Mario Guzman, director of support services for the City of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Chichi Nyagah-Nash, director for the City of Baltimore’s Department of General Services, kicked off the GFX Experience, held live online Oct. 26-30, with an incredible virtual keynote presentation on the topic of fleet leadership.
Setting a Vision
Nyagah-Nash began the session by defining a leader as an individual who has the ability to get multiple people to act toward a common goal. She had the audience fill in a poll with one word they think best described leadership; answers ranged from integrity to guidance to honesty. For her, it’s vision.
“Setting a vision is key. When you’re a leader, you have to be able to paint that picture for everyone to get a sense of what you’re doing. We’re all rowing in a direction, but what is that direction?”
She mentioned simply having a vision in your head won’t do much good if you aren’t sharing it with your organization. Having a collective vision helps others see and embrace it. As a leader, you must embody that vision – walk the talk.
You must also realize you don’t have all the answers. Acknowledge this and build yourself a support system of those who know things you don’t. Endeavor to empower them by providing them with the tools they need to do what they need to do. Remove obstacles that might be in their way, and advocate for them on their behalf.
Innate or Learned?
Guzman produced the dictionary definition of leadership, which states it is “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task.”
He reminded the audience that while leadership is on you, it’s not about you. “We are custodians of taxpayer dollars and have to provide a product to our citizenry.”
But is leadership something innate, or learned? He says he believes it’s a combination of both.
“I think some individuals have certain characteristics that enable them to be a leader. You might be an extrovert, talkative, or charismatic, and those are certain soft skills that will help you. However, if you don’t nourish that with education, I’m not sure you will be as successful. Conversely, you may be someone who’s an introvert. However, learning key concepts of leadership, listening to people, and strategizing can help you out.”
The Path to Leadership
Recognize your organization’s goals
What does your organization want to accomplish? Do you just want to do your job and go home, or make this a career?
“You might have heard the old tale where someone asks a group of people laying bricks ‘what are you doing?’ One replies he’s laying bricks. Someone else says he’s building a wall. Finally, the last one says they’re building a mansion. What is your ultimate goal and what is your role in that mission?” Guzman said.
Understand your role in the mission
How do you play a part? What is your contribution to the organization’s goals? Do you embody the values of your organization?
“The vehicles we are working on provide a service to our residents. Whether that’s a cop car that might be preventing a crime or a fire rescue vehicle that might be saving someone’s life.”
Learn the terrain and choose your battles
There’s a time and place for you to step in. There are times when you’ll want to take the initiative and see if you can help accomplish a task, and others when you’ll have to sit back and allow a situation to develop.
“Many times, you want to take action because you’re the leader, and when you jump in to fix something it makes a situation worse. For the first part of my career, I wanted to be that gung-ho guy who fought for everything. This tends to get you labeled as a complainer. I like to work things out from within. However, if something is unethical, or it’s something that’s going to affect the team in a negative way, those are battles I think are definitely worth fighting. If you’re known not to battle, the time you do choose to speak up, more people will listen to you.”
Education: mentors and industry peers
Be it formal or informal, pursuing new knowledge is key. Industry peers and conferences can teach you so much. You learn when you teach, so mentoring and being mentored are other paths to education.
Become comfortable outside of your comfort zone
Humans like being comfortable. If you know where you’re at and everything’s working fine, why mess up a good thing? If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. But how else are you going to grow?
“There are certain lessons you have to go through in order to fully accomplish and embody what happened and learn from that experience. No book, video, or person telling you about it can teach you that lesson. So, learn how to be comfortable out of your comfort zone.”
Seek out opportunities
Typically, doors don’t just open for you; you have to go out and seek opportunities for your betterment.
“I started out as a technician, and was able to fortunately find opportunities that led me to the position I’m in now. But there were failures along that path, and it was important for me to experience those failures to become the person I am today,” Guzman said.
Celebrate successes with data
In a data-filled industry like fleet, it’s important to quantify what your organization is accomplishing. Capturing data is half the battle. The other half is interpreting that data into layman’s terms.
Guzman has an efficient and effective 48-hour turnaround time with the city’s vehicles.
“As fleet professionals, we know that’s great, but what does that mean to administrators? It means more vehicles out on the road, less downtime, and more resources to better serve the public. It’s important to tell your own story and celebrate your successes. Because if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”
Bettering Yourself to Better Others
On the path to becoming a true leader, Nyagah-Nash says it’s vital to do a deep dive and learn who you are. This gives you insight into how others are perceiving you. You must be aware of the impact you’re having on those around you. Taking a personality profile or assessment test like the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator or the Winslow Profile can help you better understand your leadership style.
Nyagah-Nash took some time to discuss the DiSC (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness) personality test as an example. The outcome of these kinds of tests can help you discover better ways to interact with your staff to help avoid clashes of personality.
When you are comfortable in your understanding of yourself, the next step is to invest in your own professional development. It’s not the responsibility of your organization to take the first step to propose professional development or pay for it.
“Limiting yourself by waiting for someone else to take the initiative for your own personal growth is not something I would ever recommend. Take that first step. Those skills you develop along the way are yours; if you move on within your organization or outside of it, you’re going to take that newfound knowledge you have, and it’s yours forever. Be the one to determine what it is you want to invest in.”
She discussed a conversation she once had with her mentor in which he encouraged her to not just think about fleet, but the city as a whole.
“He told me there is nothing wrong with becoming a more well-rounded individual who has a broader grasp of city government in general. And that’s exactly what I did. I left fleet and went to the Department of Housing and Community Development, and I learned about what it means to be a public facing entity; what it means to have to be more accountable to the community than in an organization like fleet that is very internal facing to the agencies that use our vehicles.”
In order to grow within your organization, it’s not enough to just be a good person or a hard worker; you must advocate for yourself. Make it known you have a desire to grow, and let people know you are seeking opportunities to expand on what it is that you do. Learn what your supervisor does, and try to figure out the skills you’ll need for the position you eventually want to have.
Don’t underestimate the value of growing outside of your organization as well. This could mean putting yourself out there by offering to serve on interagency committees, which helps you understand what other entities are doing.
“It’s good to have a reputation like that, that you are someone who sees the bigger picture and wants what’s best for the larger organization,” Nyagah-Nash said.
Facing COVID Challenges
It’s obvious the global pandemic has shaken up every industry in some way. Nyagah-Nash said it has caused her and her team to up their communication game.
“Keeping your people in the dark is never a good thing. You have to be open and honest about what’s happening. I’ve had to lean on a lot of colleagues in industry and share best practices.”
Guzman followed up by stating the importance of doing what you can to show your employees you want to be there for them during this turbulent time.
“There’s no doubt in my mind employees will remember the people that stood by them. I like to create an environment where we know we’re all in this together and are there for each other.”