Leadership plays an essential role in the efficiency, productivity and profitability of any maintenance shop. When done effectively, leaders establish direction and then influence and align their “human capital” (workforce) toward a common goal, motivating and committing them to action and making them accountable and responsible for their performance.
It was President Dwight Eisenhower who said: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Author Paul J. Meyer noted: “Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort.”
Leadership in the shop is taking on even greater significance as the pace of change to vehicles and components and their maintenance and service continues to increase. Development of leadership abilities and skills is an integral element of the curriculum of the NAFA Fleet Management Association’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) Program. It is the oldest and largest fleet certification in the world and is the only program that attests to one’s expertise in the profession.
NAFA is a not-for-profit, individual membership professional society that serves the needs of members who manage fleets of all types of vehicles and mobile equipment for organizations across the globe.
According to the CAFM Program materials, at the heart of good leadership is effective communications. Many of the problems that occur in an organization are the direct result of people failing to communicate. “Faulty communication leads to confusion and can cause a good plan to fail,” says Phillip E. Russo, NAFA’s executive director who oversees the administration of the CAFM Program. “Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit.”
This is not as easy or as simple as it sounds as there are many barriers to communicating effectively. These include culture, background and bias; a lack of concentration or distractions; preconceived attitudes; and stress.
These barriers can be thought of as filters which muffle the message, Russo says. Citing materials from the NAFA CAFM Program, he says the message leaves the sender, goes through the aforementioned filters and is then heard by the receiver. The way to overcome filters is through active listening and feedback.
Hearing and listening are not the same thing. Hearing is the involuntary act of perceiving sound through the ear. Listening is a selective activity involving receiving and analyzing what is heard.
Listening is divided into two main categories: passive and active. Passive listening is little more than hearing. It occurs when the receiver of the message has little motivation to listen carefully, such as music, television or being polite. Active listening is listening with a purpose - to gain information, obtain directions, understand others, solve problems, etc.
The purpose of feedback, explains Russo, is to change and alter messages so the intention of the original communicator is understood by the person receiving the communication. Providing feedback is accomplished by paraphrasing the words of the sender and restating the sender’s feelings or ideas in one’s own words.
The NAFA CAFM Program advises speaking with “comfortable words” - those that are easily understood, and when trying to explain involved or complicated matters, asking the listeners if they understand. Also, it says to be sure to give the receiver a chance to comment or ask questions.
“Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider the feelings of the receiver,” Russo advises. “Be clear about what you say. Look at the receiver. Make sure your words match your tone and body language. Vary your tone and pace. Do not be vague, but on the other hand, do not complicate what you are saying with too much detail. Do not ignore signs of confusion.”