region. He was good to his word.

I witnessed Bill’s leadership when the Iraq war broke out.  There was great uncertainty in the world and in business.  He gathered his employees together to assure us that all would be well.  And it was.  His reassurance came at the perfect time.  

I think we all want to be involved in “bigger” causes.  We don’t want to just sell cars; we want to make a difference in people’s lives.  We don’t just want to help a business make a bigger profit; we want to impact our community.  A good leader supports you to reach for bigger goals, to have a greater impact and to accomplish things you never thought possible.

If you find that rare leader – follow her.  If you are that rare leader – inspire others.

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