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Management And Training

A Vacuum Of Leadership

September 19, 2010
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The cleaning industry has benefited enormously from countless innovations in chemicals, equipment and techniques over the past 20 years.

Green chemicals, microfiber cleaning cloths and improved production rates all bear witness to this period''s progress.

Inversely, while those progressive operational transformations were moving the industry forward, a vacuum of leadership apparently emerged.

As effectively as a dual-motor upright pulls dirt from carpet, this disparaging vacuum has effectively been removing common sense, ethics, courage, loyalty and most of the fun from the fabric of the cleaning industry.

Concurrently, the vacuum''s beater bar snagged a revenue thread and caused a devastating "run" in operational soundness, abridging the cleaning industry''s potential.

Everyone connected to the cleaning industry has been negatively affected by this vacuum.

Correspondingly, professionalism, profits and salaries have all suffered a steady decline.

Unlike a shop vacuum, just reversing the airflow won''t put back what was sucked out of our industry leadership.

It''s time to pull the plug on this vacuum of leadership and take back the future of our beloved cleaning industry.

Communications Cowards

Leaders used to have what were referred to as "open door" policies: They were accessible and available to their employees.

These bold leaders employed commonsense approaches, along with time-tested, ethical practices in their business dealings.

Their word and handshake was all anyone needed in the way of a contract.

However, with the inception of electronic communications such as voicemail and e-mail, an enormous impersonal cyber curtain was inadvertently created.

That curtain was hurriedly transformed into a shield, behind which a new variety of managers — the dastardly communications cowards — learned to hide.

When being disrespectful and deceitful or just ignoring questions and suggestions, this cyber curtain shelters them from real-life consequences of their behaviors.

Corporate communications is the name; evading accountability is their game.

Modern-day management has undergone a transformation similar to that of various delicious foods we used to enjoy — which regretfully have now had the flavor rendering "fat" removed.

Now, we have a "lite" version of managers that can''t even be trusted to honor notarized contracts, much less be counted on to tell the truth.

Although they may look like the real thing, they have fewer ethics, less common sense and reduced courage and honor.

What Is The Buzz About?

Are you "in the loop" and "empowered," or have you experienced a "disconnect?"

Perhaps you''re "moving forward," "circling back" or "reaching out."

Has "blue sky thinking" or "best practices" produced "organic growth" for you?

"At the end of the day," "it is what it is" and no "contingency plan" or "exit strategy" will save you from the overused buzzwords and phrases employed in today''s workplace.

Whether in person, on conference calls or in webinars, we''re constantly bombarded with buzzwords.

Extraordinarily, when used appropriately, buzzwords and phrases can be beneficial in conveying thoughts and ideas.

However, in the majority of instances, buzzwords are tactically deployed by the generals of disingenuous dialect and become shields to deflect forthright inquiry and metaphors for misinformation.

Bosses Versus Leaders

Bosses are never leaders; leaders are never bosses.

It sounds confusing, but it''s really not.

Lacking the ability to inspire invention, bosses employ the evil twins of fear and greed to coerce compliance from employees.

Those tactics only serve to incite negative emotions and are devastating to production.

Like most of my learned colleagues in cleaning management, I''ve obtained many an honorary Ph.D. from the "University of Hard Knocks" in the field of business.

During my studies, I learned — albeit the hard way — that not all executives, directors and managers are leaders.

It would be a grievous faux pas to assume that just because someone obtained a position of authority within an organization they possess leadership ability or integrity.

Unfortunately, many of the people in today''s workforce have not had the opportunity to be inspired by an authentic leader.

Common today are the self-serving bosses that push employees to work harder, stay longer and do more for less — all so that bonuses can be paid exclusively to upper management and principals.

A bossy mentality usually encourages employees to work just enough to not be fired.

In such a world, where the meanings of words and actions are constantly being redefined in order to promote someone''s self-centered agenda, it''s important for us to understand what a true leader is and isn''t.

True Leadership

Leaders are inspirational visionaries that exemplify the pursuit of excellence.

Living in their integrity, leaders consistently exhibit selfless courage, unquestionable loyalty and the utmost respect for others.

In contrast to rebelling against being pushed by bosses, employees gladly follow leaders and happily achieve the highest levels of productivity.

Leadership is all about who you are, not about the size of your desk, your style or knowing the latest buzzwords.

Leaders are listeners who don''t talk just to hear the sound of their own voice.

Leaders are generous and never operate on the premise of lack; they know there''s enough for everyone.

Genuine leaders are courageous, never deciding an issue based on the popular point of view; rather, they take the fair, honest and equally equitable position.

With Whom Are You Working?

If your company uses e-mail and smart phones, are all levels of management expected to respond to calls and e-mails — regardless of the time of day or night — with an equal sense of urgency?

Does any level of management in your company appear to have a sense of entitlement?

If you''ve answered "yes" to those questions, your company is most likely experiencing a vacuum of leadership.

Although the solution is not always simple or obvious, the price of staying in a vacuum is always costly, as it will suck out your energy and creativity.

Do whatever you have to in order to advance a positive change towards authentic leadership.

If you''re the boss, get help and make the necessary changes to save yourself and your company.

If the problem is someone else, try to inform them of the importance and rewards of leadership.

When bosses can''t be convinced to become leaders, moving on might be the only viable option remaining.

It Is Up To You

Regardless of all the consequences, this vacuum of leadership was created one ethically deficient decision at a time over many years.

With that in mind, it''s understandable that we won''t resolve this challenge overnight.

However, as responsible managers, we can begin to restore leadership to our industry with every fair, competent and principled choice we make.

As for the future of the cleaning industry, it''s up to you.

James Madison is the founder of Clean Advice LLC, a company that offers janitorial solutions support to building owners and managers, facility management companies and service providers. Utilizing innovative technologies and decades of industry expertise, Clean Advice delivers reliable, accurate and sustainable cleaning solutions while supplying actionable documentation based on objective expert observations and quantitative analysis. For more information, contact Clean Advice at

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