Start with the boss

"Gifted bosses" and "exceptional employees" want the same thingsWhether you're running a common carrier or a private fleet, hauling freight or providing field support, distributing products or maintaining a municipal infrastructure, you share one common trait with every other trucking operation - you're in the service industry. And that means your company succeeds or fails on your employees' "willingness

"Gifted bosses" and "exceptional employees" want the same things

Whether you're running a common carrier or a private fleet, hauling freight or providing field support, distributing products or maintaining a municipal infrastructure, you share one common trait with every other trucking operation - you're in the service industry. And that means your company succeeds or fails on your employees' "willingness to help." For some fleets, finding people qualified to drive or repair a truck continues to be a major problem. But let's put aside the specific issues surrounding driver and mechanic shortages and talk about how some companies are able to attract and, more importantly, keep exceptional employees throughout their organizations - the kind of employees you have to have if you're going to make it in a service business like trucking.

In the new book The Gifted Boss: How to find, Create and Keep Great Employees (William Morrow, 1999), Dale Dauten has distilled the common characteristics of companies that do just that. Given his title, it's no surprise he believes that it starts at the top. What is a surprise, though, are his observations on what makes a great boss and why great bosses are magnets for great employees.

Dauten's basic premise is that both gifted bosses and exceptional employees want the same thing. They want freedom, he says, "freedom from management, mediocrity, and morons."

Too many managers spend their time solving problems for their employees, according to Dauten. But the gifted boss escapes "the agonies of management" by avoiding "the role of knowing all, controlling all." Instead, they concentrate on building an exceptional environment that will attract exceptional employees, the kind who don't need or want supervision.

"It takes humility to recognize that you can't motivate people," Dauten said in a telephone conversation last month. "But it's a lot easier for everyone if you find people who are motivated and give them an environment that doesn't interfere with their own passions."

Or, as he says in his book: "The ordinary boss buys employees' time and effort. The gifted boss buys help."

Finding people who can be passionate about their job is the hard part. Running a classified ad isn't going to work. Instead, Dauten says the gifted boss approaches it "more like a talent search." Hiring the right people isn't a passive process of sorting out applicants, but rather it requires "spotting," "courting," and "winning over" people with the talents you need.

Although it was a bit unfair since he isn't familiar with the trucking industry, I asked Dauten how he'd apply his "gifted boss" approach to the problem of driver turnover among truckload carriers. Avoiding specific suggestions, he pointed out that both the best bosses and employees tended to be experimenters. "I'd ask the drivers," he said. "I'd tell them that I want to experiment, to find creative ways to overcome the negative aspects of their jobs. They must know what it will take - they have a lot of time to think about what it is they don't like."

But don't ask just any driver. "Don't worry about the common complaints or what the average employee wants," Dauten says. "Find out what the best drivers want. You might be surprised to find that their problems aren't the same."

To quote another aphorism from Dauten's book: "The ordinary boss seeks team players. The gifted boss seeks allies." If you look carefully, you may find that you already have the allies you need to turn your fleet into a haven for the exceptional.

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