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Great leadership starts with serving your people

Serve your people, and they’ll serve your customers. Lessons on becoming an aspirational leader from Brand Pretorius

Nadine Todd

When it comes to good leadership, remember this sentence: I am the light switch every morning. When you walk into your business every morning, look each employee in the eye. Your energy will influence your employees and how they do their work by empowering and entrusting them.

Many people live their work lives in figurative darkness, without a sense of belonging, and no confidence in the business they work for and the quality of leadership they’re expected to follow. Their disengagement can impact your business.

However, they might not be solely to blame. Leadership, or a lack thereof, is an important factor in how successful your business is. You need to be deliberate in your efforts to switch on the lights.

The law of leadership

Pretorius played a pivotal part in bringing back McCarthy Group from the brink of bankruptcy. Shortly after joining, he made a point to visit as many McCarthy Nissan dealerships as he could:

“The new vehicle market was in trouble, and I wanted to touch base with our dealerships to see how they were faring. I arrived at the first dealership at 7am and couldn’t find the dealer principle. I eventually found him in his office. No tea was offered, no pleasantries given, just complaints: Sales were down by 40%, Nissan was in trouble because we didn’t have a passenger car range.

Within ten minutes I was depressed, and asked if I could walk through the dealership to meet his people? As we marched through, he explained the layout and requested new equipment. We then went to his office and reviewed the numbers. There was red ink everywhere.

Next, I travelled to McCarthy Germiston. This dealership was on the wrong side of town, and if anything, I was expecting it to be even worse off than my first stop. This time however, the dealer principle was waiting for me in the parking lot. He was excited to have me there and couldn’t wait to introduce me to his ‘winning team’.

He knew everyone’s names, and shared personal anecdotes about each person he introduced me to. This was a dealership of bright eyes and friendly smiles. There was an atmosphere of excitement, pride and passion. It was an inspirational experience. And guess what? The numbers were good, despite the bad location”.

The difference between these dealerships, was leadership. Success rises and falls with the right leader, and there is a world of difference between an autocratic manager and an inspirational leader.

Being the switch light

Inspiration leaders get their people to volunteer their energy, intelligence, commitment and loyalty to the organisation? Here are Pretorius’ five golden rules to become an inspirational leader. 

1. Lead on a perpetual basis
 You are always the leader, so embrace this role and make sure everything you do supports it. 

2. Understand the difference between managing people and leading people
Teams are generally over managed and under led. While both functions are critically important, they have different purposes. Management is for effective execution; leadership is for vision. Leaders are obsessed with creating a better tomorrow for the good of all. Managers look at today. Leaders focus on people, managers on process. Leaders do the right things for direction, strategy, principles and values. Managers do things right. 

3. You can’t lead by autopilot or by emulating someone else
You need to develop your own leadership approach. First-time bosses tend to emulate their bosses. That’s their frame of reference and it seldom works. Find your own style and way.  

4. Be a servant leader
Care for your people and be willing to serve, engage their minds and their hearts. 

5. Be kind without being weak
Learn to be bold without being a bully, be firm but fair, rigorous with results, but not ruthless. 

If you serve your people, they will serve your customers. It’s your job to transmit inspiration and cast out reluctant compliance. Switch on the lights.  

An earlier version of this article was originally published on 17 May 2015