It seems like every day my inbox is filled with articles regarding leadership. In fact, I get so many of them that lately I have taken to deleting them without even reading them. The constant bombardment of articles about leadership nullifies the senses. It’s akin to pouring more water into a vessel that is already full. Don’t misunderstand me, leadership is important, but it’s not the most important, and writers who constantly write about leadership tend to be ‘One Trick Ponies’.
The secret to building a strong business is more about mentoring than leadership. So, what’s the difference anyway? Let’s break down the different positions within a company into four general classes:
Executive, Manager, Leader and Mentor
Executives have administrative authority or supervisory responsibilities in a business.
In a retail store operation, this position is usually held by the owner(s), the CEO, chief financial officer, chief information officer, etc. In many types of retail businesses, like convenience stores, this is where the leadership begins, and this is often where it ends. Every individual who is not part of corporate is generally nothing more than an hourly-wage worker who is working for a paycheck… the absolutely worst reason for working in any capacity.
Leaders lead or command certain groups within an organization… manager of all stores, or stores within a particular geographical area, etc. Some businesses call them “supervisors” whose main job seems to be the liaison between corporate and the stores. They are more like policemen than leaders, and they usually only show up when there is a problem that needs immediate attention.
Managers are persons responsible for controlling and administering different areas of a business.
Managers are usually responsible for a single store, and rarely supervise more than one location except in smaller organizations. They rarely interact with employees, but spend most of their time shuffling papers, making bank deposits, filling out time cards, dealing with deliveries and solving troublesome inventory shortages.
Mentors are experienced and trusted advisers. Mentors are the most elastic of individuals in an organization, because they can be found among executives, leaders and/or managers. They can be employees within an organization, contracted from outside the company or they can sit on the board of directors.
In a small business, some or all of these positions may fall within the responsibility of a single person; however, as a company grows, the positions must become more refined. My experience has been that at some point between 7-8 locations, it becomes impossible for the corporate office to maintain control over all the stores, and that’s when the business itself starts to suffer.
Many companies fail after a few years without the participation of mentors. Mentors are keen on preserving the corporate culture they are most familiar with, and in many cases it’s the corporate culture that makes companies what they are. Corporate cultures should be highly protected, because if your culture deteriorates, your company’s potential deteriorates as well.
Steve Job’s (Apple) mentor was Andy Grove who also mentored Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce, the founders of Intel in 1967.
Warren Buffet and Dr. Ed Roberts (creator of the Altair 8800 computer) mentored Bill Gates (Microsoft) in the 70s.
Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) runs the most intense mentorship program in hi-tech. His mentees are allowed to follow, travel and go to meetings with him, and frequently meet at the end of weekdays. Some lucky individuals have served one-to two-year terms in this capacity.
Mentees often become clones to replace corporate executives, leaders and managers should an event occur that takes the executive out of the picture; and without mentees, the survival of a company could be in question.
Building a strong company from the inside out requires much more than a sizeable paycheck. Money earned becomes money spent in the short term, and its value is quickly eroded.
When you find an outstanding employee, take him or her under your wing and show them the path to leadership. You will develop a close ally that may become critical in the years ahead, and besides all that, it just makes good business sense.