A small manufacturing business I work with, operating in a domain now dominated  by a few huge retailers, and cheap imported products, is facing a dilemma.

Three key people are leaving at pretty much the same time, for different reasons, just with difficult co-incident timing. This is a small business, there is no “bench” of executives who have been mentored, trained, and nurtured so that they can step in at short notice, no such luxury in an SME to whom every dollar of cashflow is critical to survival . 

The purpose for this business to exist is to showcase the great products coming from Australia’s food basket, the Riverina, this is what makes them different, and gives all stakeholders, customers, suppliers, employees, and those who fund the business, a reason to keep on supporting it through the current challenges.

It seems that the opportunity presented by this sudden and unwelcome personnel churn is to start again, almost from scratch, to rebuild the processes, and renew the sense of shared purpose amongst the employees. That task however, is a bit like getting to the top of a sand-hill in a desert, and seeing just another sand-hill rather than the expected oasis. 

The key distinction between leaders and managers is that leaders find the grit to climb this extra sand-hill, ways to  bridge the gaps between peoples differing experience, expertise, and expectations, so that there is a shared purpose that is larger than an individual. Leaders are not leaders because they are always right, but because they listen, learn, and enable others to do the same. That is the opportunity facing my small client, to be a leader, and to remain one of the very few Australian owned food manufacturing businesses left.