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Driving Business
By Jeff Butcher on October 5, 2012

Established roads can set you on your way and ultimately wind around business challenges, driving you away from sound business decisions. The roads of positive change drive you and your business along a more direct route, making the trip fun, rewarding and profitable. Your business and employees will thrive if your drive includes a road map that is embraced by all. Going along for the ride is replaced by the excitement and anticipation that accompanies participation. The destination of success is one sweet ride.

To truly drive your business, setting destiny in your favor, it pays to educate your team while painting a detailed description of the ultimate destination. It seems reasonable that the road to success will lead to opportunity if you and your team grasp the overall concept of where you hope to end up. Defining the destination is step one in implementing your route to growth and continuous improvement. Painting a clear vision empowers the group to collaboratively create their own milestones, rest stops and high-speed zones. A clear picture of the intended destinations allows engaged team members to reroute based on ownership of contributions that move the group. Drive requires that the entire team is willing to get behind the wheel. With everyone in the car, the view out the front windshield creates piercing focus, and the eyes of the team move forward enthusiastically.

The rear view mirror can provide source material and historical perspective—or it can take eyes off the mission, as looking back can be where the library of distraction prevents travel to new places. The question “Are we there yet?” fades behind the hills of the past when the group uses the winds of change to fill balloons of future prosperity. With buy-in from all, forks in the road are eagerly taken and the blur of noise seen out the side windows is replaced by the resolve of winning groups that revel in the changing landscape known as success.

Accepting the status quo is often the easy route for those that become comfortable in familiar surroundings. Fear and the patterns of culture memory should be supplanted by the hope and belief of inspired change. Being locked in the past is the speed bump that can derail any new initiative. To achieve, new projects need the energy supplied by groups. True leadership puts away the “Boss Card” and trades commands for evangelism. Believers in ideas move forward on their own merit and with passion that exists within the potential of our future leaders. Commands work well when the boss is watching—the breakdowns occur when overbearing managers turn their back. Astute leaders know that the synergy of a group accomplishes goals even when valued employees are out of sight. The best teams feel the freedom to place a light on the shortcomings of new ideas. Through empowered discussion, employees that feel valued participate by adding to new endeavors. Leaders can always pull out the boss card, but using it sparingly improves morale, overcomes, and gets more done.

Motor State Distributing exemplifies great leadership. History shows that George Lane noticed a need to supply racers with the parts they needed. George transformed his racing hobby, and in 1964 he took one small step for his racing company—one giant step for the racing kind. He worked hard to deliver great customer service and built a business from a one-man shop and humble beginnings. George identified a market and set out to solve the parts supply challenge that faced racers of the day—the Internet was still years away. In time the business grew, and George used wisdom to grow with the times. Growth requires help. Help requires trust. Today, the family tree known as the Lane family participates in the operation of what was once a one-man operation. Clear role definition allows well over 100 people to perform. Doug Lane has accepted the Warehouse Distributor of the Year trophy at SEMA multiple times.

To accomplish such success, George and Doug rely on many. David Lane provides modern warehousing techniques that are the envy of all distribution centers. Longtime dedicated employees such as Curt Spalding head up new initiatives, increasing the footprint and visibility of what George started many years ago. George could have stayed a garage-style business, but I believe he knew that empowerment would help him to achieve. The Lane legacy lives on within the walls of Motor State, and mentorship prevails in every corner of the building.

Scott Wahlstrom guides promotions, and longtime employee Craig Mullauer manages a knowledgeable sales staff with grace. I could point out other companies that have been successful, but my goal here is to diagnose and provide motivation for all businesses to take steps of improvement. Motor State recognizes that the power of trust has transformed a black and white photo containing a few race parts and one George Lane into a brain trust of amazing people that believes in mentorship.

The dedicated Motor State staff, ranging from accounting, to customer service, to sales, to shipping, to creative, to spin-off companies, eagerly embraces empowerment. The leadership style provides freedom for all employees to find the opportunity that suits their individual goals. The group that is defined as Motor State embraces the ideals George Lane laid out years ago, and they have been given the freedom to take the original ideals to new levels that go beyond what one person could do.

In a very short time, Darren Lane has become an active participant in the Motor State fold, taking on the challenges that the digital age presents. At a young age, Darren has taken his education, racing knowledge and self-imposed talents to heights that could only occur due to the willing mentorship and support voluntarily given by the entire staff in Michigan. A staff that chooses to be involved creates an atmosphere of continuous improvement. Dustin Lane is lurking in the background, providing new technologies that are rooted in the plan for success inspired by Grandfather George Lane not so many years ago. I can hardly wait to witness what the future holds for Karianne Lane—her contribution could be within the business, or perhaps her family values will propel the Motor State gang to places that would be impossible without her future guidance and support. I know Doug Lane excels due to the support from his wife Kim—business success is a ton more fun when family support inspires.

George Lane had a plan—he implemented it well and provided clear guidance for hundreds of people around him to excel. Respect is easy when you witness the true five- tool player—family, integrity, vision, empowerment and trust. George foresaw his life plan, and taking a second to remember your long- and short-term plan is sound advice.

Leadership should set things in motion and allow the group to build on needed strategies. Guidelines should be set, and teams that are free to pursue and grow ideas, without hard rules, come up with amazing creativity. If your leadership style forces your will upon others, then you end up with the IQ, energy and power of just one person—you! Letting employees go with their beliefs builds energy within the combined resources that work with you. Why not give your team some leeway and see what they come up with? The combined IQ and creativity of many will consider all of the challenges from angles that enjoy sightlines from a point of expertise. Ideas are enhanced and waste is reduced.

The concept of giving your team leeway is based on the context that you have provided clear direction. Often, leaders or management face challenges that must consider the big picture. Individuals on the team may not have access to certain information, so it is natural that leaders should set guidelines and goals. Freedom within the team is great—chaos is short of what we are after. Empowering teams should come with check-in and participation from management. If you set the direction, you should also set boundaries to ensure that freedom is contained within the context and budget of any project.

We are all busy, and if we had time to stare at the efforts of our employees 10 hours a day, then we would probably have fewer employees. In sport and in management, analogies help to set the scene for success. For me, a train of great ideas is an excellent reference for a descriptive analogy. At the start of any task, big or small, I ask my team to think about the direction that has been set, and place them face forward with a healthy dose of conversation and debate.

Once agreement creates the framework of progress, I work hard to let employees make many decisions. In exchange for the freedom, I ask that teammates stay on the railroad tracks that we agreed upon. Trusted employees can wander off the railroad tracks and onto the railroad ties based on their own discretion and knowledge. I think we call this empowerment! We can also let our talent adjust and make their own decisions when initiatives take them off the creosote coated railroad ties and onto the gravel covered railroad bed. In the event great employees find themselves falling off the mound of the gravel railroad bed, then that is the point in time when they should stroll back to management for a fine-tuning of goals.

Knowing when the direction has found the hard curves of risk is paramount in creating an environment that is free of the fear of mistakes. Fear is paralyzing. Freedom is enlightening. The best employees seek out additional project detail when the gravel of the railroad bed crumbles beneath their shoes, sending them off-balance and potentially derailing an important or expensive idea. True leadership empowers teammates to find the edge of empowerment on their own. The best creativity occurs when employees find the limits of direction and circle back for more communication based on their own initiative. It is at the edge of limitation where answers to the biggest challenges culminate in the sea of sustainable satisfaction and progress.

Go Forward – Move Ahead

Jeff Butcher

 

About the Author
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Jeff Butcher is a veteran of the racing industry based in the Pacific Northwest.
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