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Case Two: The Electronics Store
In this case, the writer was in search of a cleaner for the tape deck in his car when he decided to patronize an electronics store that was in close proximity to his private residence. When he entered the store, there were some difficulties in not only getting personnel to provide assistance, but also once he had articulated his request, there appeared to have been additional difficulties in locating the tape deck cleaner. The clear indication was that the personnel did not know whether the item was available in the premises or not. Eventually, after a frantic search in the front and back of the store, the cleaner was said not to be available in those premises but that another store of the same company might have consignments of the good. However, taking that store’s close proximity to the writer’s residence into consideration, he requested that an effort be made to secure the cleaner from that other store so that he would return to purchase it from the store which was to be carrying out the order. A phone call was made and the cleaner was located in another store.
The writer was about to leave the premises, after having given his name and phone number in order that he may be contacted when the cleaner would have been received, when the manager who had done absolutely nothing hithertofore to assist in the situation suddenly entered the scene. In typical management style, he indicated to the employee that the customer should first of all pay for the cleaner prior to ensuring its shipment from the other store. The customer had a few doubts about this strategy, but then decided to comply with it because he had been having difficulties locating this particular product. Based on the interaction thus far, the customer’s understanding was that the product was supposed to have been received in that store in a matter of a few days from the day of its order. Further, that a phone call would be made notifying the customer of its arrival. With this apparent mutual understanding having been established, the customer departed the store. However, several days passed and the customer did not receive any phone call. After having waited for approximately one week from the day of the order, the concerned customer decided to initiate a call to the store only to be told that the cleaner had not yet arrived.
Then another week elapsed and there was still no contact received whatsoever. Therefore, rather than wait for one more week, the customer decided to re-visit the store exactly at the end of the second week of waiting. When the customer arrived at the store the salesperson, who appeared to have forgotten about the transaction, finally indicated that the cleaner had not yet arrived. Further, after having made a brief phone call to the store from which the cleaner was supposed to have been shipped, the employee returned to mention to the customer that the cleaner will be arriving at their store in the afternoon of that day of the customer’s second visit. Realizing the folly of this gesture, the customer respectfully requested a refund. Without further ado, the refund was granted and the customer proceeded to depart from the premises, vowing to himself never to return for another transaction. In this case, there may have been some measure of management but, given the outcome or result of the transaction, a case can be made that there was certainly no leadership because the goal of selling a product, which was available within the company, was never accomplished. The evidence, to support this claim, is provided in the analyses below.
An attempt will be made, in this section, to compare and contrast the behavior of the personnel in these case studies by employing the concepts of management and leadership as benchmarks for analysis. Specifically, the analysis will attempt to address the issue as to the rationale underlying the effectiveness of the car wash in its goal accomplishments, as compared to the electronics store which appears to be struggling to achieve the same or similar accomplishments.
First, in the case of the car wash, several aspects of management and leadership consistent with the Kotter principles were discerned from the writer’s experiences in patronizing that organization. These are itemized below.
• Leading by Example–The manager and owner of this sole proprietorship did not sit behind a desk and simply delegated responsibilities to others, in a manner reminiscent of the behavior of the manager in the electronics store. By integrating himself into the task of washing cars, he provided motivation to his employees through demonstrating that he, himself, was able and willing to perform the tasks which the workforce performed. In other words, he might not ask an employee to perform a task which he himself might not be inclined to perform. In this regard, the owner was certainly leading by example and in the process appeared to have captured the confidence and respect of the workforce which he managed and led.
• Communication–The author also noticed that the entire workforce operated as a cohesive team at the behest of the leader. In addition, the leader appeared not to place himself over and above the other organizational members, such as one would notice in a rigid hierarchy. This was a clear case of collegiality which, it seemed, enabled this leader to influence the workforce into accepting his vision for the organization which has generated dividends for his company. For example, as a small start-up business unit, he had chosen to broaden his clientele through the imposition of charges that are low enough to attract customers who would soon discover that the services offered, in terms of quality, may actually exceed the charges imposed.
This manager/leader also mentioned to the customer that this strategy has earned him several contracts from a number of companies that are located in the vicinity. As a result, it therefore appeared as if this form of clientele expansion has enabled him to continue keeping his charges relatively low and competitive, while maintaining high productivity standards. Additionally, since there appeared to be no rigid hierarchy, individual workforce members hold conversations casually with their customers as they perform their respective services.
