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Make way for the quiet leader who listens

The leaders that shaped the trucking industry of today were forged in the cauldron of deregulation in the late 1980s.

At a time of regulatory upheaval which saw once powerful companies get mired in outdated thinking and become paralyzed by indecision, these leaders saw great opportunity and were unrelenting in their pursuit of it.

They started as small operators but grew quickly, often at the expense of older and more established brands that could not keep up with this new dynamism.
They were able to grow because when people were uncertain about the way forward they knew what had to be done and inspired others to follow.

These were the people I met as I started writing about the industry in 1990. They were bold, they were charismatic and audacious, they were loud about the issues they cared about. They molded their companies in their own image.

And no one can argue with their success over the past quarter century and how they’ve grown trucking into transportation’s dominant mode.
But as these leaders start to retire and we consider who can fill their shoes, I hope we can also make room for a different type of leader; the type of leader whom by his or her nature doesn’t frequently make headlines.

The kind of leader whom Good to Great author Jim Collins describes as someone who demonstrates “a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation and never boastful.”
In plain language: the quiet leader. The kind of leader who rather than molding a company to his or her own image, builds a brand based on values employees and customers respect and then makes his or her own identity subservient to it.

The kind of leader who builds an organization that can carry on after his or her retirement.

While there is no shortage of such people in our industry I wonder if too often they don’t get passed over for executive positions because they are not the loudest voice in the room and that’s the image of leader we’ve become accustomed to.

Leadership comes in different forms and the style of leadership is not what we should get hung up on but rather its effectiveness.

Being soft spoken and considerate should not be considered disadvantages to being a leader. Such attributes should be considered an advantage.

Research conducted into effective leadership by Wharton School associate professor Adam Grant, PhD, indicates that listening is key to good leadership and that quiet introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than extroverts because they’re more likely to consider other people’s suggestions.

The new generation entering our industry is the most educated and technologically adept generation our country has seen.

They have ideas to share and they will flourish best when working within a system whose leaders cherish listening. They are ready for the quiet leader who listens.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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