What a Leader Looks Like

Having spent most of my career as a technology service and support provider, I’ve grown to appreciate others in the industry. Even if someone is your ‘competition’ you inevitably acknowledge and give them credit when they are doing things right.

At some point along the way, as a consultant you find yourself with an abundance of work to do, or you’re on vacation, or there’s someone outside of your service area, and you need to recommend a business you can trust. One such business is Erb’s Technology Solutions in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. They’ve been in business since 1961 and have many satisfied customers.

One day I had to deliver a printer for one of my clients to their facility for some in-warranty repairs. As I recall, back then, the equipment service entrance was on a lower level at the side of the building. I thought I’d take the opportunity to visit a bit with the employee working at the service desk.

The service reception desk is generally not the most glamorous job. The pay isn’t great. Usually a less experienced technician would work at the receiving and pickup area. It’s sometimes an unpleasant job if customers are upset about failed systems, crashed computers, delays in repairs, and/or unexpected repair costs.

I had a good talk with the technician that day. I let him know that I’m an area tech consultant and have been impressed with their business. He was very friendly.

When I asked his name, he told me he was Larry. Then I realized, I’d been talking to the owner of the business, Larry Erb.

At that point I just had to ask… why was he working at the service desk? Usually the owner of a successful business that size has managers who manage the managers who manage the employees.

What I learned is that he likes to have some hands on emersion in the various departments in his business. It gives him an opportunity to evaluate continuous improvement opportunities for better procedures and practices. It also lets him have direct contact with his customers and hear first hand about their experiences with his business.

Leaders are sometimes portrayed as people who are removed from the ‘commoners’ and  inaccessible. It’s assumed that one of the perks of being the boss is that you don’t have to do the dirty work and heavy lifting. You’re able to escape from listening to customer complaints. Yet, these portrayals of leadership aren’t the ideal.

A true business leader isn’t trying to avoid their employees or the customers they serve. A true leader spends some time with their sleeves rolled up, working side by side with their employees and serving customers. This builds relationships and trust. It also helps an innovative leader explore opportunities for improvement — since ultimately that’s what their highest calling is.

Related Media – Audio

The audio below is from 7 April 2003. It’s the story of how this kind of management style became the foundation for Honda’s success — success in job satisfaction, customer satisfaction, product quality, and customer service excellence.

Related Media – Video

The video below is about a Japanese airline industry CEO who decided to give himself a pay cut as a way of sharing the burden when a depressed economy adversely impacted the company’s revenue. This CEO frequently works along side with employees and listens to their ideas, praises, and suggestions for improvement.



About This Article

“In 1987, at 23 years old, I had my first experience with leadership and business management as a manager of a Radio Shack store in California. Going from a recently hired sales person, to managing my own store in 6 months was a kind of a record. In the 28 years since then, my interest in leadership and management has grown. I’m intrigued by innovative approaches to facilitating progress for organizations and businesses. Much of what I’ve learned over the years, I’ve applied to my work as President of the Small House Society (2002 to present). I describe myself as a “facilitator” in my work with the organization. I like the term facilitator because for me, that’s what a leader does — empower, equip, inspire, and help people grow in their areas of passion and expertise. So, the above article is inspired by these experiences.” ~ Greg Johnson, 12 March 2015