Strengthening the Leadership Chain

When it comes to attracting and maintaining repeat customers, a convenience store is only as strong as its weakest link.

By Jim Callahan.

In Thomas Reid’s Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man he wrote that, “in every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest.” Pretty heavy thinking for 1786.

When running a convenience store business we all need to think about how the weakest link can affect another critical chain—the chain of command. There is nothing that exposes a business’s weakest link quicker than ignoring the leadership structure.

The chain of command started in the military, but plays a key role in the success of any business. You simply cannot bypass the leadership structure and expect that you will have a successful operation. While the chain of command does not guarantee success, it does assure order and avoids the disastrous chaos that is sure to follow in its absence.

When you are in a hurry to test new ideas or simply have a personal concern and your boss is not around at the moment, you should resist the urge to go over his head to the next person in command. While you may have good intentions, it could have a disastrous effect. Resist that urge and wait for your own boss to return.

For starters, while your boss may not show outward appreciation for you waiting for his input—which is what employees are expected to do in the first place—he will appreciate it. Conversely, if you bypass the chain of command, you can expect that the boss will be upset. While you may not fully understand the reasoning behind the chain of command, you can bet your boss does, and he will not be happy about having his leadership abilities compromised and his authority removed from the decision-making process.

Two-Way Street
The chain of command flows both ways. Leaders need to clearly communicate with their employees on a regular basis to ensure they are happy and know that their opinions matter.

There is also nothing more destructive to a supervisor than to have his authority undermined by his own superiors. All communication to employees should go through their direct supervisors.

Years ago, I enjoyed a great eight-year stint as president of an upstate N.Y. convenience store and petroleum company.

On my first day I was informed that I would need to replace the credit and collections manager. The accounts receivables were out of control and bad debts were way too high. When I sat down with this manager he explained that he had tried every trick in the book to collect outstanding debt, but each time the customers, many of them old friends, would go over his head to the owner asking for more time.

He posed the following question to me, “How can I be an effective collection manager when a good share of the delinquents go over my head to the owner?” I checked out the validity of that supposition and quickly knew that if I didn’t get it straightened out during my honeymoon period, this problem would plague me for my entire tenure.

The owner was a bit hesitant, but overall supportive. Over the next year, the incumbent credit manager went from zero to hero.  I should add that a few years later we acquired two small fuel oil dealers and I was able to promote the man in question. He successfully ran that division until his retirement.

The lesson here is that employees need the full support of management in order to achieve the measure of success that we expect from them. We owe them that much so that they can reach their full potential and grow to become the leaders of tomorrow. Every chain has a weak link. Don’t let it be you.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.

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