Leadership Clarity

I want you to stop and consider your level of “Leadership Clarity” in your shop. What exactly do I mean by this? Let’s review these points and discuss:

  • Leading by Example
  • Inspiring a Shared Vision
  • Improving Processes
  • Enabling People
  • Elevating People
  • Empathy and Humor

Leading By Example

This seems easy. Much harder in real life.

The larger your shop grows, the more people that you will naturally employ. This means that your shop should develop rules and procedures that your team should follow when working for you.

Owners and managers are notorious for breaking the rules that they work so hard to put into place. Do any of these ring a bell?

No food or drink on the production floor

Yet, it’s common to see you walking around the building sipping on your latte, or munching on some chips. That rule is in place to help protect the inventory that is being decorated and keep the place clean. It makes sense, but when you are seen as actively breaking that rule, it just leads to grumbling and morale problems with the troops.

Mandatory Use of Established Price Lists

I hear about this all the time when I’m working with shops. There are a few pricing matrices built for quoting, but yet the owner ignores them to give a customer a “deal” to get the order. But then the employee could get into trouble for doing something similar. What’s really the problem here is that you are training the customer to go around the sales staff and only talk to the owner to get that sweetheart deal.

Is it any wonder owners sometimes feel trapped in their business and can’t delegate responsibilities? They are their own worst nightmare.

Procrastination and Using a Calendar

We all want things handled in a timely manner. In fact, most shops spend a lot of effort tracking when employees do things. Clocking in and out. Time off or sick leave. Due dates and deadlines for projects or tasks.

But yet, the same leaders that hold the staff accountable for these ideals, will routinely blow past deadlines for things matter to the staff.

Performance reviews. Distributing paychecks. Training. Approvals for vacation time.

“Sorry I was just too busy to do that” is a phrase that is expressed to the staff when they follow up on these things. What if your staff member said that when you asked about an order that had to ship or some other important task?

Your head would explode.

Well…that’s how they feel. Only they can’t voice it.

Inspiring a Shared Vision

I’ve written about this before. (Check out my Mt. Everest Story article)

A shared vision is about 100% clarity in the direction that everyone is striving to achieve. How well are you articulating the direction and plans for your business with the people that work for you?

I’ve talked to many people in this industry over the years, and in all levels of employment. I can safely say that the high functioning shops in the decorated apparel industry all have of a sense of purpose regarding rowing the boat in the same direction.

This doesn’t happen by accident. It’s work.

What are you doing to constantly deliver this message to your staff? Don’t ignore clarity.

Improving Processes

Remember, you can only go as fast as the slowest part of your process.

Quick. What’s that in your shop?

Have you mapped out a plan to improve that? Are you waiting until you “have the time” to do something about the problem?

That’s probably what you said six months ago.

Think about how much change you could see if you dedicated a few minutes a day to working on making your processes run better. Your Leadership Clarity here that you should be operating at 30,000 feet above the business, and not in the trenches getting orders out the door.

For some, that’s almost impossible as they are hamstrung by not having enough people to cover the workload. The only way that this can happen then would be to schedule this activity like an important appointment. You wouldn’t blow off a crucial meeting with a customer, or a doctor if you had so much pain you couldn’t walk?

Process Improvement activities are just as important. Schedule them and give them the priority they deserve.

Enabling People

As someone that has led high-functioning teams in multiple departments in this industry, I can attest that the easiest way to get more handled is to train and enable your staff to handle the task.

It seems like common sense.

But if that’s the case, why do so many shops fail to give their team the training and support they need to make decisions?

For example, think about the number of hoops needed to order supplies for the shop. Can your production manager create a PO or buy more ink when the supply gets low? Could a customer service rep expedite the freight on an order to keep a client happy?

When these people have to ask permission to do their jobs it simple slows everything down. Often this might be a trust issue.

Try this. Set some simple target limits. Authorize and train your staff to make decisions with some rules and processes in place for them to follow. A $500 spending limit for example. When they prove that they can handle the company’s money like it is their own money, increase it.

Training and enabling your team can accelerate everything.

Elevating People

One of my favorite things to do when I was running shops was finding folks that just needed a chance and giving them the opportunity to excel. It made me happy to find someone that started out as a temp worker or low-level staff member and by giving them stretch opportunities, they wound up becoming a lead or even running the department.

Some people didn’t want to take charge, but they did want to contribute more.

Do you have a roadmap or a career track vision for your staff? Are you helping them understand that by working in your business that they can strive for more and unlock their potential?

Consider building “levels” for each role in your departments. What would it take to level up? This can be expressed in time doing the work. Knowledge learned. Skills developed.

Who is training them? How are you keeping track?

One of the most common problems shops face is the availability of trained crew members with key skill sets. Build your system to grow your own.

Empathy and Humor

To me, Leadership Clarity needs a dose of humanity.

I’ve witnessed both sides of the coin here. Leaders that make it their job to understand the people that work for them consistently have a better rapport with their team and can motivate them easier.

Ones that only see things in black and white, right or wrong, and with a closed mind seem to struggle. I’m constantly amazed when these folks complain that they can’t keep good people. I’ve always thought that your best employees are constantly being approached by other companies or opportunities. It’s going to happen.

So ask yourself this. Why would anyone want to work in your shop? What are you giving your team to remember why they want to work there?

I’m not saying you should open yourself to be taken advantage of, but are you treating your team well? Will they remember positive things about working for your shop when opportunity knocks?

Leading with empathy and humor goes a long way when that knocking sound happens.

Knock. Knock. Knock.


“Leadership is about vision and responsibility, not power.” – Seth Berkley

“The task of a leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” – Henry Kissinger

“Leadership and learning are indispensable from each other.” – John F. Kennedy