The customer also noticed that in order to facilitate the process of car washing, the team used language that was not necessarily familiar to the customers. For example, the expression “roll over” was used repeatedly, in order to usher an attendant inside a car for the purpose of driving it a little forward, so that the person that shined the tires may be able to shine the areas that had been inaccessible, by virtue of the fact that the car had been stationary on those sides. This behavior left an indelibly positive impression on this customer and ultimately motivated him to conduct this writing.
• Personnel Composition–Understanding the current political climate in the United States, as regards diversity and also his quest to fulfill his vision as regards organizational effectiveness, the owner had made certain that the workforce was multiracial. He had also employed a female, from a racial category different from his, that performed the following functions: receiving customers by asking them whether this was their first visit; receiving payments for services rendered; always giving receipts to customers for payments made; and a varied type of public relations activities. The owner had informed this customer that this particular strategy has expanded his clientele base.
Second, in the case of the electronics store, it was clear that there was a practical absence of leadership on the part of the manager. The specific reasons for arriving at this conclusion are addressed below.
• Management was the only concern–When the manager made sure that the customer paid for the tape cleaner prior to its supposed shipment, without seemingly doing anything whatsoever to ensure that the cleaner was actually shipped, he displayed a concern for management only. However since no guidance was provided, which would have probably increased the effectiveness of the employee’s performance, the result was that the merchandise was not obtained according to schedule. The reason for this outcome is that the employee needed assistance which should have been forthcoming through the manager’s leadership. Therefore the manager, by virtue of his behavior, appeared to have assumed that the employee should have known how to fulfill his responsibilities without any managerial prompting.
Further, according to the model, the manager’s failure to “monitor the results of that transaction and solve all applicable problems” was a manifestation of his dereliction of duty, even as a manager. Therefore, assessed from this perspective, this would imply that the manager was deficient in both leadership skills and the stated aspect of managerial skills. The combination of these two malfunctions appeared to have exacerbated the problem.
• Leadership was not a Concern–In order to have demonstrated leadership in this case, the manager should have conducted himself under certain professional standards pertaining to employee guidance, referred to as relationship behavior according to Hersey et al in the textbook already cited. These professional standards are addressed briefly. One, he should have been able to know that the cleaner had not been shipped from the other store. Two, he should have investigated the reason for the lack of shipment of the good. Three, he should have directly involved himself in the process by contacting the other store and use his position power to ensure that the shipment was actually carried out. Four, he should have called the customer to indicate that the product will be arriving at a designated date. Fifth, he should have called the customer as soon as the product would have arrived in order to enable him to return to the store and conclude the transaction successfully.
• Impact of Leadership Disengagement–This form of disengagement was costly to that organization for a number of reasons. One, the customer was frustrated and his scarce time was wasted. Two, the customer will not return for another transaction because of the apparent incompetence which had been demonstrated in that organization. Three, the store wasted its own time and other scarce resources in the unproductive phone calls, the processing of the original sale which never materialized, the processing of the refund, and the costly and unnecessary paperwork that was involved in the entire process. All these malfunctions would have been prevented by a prompt managerial leadership intervention within the transaction. Additionally, such wasted time and effort could have been more productively spent in other areas of organizational activity.
This brief piece has attempted to demonstrate the significance of the mutual exclusivity involving the concepts of management and leadership. The writing has also attempted to ascertain that it would not be practically possible for one to be regarded as an effective manager without an inculcation of leadership skills. The car wash case shows clearly an entrepreneur who is both a manager and a leader; whereas, the electronics case shows an entrepreneur who is certainly not a leader and who might also be regarded as a peripheral manager as demonstrated.
Leadership is a very scarce commodity. Indeed, many of the problems in organizations world-wide have been rife because of a lack of effective leadership. Recently, in the United States, the problems of the Virginia Coal Mine disaster and the British Petroleum oil leak in the gulf coast are dramatic examples of such leadership malfunctions. Partly because of this scarcity, the argument continues in academic circles as to whether or not leaders are born, or whether or not they can be cultivated to become so. Since no one has ever been able to advance a universally-accepted response to this dilemma, it is therefore this writer’s impression that the debate will continue in management and leadership circles into the distant future.
Mordu Serry-Kamal is an associate professor of public
administration and political science at Winston-Salem State University,
Winston-Salem, NC. Email: [email protected]