November 15, 2011

Is Leadership in the Glass Industry Different Than in Government?

By Paul Bieber

In a word, NO.

This is not a political blog, after all, our reason for being together is the glass industry. To me, leadership is making the right decisions, even if they are unpopular, and then teaching why it was the right decision to the people you are responsible for. Not everyone will agree with you, but they will respect you for your honesty and reasoning. You can’t keep changing your position on subject A or B. But if variables change, like the economy, you may have to thoughtfully change.

Let’s say your glass shop has never had a layoff. Now, this year, you have to go there to save the entire company. You do have to make this unpopular decision, and that is when you become a leader.

You have to decide what benefits will be paid for, and how much the company will contribute. Your obligation is to the whole company; if you balance the needs here, you will be a leader. There is a current phrase, ‘stake holders’, that defines who you are responsible to. You run a glass shop; your stake holders are:

  • The ownership of the company, whether one or two partners, or thousands of shareholders
  • Your employees, every single one of them
  • Your customers
  • Your community, defined anywhere from local to regional to national
  • Yourself, so that you can sleep at night with the decisions you’ve made

If you balance all these groups’ needs, you are a great leader. You will make decisions that ownership may not agree with, but you can convince them that long-term stability is better than short-term profits. Research all of the facts about a decision that is needed. Test drive it by asking key people what their opinions are. Look at similar companies and what they have done and use that as a template, maybe copying or doing the opposite!

Don’t flip-flop, going different directions every year. Don’t put off a decision and hope the need for it goes away. Don’t knowingly make the wrong decision, just to be popular. So you say, why not, I own this place, I can make any decision I want! Because you will begin to see turnover in your employees as soon as the market begins to grow. Your best people will go where they will be respected for the work they do and the honesty of the leadership.

Your customers will look around for a different vendor if your service policies change or your prices are not predictable. You can raise prices, but do it above-board…not with silly hidden fees or changes in how your bill for travel.

And for how you serve your community, just do the right thing, even if it may temporarily hurt you. Just look at Penn State to understand what sweeping bad news under the rug will do to your reputation.

If you can place your head on the pillow and sleep well, and have served your stakeholders, you, Sir or Ma’am, are a leader.