Most of us know a leader when we see one. There are people who simply walk into a room and command respect while asserting a quiet authority. They can motivate others in a unified direction with just a few well-chosen words and actions. They provide direction, instruction, innovation, demonstration, guidance and support. They inspire growth in any organization. And guess what? They don’t always have a leadership title.
Being a great leader doesn’t magically happen when a certain title is added to an employee’s business card. In fact, according to author and motivational speaker Robin Sharma, an organization’s best leaders are often those without titles. He says everyone should be encouraged to “lead where you stand,” meaning to lead by example and be the best possible self-storage owner, manager, supervisor, etc., you can be. Strive for excellence in everything you do, so others will naturally look to you. The goal isn’t perfection but rather honesty, transparency and ingenuity. These traits are relatable and respected. They’re the leadership characteristics your team will pick up on the most.
There’s a big difference between “demanding” and “commanding.” Some people demand respect based on their position or rank. They believe they’ve “earned” it because of their title alone. In contrast, someone who commands your respect doesn’t boast about their title or position. They naturally garner esteem because they put in the work, inspire others and care about outcomes. There’s a real gap between expecting people to follow you out of fear or obligation vs. compelling followers through genuine admiration and influence.
Whatever your role in the self-storage industry, you can be leader, just based on the characteristics you embrace or avoid. Let’s look at those that can make you stronger or weaker, and how to leverage them in your industry career.
Qualities to Embrace
In general, an effective leader is someone others will follow, who inspires or motivates people to meet a goal, or helps themselves and others to do the right things for the right reasons. To become one, there are several qualities you should strive to personify. Here are 10 that can make a direct, tangible impact on your self-storage organization:
- Performance: Strive to perform well in all you do and create a track record of success. Practice leadership through your actions, not just words.
- Vision: Always have a vision and map out the journey step by step. Share that plan with your team, and work together to build a strategy.
- Integrity: Always do the right thing (which may not be the easy thing) for the right reason, regardless of the circumstances or who’s watching.
- Intellectual curiosity: Maintain an insatiable inquisitiveness about everything! Always seek to learn from others, no matter what their level is compared to yours.
- Communication: Possess impeccable oral and written skills. State clearly all expectations you have of your team and yourself. Be an active, attentive listener, so you really hear what’s being said rather than just prepare to respond.
- Humility: Stay open to criticism from all sources. Admit your mistakes, and pledge to correct or improve where needed. Never ask someone to do what you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself. Remember, if service is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.
- Commitment: There’s a difference between those who show up every day clear about their objectives and duties and those who just go through the motions. Invest your energy in a commitment to your role.
- Accountability: Make sure every member of your team—including and especially you—is accountable for their duties. Give pats on the back for jobs well done and guidance for those poorly done.
- Motivation: Get to know your team and what makes them tick. Identify their strengths and help them overcome their weaknesses. Then leverage their abilities and passions for efficiency, productivity and better outcomes.
- Selflessness: Don’t lose yourself in the process, but try to put your self-storage company and the goals of your team before your own desires and ambitions. Give freely of yourself and of your time in service to the growth of those you lead. Recognize that we rise by lifting others.
Qualities to Avoid
Of course, there are also characteristics at the opposite end of the spectrum that can derail your effectiveness as a self-storage leader. Here are seven signs that may indicate you need to improve your skills:
Neglecting others’ career growth. If you’re comfortable with people in your organization coming to work every day, doing the same mundane tasks for five, 10 or 15 years with no professional development, you aren’t a leader; you’re an average manager at best. What separates great companies from good ones is an ability to cultivate great leaders throughout the organization.
Lacking respect. If you don’t demonstrate respect for your teammates’ lives, knowledge, experience and ideas, how can you expect to receive in return? We’re all human, with the same struggles and necessities in life. Treat everyone with esteem and dignity, always.
Treating people like worker bees. If you expect your people to show up day after day without breaks and time off to relax and recharge, you have no clue that you’re damaging your most important asset! When inspired and motivated, the people who operate your business are valuable and irreplaceable. Remember, all batteries must be well-charged for optimal performance!
Failing to put people first. Making business decisions with only dollar signs in mind is a surefire way to alienate your team. This can result in resentment, a negative culture, and/or frequent and costly staff turnover. Decisions should always be made with a realistic look at how it will affect employees, including what they can handle and if the directive is the right thing for them. Take care of your people and they’ll do their best for you.
Being a poor communicator. If you find your employees seek advice or instruction from others within your organization, that’s a big sign your team doesn’t trust you. This could stem from an inability to listen and empathize or a failure to provide positive encouragement and instruction. Either way, this would indicate your communication skills are lacking and in need of improvement.
Demanding rather than influencing. If you find people only do what you say because you told them to—without passion or a desire from within—you’re a Demander, not a Commander. Influence means empowering others to achieve their goals and bringing out the best in people. It sometimes requires putting their needs ahead of your own and helping them develop and improve. Good leaders get everyone rowing in the same direction because each team member wants to reach the goals you set together.
Lacking integrity in decision-making. When questionable decisions result in your financial gain or personal benefit, employees know. And if they know, you've already lost the battle for their respect. Leading by example and demonstrating integrity can say a lot about you. Who you are in relation to others will ultimately determine your level of success as a leader.
Work to Achieve
Becoming a leader isn’t natural for everyone, but it can be achieved with determination and purpose. It should be the goal of any self-storage owner, supervisor and manager. Why? Because it’ll positively impact customers and the business.
Effective leadership has a trickle-down effect that sprinkles seeds at the lower levels of an organization and sprouts qualities that result in increased performance, higher profit and engagement, and reduced employee burnout and turnover. When its wielded effectively, it’ll help your organization grow in size and income as well as industry and market authority.
Stacie Maxwell is vice president of marketing and training for Universal Storage Group (USG), a self-storage consulting and management firm, where she oversees branding, design, marketing, public relations and more for the company’s 70-plus property portfolio. With more than 20 years of industry experience, she also works closely on USG’s facility-development and transition projects, and is responsible for driving the manager-training program and new-store startup teams. Stacie is a regular speaker at industry events and contributes to publications. To reach her, call 770.285.0421 or visit her profile on LinkedIn.