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Proactive Leadership: Nurturing Trust and Independence

February 27, 2024

Last year, KSM Transport Advisors (KSMTA) published a monthly article highlighting the key traits of highly profitable trucking companies. The main themes were based on decades of observations and discussions with over 200 carriers. This series hit the mark with carriers and discussed many often-overlooked business characteristics that could steer carriers toward important company discussions, positive change, and greater profitability.

Based on the very positive feedback and requests to provide more actionable steps to implement and embody these traits, this year’s monthly series will offer a detailed roadmap for carriers to use as a guide. We will also share in-depth profiles of the companies that were used as role models for the 12 Traits series. Instead of diluting the value of the 12 traits, we’re doubling down on them to provide inspiration to become a better employer and a more profitable enterprise.

A Deeper Dive Into Delegation and Empowerment

Delegation and empowerment are powerful strategies that can significantly benefit a business. They are key traits of highly profitable trucking companies and emphasize the importance of sharing responsibilities and encouraging employees to autonomously and collaboratively contribute to the decision-making process. Carriers who employ these strategies focus on the transition from doing to leading, the necessity of having a clear vision, engaging appropriately without micromanaging, learning from micro-failures for macro-success, and being a catalyst rather than the muscle in operations. These insights underscore the significance of effective leadership in enhancing business growth and profitability.

Based on these concepts, we have identified actionable steps leaders can take to enhance empowerment and delegation in their business.

Articulate a Clear and Inspiring Vision

Leaders should define and communicate a compelling vision for the future that aligns with the company’s goals and values. This vision should be shared consistently across the organization while helping team members understand their role in achieving it. A clear vision acts as a north star, guiding decision-making and empowering employees to take initiative within the framework of the company’s objectives. Establishing and communicating an inspiring vision is a deeply personal company exercise. It needs to recognize the past, the current, and the aspirational future, which is a culmination of the wins and losses leading up to the distillation of the vision. In trucking, it is very easy to fall prey to the commoditization narrative – that revenue and profits of any company will simply move in tandem with the overall market. You can’t move hearts and mountains with status quo and a higher truck count. How is your company going to differentiate itself?

For example, the following leaders have embraced and executed inspirational visions:

  • Fred Smith of FedEx has been known for having a visionary approach, emphasizing efficiency and innovation in package delivery which has been pivotal to FedEx’s growth and success.
  • B. Hunt’s emphasis on intermodal transport revolutionized how goods are transported, demonstrating the impact of a clear and forward-thinking vision.
  • Gerry Anderson of DTE Energy (Detroit Edison) used the financial services company United Services Automobile Association(USAA) as a role model to inspire a new high-performing culture and create a purpose-driven organization.

Clearly Define Roles and Responsibilities

Clearly articulating the roles and responsibilities of each team member ensures that everyone knows what is expected of them. This clarity helps in setting boundaries and allows employees to take full ownership of their tasks, fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability. To effectively define roles and responsibilities within a trucking company, consider creating detailed job descriptions for each and every position, from the driver seat to the c-suite, outlining specific tasks, expectations, and accepted best practices. Implement a structured onboarding process to introduce new hires to their roles and the company culture.

To mitigate the risk of role rigidity, which is becoming too prescriptive, introduce shared responsibilities, fostering a culture where teamwork and quality are paramount, and accountability is universal. To help prevent role rigidity from creeping in, incorporate some of these activities:

  • Cross-functional Training: Encourage employees to develop skills in multiple areas of the business. This not only prepares the organization for more adaptable role allocations but also enhances employee engagement and career development.
  • Project-based Assignments: Implement project-based work that allows employees to take on roles outside their usual job descriptions. This approach can help break down silos and encourage collaboration and innovation.
  • Flexible Job Descriptions: Create job descriptions that emphasize outcomes and objectives over specific tasks. This flexibility allows employees to approach their goals creatively and adapt their roles as needed.

Create an Environment of Trust

Creating an environment of trust within any business goes beyond simple interactions; it requires a systemic approach to leadership and organizational culture. Trust is the cornerstone of a high-performing team, established through vulnerability, reliability from the leadership level down, and transparency as outlined in The Transparency Transformation: Evolving Your Business From Opaque to Open. Leaders must openly share company goals, challenges, and successes, while also showing a willingness to admit their own mistakes and uncertainties. This level of honesty demonstrates to employees that it’s safe to take risks and share ideas. Moreover, consistently following through on commitments reinforces trust over time, making employees more inclined to take initiative and make autonomous decisions. Such an environment not only fosters innovation but also enhances operational efficiency, as team members feel valued and empowered to contribute their best. For trucking companies, specific steps to create this trust include:

  • Open Communication Channels: Implement regular town hall meetings where drivers and staff can voice concerns and offer suggestions directly to management. For example, a monthly meeting where drivers can discuss route efficiency, safety concerns, and work-life balance issues. Need some inspiration? Watch Prime Inc.’s weekly driver meetings live online.
  • Transparent Decision-Making: Share the rationale behind major decisions, especially those affecting drivers and their routes. This could involve explaining changes in scheduling or why certain lanes are chosen using real data to back up decisions.
  • Recognition Programs: Establish aspirational people development and recognition programs that reward things such as safe practices, efficiency, or exceptional customer service. Publicly acknowledging these achievements in company newsletters or on company bulletin boards shows appreciation and builds trust. Nussbaum Transportation provides a great example of people development and recognition programs with their CertifiedRED program which can be found here.
  • Leadership Vulnerability: Have leaders share stories of their own mistakes and what they learned from them, perhaps in a company-wide newsletter or at meetings. This could involve situations where a senior manager made a routing error and how it was corrected. Not only does this show vulnerability by top management, but it emphasizes the value of learning from mistakes.

Overall, delegation and empowerment are important traits to adopt in order to create a positive work environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and engaged. Delegation and empowerment are not just nice attributes of a culture; they are critical as the leadership cannot win by trying to do everything. Sometimes embracing attributes that may not be second nature ultimately drive business success and promote sustainable growth.

To learn more or discuss any of the ideas shared above, please contact a KSMTA advisor or complete this form.

Chris Henry Chief Operating Officer, KSM Transport Advisors & KSMTA Canada

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