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  • My Way: Leadership — It Begins at the Top
    By Sam Viviano

    The Retail Florist

    "The Fish Stinks at the Head"

    My grandfather, an Italian immigrant who later became a multimillionaire, used to say, "The fish stinks at the head." It simply means the success or failure of a company begins at the top.

    We can blame bad workers or economic times or use some other excuse when a company fails, but the fact remains that the responsibility belongs to the leader.

    The Soul of the Company

    Set the example! No, you don't have to work 90 hours a week and do every job in the shop. But you do have to set an example for your staff.

    I once read an article about a Japanese company being toured by a group of reporters who were writing articles about the company. The reporters were walking through the different departments with the management team and the chief executive officer (CEO). The CEO was a very unassuming person who simply stood in the background.

    One of the reporters, knowing who the CEO was, walked up to him and asked what he did — what his actual role was in the company. The CEO replied, "I am the soul of the company."

    I thought about that a lot. I came to the conclusion that his response is basically what leadership is all about. You set morals, values and practices of your company. These will determine your shop's future more than anything else will.

    The Power of Vision

    You provide the vision. When things aren't going right (for example, if you fail to meet your financial goals) changes must be made. This doesn't mean doing the same old thing in a different way with a different language; it means changing your vision.

    I remember holidays during my early days in the flower business when we used to work all night and still couldn't take all the orders and get them out.

    I had to change my vision, or the accepted way of doing things. Take "recipe" arrangements, for example. At that time, making recipe or "production" arrangements was frowned upon in the industry. The thinking was, "We are artists and our arrangements have to be custom because that is what makes us special."

    We made our arrangements individually as they were ordered. And we suffered for it. However, when we made the decision to offer recipe arrangements, we suddenly could handle every order and go home at a decent hour. And although this may sound unbelievable, our business actually went up.

    This is a rather simple explanation of a change in vision. Recipe or production arrangements are an accepted practice today, but they were revolutionary way back then.

    The point is that we must let the market, rather than our personal prejudices, determine our practices. Basically, that is what it means to change your vision.

    A Good Leader

    A good leader has humility. As leaders, we must acknowledge our weaknesses, identify what we don't know and learn from each other. Humility is essential to social progress, because learning begins with the recognition that none of us has all the answers.

    Arrogance, the opposite of humility, has been one of man's greatest stumbling blocks. Arrogance is equally destructive in a leader.

    Remember the thinking of the car companies back in the 1970s? They "knew" what American car buyers wanted — at least until the Japanese came along with different ideas.

    As the old saying goes, it isn't so much what we don't know that hurts us as it is what we think we know. Strive to make sure you know all you can about your employees and your shop. Only then can you have the vision to become a strong leader.



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