Motivation and leadership make the management team thrive over the long haul

Whether a fleet manager is looking to advance further up the career ladder or seeking to promote employees, or both, the twin keys to turn for management success are motivation and leadership.

In any case, successful managers must be both self-motivating and able to motivate others in the workplace. Just as importantly, they must be leaders themselves and have the ability to teach leadership skills to others.

Arguably, the most essential skill for managers who must motivate and lead is the ability to see the forest for the trees.

Consider the lesson in this oft-quoted story attributed to management guru Stephen R. Covey: A group of determined individuals are trying to hack a path through the jungle. They're highly trained and equipped with the finest machetes available.

But they make no progress. Until the leader among them climbs to the top of a tree - and finds out not just what must be done, but where their efforts should be directed.

Indeed, a cardinal sin of management is getting lost in the details. This is often manifested by the inability of an executive to delegate duties and responsibilities to others on the management team, let alone to employees seeking promotion to management.

While such a boss labors under the belief that "the only way to do things right is to do them yourself," he or she is not motivating subordinates to tackle new challenges nor demonstrating effective leadership.

Effective leaders, on the other hand, direct their staffs on where to focus, rather than on doing their work for them.

Bear in mind that aspiring to leadership is not the same as acquiring it. Leadership is conferred only with the consent of those willing to be led. In other words, thinking a mere title grants leadership is a woeful error, be it on the battlefield of war or business.

And remember, motivation is at the heart of leadership. Pure and simple, no one can lead anyone - to management or to hell and back, for that matter - who's not motivated to follow.

Keep in mind the 80/20 rule: 80% of a manager's efforts should be directed at hiring the right people; the other 20% should amount to giving them the tools needed to do the jobs they were hired to do.

Breaking out Akin to being mired in details, is the danger of getting stuck - or sticking others - inside "functional silos." Many a manager's career has been sharply pinched by spending too much time and effort within a single operational aspect of an organization.

Yes, committing to one functional silo or another will make someone a valuable expert - but put them at risk of being pigeonholed and thus locked in a narrow career path.

It's far better for managers to gain at least some experience in as many silos as possible. That ensures management prospects know the underlying value of- and the demands placed on - each aspect of the operation. They'll end up seeing the forest, not just a tree or two.

Cross-training is an effective way to break down the barriers of functional silos that can prevent motivation and leadership from thriving within a fleet management team.

Make "team" the watchword. No fleet succeeds solely on the success of one manager or even one department.

Rather, it's the interaction of upper management and maintenance, operational, and financial managers that gets the job done

Managers intent on reaching the top of the heap should expect to become well versed in a variety of critical aspects of fleet management. These include the ability to manage:

* Equipment acquisition and maintenance.

* A safe, productive, and satisfied work force.

* Customer requirements and satisfaction.

* Environmental, health, and safety standards.

* And, above all, a successful, cost-effective trucking operation.

Inside maintenance Within the maintenance department, managers as well as prospective managers should gain at least some exposure to all sub-functions.

Depending on the size of the fleet, these may include vehicle spec'ing, parts purchasing, shop operations, tires and retreading, fuel purchasing, warranty administration, safety programs, and employee training and development.

In and out of trucking, businesses that offer management training to promising candidates usually design a "course of study" that moves trainees through tours of duties in each functional area under management control.

But even if your firm has no such formal program in place, there's no reason a savvy manager can't offer its benefits on an informal basis.

This can be accomplished simply by moving people. For example, a person appointed assistant manager could be detailed to work for several months at a time as an "understudy" to other managers.

This approach to management training accomplishes three critical goals. First, it leads the prospect to see the big picture that fleet managers must always take in when making decisions.

To cite but one example, learning how tire costs are managed provides insight into how component selection, use, maintenance, and repair are inextricably linked in a truck fleet.

Secondly, running management candidates through various tours of duties will help point up their strengths and weaknesses. In general, it can reveal who may be limited in scope vs. those who are well-suited for a future in general management.

And, of course, exposure to various managers and their work styles can teach valuable lessons about how to lead and motivate others.

Although skilled mechanical and technical workers are essential to supporting a fleet operation, managers cannot afford to underestimate the value of so-called people skills.

A fleet manager, who himself rose through the ranks from the shop floor, advises those who work on trucks and aspire to management that they must work with people as well as they do with machines.

Working well with people is clearly a prerequisite to leading and motivating others as a manager.

Back in 1903, playwright George Bernard Shaw couldn't have known the inner workings of a modern truck fleet. Or he wouldn't have written: "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."

Certainly, fleet managers must be teachers as well as students if they hope to advance - or even just retain the interest of - subordinates in their operation.

Traditionally, truck-fleet managers came out of the shop. Often starting as mechanics, they moved on to lead status, then became shop supervisors, and eventually rose to the level of director or vice president of maintenance or equipment.

Today, a fleet manager may not have a technical background but instead come equipped with a degree in business or financial management.

It's especially critical for these managers to familiarize themselves with all aspects of fleet operations to ensure they can successfully implement the 80/20 rule.

They may not know how to repair this or that piece of iron, but they had better know how to hire the right person to manage each function under their responsibility.

It takes a team The smart manager, then, builds and manages a team, not a collection of subordinates. Well-rounded interpersonal and communication skills are perhaps the most essential ingredients to both team-building and managing the team to get results.

Successful managers are directive and diplomatic. They should master the interpersonal skills of active listening, conflict resolution, and providing constructive feedback.

To get their specific directions and goals fully across, managers must also be effective oral and written communicators, capable of delivering information up and down the chain of command in a timely and appropriate manner.

Managers who want to get ahead or wish to mentor others should not overlook the opportunities for professional growth afforded by various industry groups.

Outside resources Among the most comprehensive of these offerings now available is the Private Fleet Maintenance Institute's (PFMI) private fleet manager certification program. PFMI is an affiliate of the National Private Truck Council.

Enrollees must complete a prescribed course load, covering such topics as equipment management, safety, productivity, and leadership, to attain certification from the institute. (For more information, contact PFMI at 703-683-1300.)

A less formal avenue to career advancement could involve participation in leading user groups, including The Maintenance Council (TMC) of the American Trucking Assns. and the independent Equipment Maintenance Council (EMC).

TMC includes representatives of all types of trucking fleets. Members are encouraged - and given plenty of opportunity - to get involved in the council's efforts to improve fleet-management practices.

The work completed by TMC, which includes its respected canon of recommended maintenance practices, is accomplished through the work of 10 study groups. Each group is dedicated to a specific area of concern, such as maintenance management, tires and wheels, engines, and total vehicle electronics.

Each study group is chaired by a volunteer drawn from the ranks of TMC's fleet members, who may also serve as officers and directors of the council.

Even the most junior fleet manager can benefit by attending TMC meetings and getting involved with study group activities. (For more information, contact TMC at 703-838-1763.)

EMC, which draws many of its members from construction, utility, and municipal fleets, focuses its efforts on the concerns of vocational fleet managers.

In addition to the committee work conducted by its fleet members, EMC also sponsors a certified equipment maintenance manager (CEMM) program. (For more information, contact EMC executive director Stan Orr at 918-968-1077.)

Whatever approaches you follow or lead others on to reach management success, remember that managers aren't born. They're made.