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Business Tips • Management • 62 minutes

Learning to Lead — Because People Don’t Follow Managers

August 10, 2021

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Episode Overview

“You can’t get irritated when people don’t meet your expectations if you’ve never communicated what your expectations are.”

— Lauren Schieffer

Kathy Nielsen and Lauren Schieffer have teamed up to help industry trade owners and managers transition from “success to significance.” Nielsen is a business development consultant who runs Operations Excellence

Schieffer is a keynote speaker, consultant and author of a series of “Colonels of Wisdom” leadership books. They team up on the “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast to discuss the importance of leadership training, holding people accountable and resolving conflict.

Here are Kathy Nielsen and Lauren Schieffer’s top tips for creating better leaders in the home-services industry:

All of the tactics and tips from Toolbox for the Trades Season 3 in one PDF, download now!

Great employees who get promoted need leadership training.

Unfortunately, when trade companies promote people because they’re great at their job, they don’t necessarily get training to be a manager, Nielsen says. 

“Something flips in their brain, they lose their mind and oftentimes they fail,” she says. “They may have been a great CSR or tech, but they haven’t been grown to be a leader. People promoted to middle or upper management need training to succeed.” 

Schieffer adds that the transition is hard because success measurements change. “It requires a mental shift from ‘me’ to ‘we,’” she says. “It can be a real quagmire for people who don’t make that shift.”

Leaders need to be able to teach, not just do.

Too often, great techs who get promoted to manager think it’s quicker to do something themselves rather than show somebody how to do a task, Nielsen says.

“Sometimes these new managers don’t understand why another tech can’t figure out how to do what they themselves are very good at,” she says. “You have to hold techs accountable, sure, but sometimes you have to let them fail to learn the ropes.” 

Schieffer adds that not letting people learn by failing robs them of the ability to grow and learn. 

A company needs great leaders more than it needs managers. 

A great leader can teach someone how to do something, Schieffer says. 

“I’ve met many managers who are in no way whatsoever leaders,” she says. “People don’t follow managers, they follow leaders. That’s because leaders have vision. They communicate that vision and communicate expectations in a way that doesn’t set people up to fail. Leaders also empower people to grow, set goals and align goals to a vision.”

Leaders do need to hold people accountable. 

Nielsen says that along with all the traits needed by leaders, they still need to hold employees accountable. 

“That has to be a part of the mental shift, too,” she says. 

Someone who gets promoted knows what a pain a certain task might be. You might hate to make others do it, but you have to. A leader does have to manage and look at things through a different lens, and understand the necessity of communicating that people have to do certain things. 

Schieffer adds: “You can’t get irritated when people don’t meet your expectations if you’ve never communicated what your expectations are.”

It’s imperative for owners to train middle managers to lead. 

If middle managers are leading the team in the field, then it’s the owners who should be leading the middle managers, Schieffer says. 

“It’s a leader’s responsibility to get to know their team well enough to tap into their personal identity,” she says. “They need to determine what's in it for them, what do they need? For some, it may be money. For others, it may be accolades, or verbal appreciation. It depends on each person.”

Leadership hinges on communication. 

Schieffer recommends that anytime there is a change in leadership or the org structure, the new leader should have one-on-one conversations with every employee. She says the leader should start the conversation with these topics:

  • This is what you can expect from me.

  • This is what I expect from you.

  • What is important to you?

  • What do you need from me as a leader to serve your needs?

“These questions may take some people off guard,” Schieffer says. “They may have never had this conversation before. So, give them time to think it through and come back with a response.”

Good leaders hold themselves accountable. 

We sometimes see leaders who don’t hold themselves accountable, Nielsen says. 

“If a department is failing in numbers, efficiencies, culture or whatever, it may be that the person who is in charge of accountability can’t even hold themselves accountable,” she says.

This is never the time to throw somebody else under the bus, she says. 

“That’s not good leadership,” she says. “Furthermore, it fractures trust that can never be built up again.” 

Instead, Nielsen says a good leader will discover the cause of a failure and brainstorm with the team about ways to change course.

Leadership calls for defining responsibilities. 

Both Nielsen and Schieffer stress that it’s the responsibility of a good leader to clearly communicate—in a nonthreatening way—what happens if the team falls short of expectations. 

“On a very basic level, a CSR’s job is to answer the phone and book calls—that’s their main job,” Nielsen says. “If they don’t book calls, a tech has no job. If a tech chooses to not go on a call, there’s no revenue. 

“Everybody has tasks or roles they play. The leader sets the expectations and holds everyone accountable. If people don’t book calls or go on calls, there’s a problem.”

Be firm when setting expectations. 

For any employee, there should be both rewards and consequences for being accountable and meeting expectations, Nielsen says. One very basic issue involves using timesheets or clocking in. 

“If you don’t clock in, I can’t pay you because I don’t know what you worked today,” she says. “You can’t let your best tech slide just because that’s his nature. He’s a grownup. And you have to set standards.”  

Be resolute when dealing with conflicts. 

When it’s time to have an unpleasant conversation with an employee, Schieffer says the very first thing to do is have your emotions under control.

“As a leader, you’ll be ineffectual if you don’t have a good handle on your emotions,” she says. “Second, address the behavior without attacking the person. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.”

Recommended research and reading

Colonels of Wisdom series by Lauren Schieffer A Leader’s Gift by Barry Banther

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Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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