The qualities of leadership

LeadershipAs a dive store owner or manager, there are things you can manage and things you can’t. Things you can manage include time, money, effort, resources, projects, trips, classes and events. The one thing you cannot“manage,” however, is people.

“Now wait just a damn minute,” you”re saying, “Of course you can manage people. Why that’s the very definition of management.”

Wrong. You can’t “manage” people because people don’t want to be “managed.” Would you?

So, if you can’t “manage” people, what can you do? You can lead them. Good people have shown time and again they’ll follow a proven leader. Are you that kind of leader?

The business world is filled with books on leadership. If you haven’t already done so, you should take the time to read them.

What we want to do in this article is look at some leadership traits that are unique to dive retailing.

Leading by Example

“Do as I say, not as I do,” just isn’t part of a true leader’s vocabulary. Here are some characteristics of dive store owners and managers who lead by example:

  • Your personal dive gear reflects what you’d want both your staff and customers to own and use.
  • Your staff never has to explain to customers why it’s okay for you to make a solo deep air dive to 200 feet, but not for them.
  • You take your turn teaching classes at all levels and are a regular fixture at local dive sites — not someone who limits their diving to warm-water vacations.

As he did for most of the past 30 years, former “The” Dive Shop owner John Wall would spend every Saturday on the sales floor with the rest of his staff.

I remember one Saturday in particular. The store was busy; everyone had their hands full with customers. I’d engaged a customer in conversation, as none of the regular staff was available to help him. As soon as I saw that John was free, I steered the customer in John’s direction.

By this time, the rest of the sales staff was done waiting on clients and the only customer remaining was the one John was working with. What struck me was that every single salesperson turned their attention to John, eager to see what he was going to say and how he was going to say it.

Now that’s leadership.

Leaders Work Longer, Harder

A true leader works longer and harder than anyone else in the store. No job is beneath him.

When I ran Lahaina Divers, I let it be known that if the restroom toilets got stopped up, or one of the heads on the boat got clogged, I was the guy to call. (Okay, I’ve got two kids. I’ve changed over 4,000 messy diapers in my time. A backed-up toilet holds no terror for me.)

I did this for two reasons:

  • First, I knew the situation would be taken care of immediately. For a younger employee, procrastination might be understandable.
  • Second — and more importantly — I knew that the staff could never complain if I made them scrub the deck or put away stinky rental gear because, no matter how unpleasant the job, I did worse.

No employee wants to feel like someone else’s personal serf. When everyone is willing to share the unpleasant jobs, then everyone gets to feel like part of the team.

Leaders get their hands dirty.

Leaders are Recognized Experts

In our industry, it’s common for store owners to be the highest-rated instructor on the staff. This is as it should be. It demonstrates to staff members not only a commitment to educational excellence, but that you understand their responsibilities as instructors as well or better than they do.

It also helps avoid problems that may arise when employees feel they “outrank” you. You know: “Well, I’m a (Course Director/licensed captain/certified repair technician) and you’re not, so don’t tell me what to do.”

There’s a reason generals command armies and not majors. Are you your store’s ranking officer?

Speaking of the military, it’s interesting to note that “management” is a term seldom used in the training of officers and NCOs. “Leadership,” on the other hand, is a frequent topic in training and the ability to lead is an integral part of every officer and NCO’s fitness reports.

There’s clearly a lesson there.

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