When the pandemic struck, distributors took on the heroic feat of taking care of their people, their customers and their businesses. Long-term plans were cast to the wayside as they navigated urgent and unprecedented change.
We are firmly out of the crisis stage. However, persistent challenges remain — lead times, inflation, labor shortages and the potential for a recession. Regardless of what new challenges come our way, it’s time to look forward. It’s time to get out of crisis mode.
It’s time to take the lessons we learned during the pandemic and begin to redefine the future of distribution. It’s time to shift to tomorrow, and even dream again.
More importantly, it’s time to shift our focus to the long game. Leadership isn’t about the next month or the next quarter. It’s about the next three years, five years, 10.
Last summer, I had the privilege of meeting with Wally Brandt, CEO of Indiana Oxygen Company. As we walked Pit Row of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we talked about life and business and how both are continually evolving. We talked about the critical need to prepare future generations for the work ahead.
He taught me a lesson that day when he said:
“Look at it this way. Neither business nor this race is a 100-yard dash. In a 100-yard dash, the start is here, and the finish is over there. Here (at the Indianapolis Speedway), it goes around and around. And when you get to the start, it goes around again and again. And that’s what the next generation of leadership will do (take this business around a few more laps).”
Business is a marathon, and we need to play the long game — building and preparing your business for the next generation, and the generation after that. There is no finish line.
In my landmark research study on the changing nature of leadership in distribution, I tested my premise that the very nature of leadership is changing due to the accelerated impact of change on our businesses. More than 80% of the respondents said that leaders must lead differently than they did before the pandemic.
Given this, how can you build your business for the next generation and beyond?
Embrace the humanity in leadership. Nearly all respondents in my research believe the human element will play an important role in leadership in a post-pandemic world. Meaningful work and purpose are central to many, and those who aren’t finding that in their jobs are looking elsewhere. We have spoken with distributors that have evaluated four-day workweeks and that have added and adjusted shifts to better align with childcare needs. One distributor increased wages and cut overtime so that their team could spend more time at home with their families.
Focus on the development of your people both professionally and personally. This includes opening up growth opportunities for your people and helping them develop both hard and soft skills so you can, in the word of one distributor we’ve spoken with, “build better people.” Spending too little time on the humanity of professional and personal development may lead to higher turnover, employee dissatisfaction and subpar business results.
Reach toward a Noble Calling in your leadership style. There’s a 41 percentage-point difference between where distributors think most leaders are now – managing – to where they think leaders should be five years from now – Noble Calling. Many leaders are caught up in the day to day and are having a hard time thinking longer term. But when you embrace the Noble Calling of leadership, you’re focusing on a higher purpose, one that is determined to make an oversized impact on and beyond the bottom line.
The confluence of forces (the pandemic being just one of these) bearing down on our world, our society, our businesses and our employees is tectonic. The challenge and opportunity we face as a result must be systemic.
We know the pandemic changed, if not everything, most things. George Kennedy, retired Head Swim Coach for John Hopkins University, said it best during his presentation at the 2015 Unleash Innovation Summit. When speaking of his athletes, he said, “I need to prepare them for their world, not the world I have lived in.”
The world that your business will succeed or fail in going forward is not the world that led to its success. If you want to build a sustainable business, one that survives in the next generation – and the next after that – it’s time to adapt your leadership approach.
Dirk Beveridge is the founder of UnleashWD, Executive Producer at We Supply America, President of the Beveridge Consulting Group, and Champion for the noble calling of distribution for over 37 years. He often speaks at company and association meetings to share his one-of-a-kind perspective on leadership, the future of wholesale distribution and how distributors are a Force for Good. Learn more about Dirk by visiting WeSupplyAmerica.net.