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Business Management

Lead Us Not In To Indecisiveness

It doesn’t matter if you are a dealer, a product manufacturer, a service provider or a distributor – Who is in charge of making the really big “decisions” in our industry, our businesses and our dealerships?


Apple’s Steve Jobs is an example of leadership… as quirky as he was. He wasn’t always right or fair.

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]egardless of your point-of-view, the same question applies throughout our industry: Who is in charge of making the big decisions? It doesn’t matter if you are a dealer, a product manufacturer, a service provider or a distributor – Who is in charge of making the really big “decisions” in our industry, our businesses and our dealerships? Is it “management” or “leadership” that is guiding the motorcycle industry these days?

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The bold question breaks down into three parts regarding:

1) Product decisions
(manufacturing, design, price/quality, etc.)

2) Supply/logistics decisions
(distribution, freight, convenience, etc.)

3) Marketing and sales decisions
(branding, advertising, training, trust building, etc.)

From a historical perspective, our industry has always had its leaders – those well-respected few who set a high standard for the rest of us to strive for. Most motorcycle industry visionaries were self-made – not head-hunted, appointed or anointed.

There is no reason here to “name names” (this isn’t an awards banquet), but if you have been around long enough you will be able to recall at least 5 to 10 industry heroes whom you have looked up to, and in turn, emulated in your own business endeavors.


These heroes include those who built dealership dynasties, aggressive distributors, creative manufacturers, refreshing publications and others who grew their businesses while also growing the related portions of industry. Do we still have strong leaders who publicly place a stake in the ground, then go out and make it happen?

Or do we have “teams” who make milquetoast decisions based on theory and rarely realized in reality? Too many board members? Excessive executive management teams? Added advisory councils?  Multiple cooks making the soup? The cloaked indecisiveness and hesitation may be killing us.

I am all for feedback and communication up and down the corporate ladders, but who is really at the helm of the ships in our respective fleets? A brain trust like Star Trek’s Borg only collects knowledge – it doesn’t know how to interpret, then apply it effectively.


Captain Picard’s team – the human element – wins! Free enterprise and Mother Nature usually require an alpha dog to steer the pack in one direction, right or wrong. Without firm direction, chaos, death and extinction ensues.

My worst fear is that our industry has fewer knowledgeable leaders than it has ever had before. They are selling their businesses, aging out and taking their knowledge and decisiveness with them… only to be replaced by collectives at all levels. Certainly, there are more advisors, consultants and CEOs from outside the industry than ever before enlightening us all about how it is done elsewhere.


Of course, our industry needs the help of anyone willing to join the battle in making profits, growing businesses and increasing the number of excited riders. But the fact is “experts” from the outside don’t understand the nuances of a recreationally-based, relationship-driven industry. Likewise, our own industry veterans don’t objectively see the light of the rapidly approaching techno-horizon. Thus, teams of managers rather than industry-wise individuals are now making the BIG decisions for our industry.

Trouble is, these collective teams don’t seem able to make such decisions quickly or in response to the faster moving marketplace. Why? Because those executive and mid-level managers don’t visit the marketplace anymore. Many are out of touch with reality… which happens at retail. Managers are keeping their jobs by accumulating and assimilating data, interpreting it and funneling it back to the collective so more theoretical decisions can be made. Is this simply a self-fulfilling prophecy which will eventually be broken by a reality check when sales stop?


Many people are terrific at the “theory of business” but not so good at the “reality of applying business.” Remember the “theory” of a college education vs. the cold, hard smack in the face we all received after graduating into the real world? I have seen such “theory” in many start-up and mature businesses – manufacturing mostly – where a “team” leads the business. It sounds good at first, but all too often misses the mark because no single person is responsible for decision making. Thus, nobody can point a finger at an individual when failure occurs.

Team decisions make sense when you consider the large combination of experience sitting around the conference table, but something strange happens in such situations. It reminds me of a big group ride – the more people on the ride, the more likely there will be an issue to distract from the joy of that ride. Like a pack of charged-up teenagers, the collective IQ of the group decreases in direct proportion to the increasing size of the group. Exciting, but common sense disappears in the absence of a group leader.


The inequalities and dysfunction coefficients increase almost logarithmically as the size of the enabled “management team” expands. Power plays, alliances and even sabotage emerge to distract from the group’s larger goal. It’s SURVIVOR! Once the vision becomes more about the individual PEOPLE on the team and NOT THE COMPANY’S CUSTOMER things unravel quickly and profits drop… very quickly.

When the eyes move off the “customer ball” and move to the “money ball,” customers begin to defect and things begin unraveling up the channel from there. Customers have a sixth sense for a lack of leadership and direction… usually because no one is telling them about the brand’s or business’s “big picture” any longer.


The golden goose isn’t being nurtured any longer – it’s being milked for all it’s worth. An alpha leader won’t permit such dysfunction – they are leading. Dictatorship? Yes, but with a positive, motivating twist to share his vision with his team… and the world.

[pullquote]“Management is about persuading people to do things they do not want to do, while leadership is about inspiring people to do things they never thought they could.” -Steve Jobs[/pullquote]

Previous vision and leadership have been replaced with non-communication and excessive middle management. Apple’s Steve Jobs is an example of leadership… as quirky as he was. He wasn’t always right or fair.


But the vision and direction, subsequently the culture of the company, was 100% clear – Think Different! It was absolutely clear who was leading the company. I am sure Job’s quote here came later in his career after he truly learned the juxtaposition between management and leadership.

Management or leadership, who’s in charge of making these big decisions these days?

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