By Mike Wesner If your company smells, the rotting is probably coming from the corner office where sits a emperor that is slowly wearing less. May 17, 2004 -- I'm going to break from my normal bantering today and give a different outlook on the health of the printing and graphic arts industry. I'm not going to talk about sales techniques, ways to reinvent a company by adding better workflows, or even my favorite-how to use digital printing to help your customer's business grow. I'm not going to talk about any of that because I don't think any of it's important if you don't have leadership in your company. Leadership is the key to success in the printing industry. No one else is saying this. All I hear is that you need to do this with digital, or you must become a communications company, or whatever. I think these things are important and although I'm having fun doing the things that are part of this, most of my fun is determined by who my leaders are, the quality of the talent around me, and my feeling that I know our plan is to develop a successful business unit. From my experiences inside and outside our industry I know that it's all about the person leading the organization. A "fish rots from the head down," If your company smells, the rotting is probably coming from the corner office where sits a emperor that is slowly wearing less. To borrow from Dr. John Maxwell's well-known book, "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership," there is a Law of the Lid in any organization. If the leader's ability in that organization is rated on a scale of one to ten, then the organizations effectiveness will always score slightly lower than the leader's score. For example, if the leader is a seven in ability, his organization can only expect to achieve the organizational effectiveness of a six, when graded on a scale of one to ten. Simply put, the leader "places a lid on any organization," one that can frustrate good people who get tired of bumping their heads on this lid. These performers usually find relief by leaving the organization. So where is the leadership in the printing industry? Please help me find it. If I were to search, I would go and find the companies that are having success or are turning things around and are at least achieving momentum. There, you will probably find good leadership. Bookkeepers and Craftsmen Most presidents of printing companies are developed as craftsmen and are not developed as leaders and don't come to the position with the requisite skills of leading an organization. An industry training consultant and I were recently talking about this apparent lack of leadership ability in this industry. His take is that most presidents of printing companies are developed as craftsmen and are not developed as leaders and don't come to the position with the requisite skills of leading an organization. A lot of damage can be done by company presidents who lack skills in communicating with and developing others. I agreed that I had seen this, but also offered that it seems as if a lot of presidents in our industry were former bookkeepers. They grew from accounting, then became the controller, then the CFO. When they then become president they are still doing these jobs and are fixated to their computer screen as they discover one more new trick in MS Excel and ignore the company outside of the office that needs to be told where they are going and how they are going to get there. Does this sound familiar to you? I've seen it several times. Poor Print Leaders The person at the top is the single most determining factor in whether a company will be successful or not. Aside from my work in the printing industry, I teach leadership seminars for U.S. Naval officers, and I worked for many good leaders as an active duty line officer in the Navy. Since then, I've worked for some very strong ones in this industry as well. But for the most part, like most people, I've worked for mostly ineffective leaders. And I've come to realize that the person at the top is the single most determining factor in whether a company will be successful or not. I know it's really easy to be the critic here, but here are some mistakes I think many print leaders make. I'll come back tomorrow and explore what I think are some characteristics of successful leaders in our industry. Ineffective leaders: Tend to hire beneath them. They focus more on hiring people they can afford and are not as interested in surrounding themselves with great people. They don't communicate the plan to the company and the company culture is one of secrecy. Employees are treated as though they would not understand the plan if told them and "we just don't want to confuse them." Stay in the office a lot (or go play golf a lot). Do not value their employees. Put more emphasis on purchasing equipment than hiring good people. After all, the latest new printer will solve our production problems. So what makes a good leader in the printing industry? Check back tomorrow for the Seven Traits of a Print Industry Leader.