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Leader's triumph (Tommaso Colia/Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Leader's triumph (Tommaso Colia/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

COMMENTARY

Want an awesome company? Set the tone from the top Add to ...

I used to give little pep talks to my staff before the beginning of each day of our major trade shows. These included such gems as, “Your client will only be as excited about the product as you appear to be,” and, “The client pays attention to the features of the product that you pay attention to.”

While I didn’t win any boss-of-the-year awards, I was on to something: the power of influence. Nowhere in a small business is influence more acutely valuable than where tone is set from the top – from the founder, chief executive officer, entrepreneur.

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When I look back on my businesses, I think they were operated as fairly accurate reflections of the things that were important to me, for better and for worse. As I work with businesses of many different sizes these days, I can see clear, yet indirect, examples of a founder’s or CEO’s tone and priorities filter all the way down to the front-line customer service agents or production associates.

Whether it be positive or negative, the tone from the top has a major influence on the behavior of all levels of a company’s operations. I know a CEO who, despite being brilliant, is scattered and disorganized. The result? He runs a nice company with a great product but it has too many unfinished projects floating around, and staff who are never sure what their priorities should be.

I know another CEO who is detail-oriented, sees the world through his customers’ eyes, thinks before he speaks, spends time with anyone who needs it and is very organized. The result? He runs a clean and respectful workplace, full of project boards and people collaborating on excellent products.

Maybe end users can’t tell the difference between these two management styles, just by looking at each of the company’s products. However, I can tell you the latter company is more profitable, has happier staff, seems like a place I’d want to work and is entirely more sellable, as a business.

Finally, I have a client who has a deep desire to improve the operations of his business and struggles to understand why some members of his team fail to do what they are instructed todo to the extent he expects. He wonders why certain unwanted behaviours seem to be prevalent among so many of his staff.

Unfortunately, he is the common denominator. The solution starts with him. I’ve had the unpleasant task of drawing connections between his behaviours and the tone that it sets through the organization.

If you want a different result, you need to do something differently, and that always starts at the top. You can’t behave one way and expect staff to behave differently. They are following your lead, not just in the obvious ways but in subtle ones, too.

Want to show the importance of better listening? Become a better listener. Want to emphasize the need to get the shipment out the door? Go help load some pallets. Want a cleaner work space? Start with your office.

I’ve seen the CEO of a $500-million utility rally the front-line troops by working 24 hours straight, doing his share in the middle of a blizzard. I’ve seen the owner of a five-staff woodworking shop take over the sanding tasks so one of his employees could tend to a family emergency.

No matter what the size or complexity of your business, every aspect of it is a reflection of you and on you. Being awesome is contagious. I have seen it. You should try it.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Chris Griffiths is the Toronto-based director of fine tune consulting, a boutique management consulting practice. Over the past 20 years, he has started or acquired and sold seven businesses.

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