Leadership style has evolved over the years, but its most basic principles remain unchanged. In my 50+ years in business-leadership roles, I have been privy to plenty of transformations in society and business practices that impact leaders from all walks of life. I have learned from many different mentors and, in turn, I have passed along some enduring leadership tenets to the next generation of entrepreneurs.
One of the most positive shifts I’ve noticed is in the widespread use of transparent communication. Back in my first managerial position, my retail role models were very direct—in a different way. They gave orders, with little or no conversation, and expected the work to be done. Status as the boss was a big deal. So when the “king” said something his people obeyed, seldom challenging any fresh ideas. In those days business management and leadership took an almost a militaristic approach to everyday work. That was just the way it was done.
Over time, as the workforce has become more educated, the workplace has become a more collaborate space. In an increasingly competitive marketplace, employee engagement often makes the difference between winning and losing, so leaders have been forced by circumstances to communicate more clearly. It follows that listening, too, has become more and more important. Workers’ suggestions are no longer an interruption; they are essential to productive operations.
The workplace has also made significant adjustments as a result of the legal and societal movement to equal-employment rights for women and minorities. When I was growing up, doctors and lawyers were men. Period. Now more than half of medical- and law-school graduates are women—and those numbers continue to grow. As it should be in a modern society, the allocation of talent in business is no longer based on historic practices but rather on individual merit.
We’ve also seen the rise of the team. In most every business, the collective talent of the team is the richest asset for long-term growth and success. Real talent is so essential that employees are now very often in the driver’s seat. Because the loss of top talent could easily paralyze a business remaining laser-focused on retention is paramount. More than ever, senior executives must stay on top of employees’ needs, wants and concerns.
But the door swings both ways. Just as businesses want to retain top-quality talent, they must also continue to secure top-quality leadership—now a prime factor in influencing workers to take a job, stick with it and thrive in the long run. Those who study employee turnover know that the key factor to preventing it is always creating a healthy relationship between boss and subordinate. Bad bosses lead to high personnel turnover.
Although much has changed in workplace operations, the principles of leadership remain the same. Open communication encourages teamwork. Talent and collaboration produces results. People follow and emulate exemplary role models. Leaders who reflect on these fundamentals will see huge payoffs in the future.
Joe Scarlett is the retired CEO of Tractor Supply Company. For more on leadership, visit joescarlett.com.