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What Is Leadership?

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After spending a decade as a congressional staffer, I made a brief, but extremely impactful career change.  I was hired by Physician Sales & Service, Inc. (PSS), the first national physician supply company in the United States.

Company founder Patrick Kelley despised traditional management training programs, and out of frustration, as well as a deep understanding that the success of PSS was tied to his workforce, created PSS University. I was fortunate enough to be selected to attend PSS University, where I spent 17 weeks learning various areas of the company’s operations: working in warehouses, making deliveries, studying sales techniques, and learning about the products. Full days were spent in class studying the industry, punctuated by written tests, role playing, and video critiques- were followed by dinner lectures emphasizing important points.

The investment Kelley was making in his workforce was unheard of, and a true testament to his vision and leadership.  That leadership paid huge dividends as the company grew, and a little over a decade later McKesson purchased PSS for $2.1 Billion.  Despite staying with PSS, the investment Kelley made in me, helped me better understand leadership, and that I’m not a bean counter, but I’m really good at bringing in the beans.  This realization led me back to my campaign roots, and ultimately a career as lobbyist “salesman.”

Not all HVACR contractors have millions of extra dollars around to start their own University like Kelley. That is where ACCA comes in, as our lead lobbyist it is my job to protect and serve our members, work on issues that affect your cash register, and serve as the voice for HVACR businesses. In this role I build trust and cultivate leadership on Capitol Hill and across the Administration.  Despite the title on my business card, I try to never forget my real job is Director of First Impressions, and that none of the work I do would be possible without the financial support, leadership, and understanding that ACCA’s family of businesses are working together for each other and the nations HVACR contractor businesses so that we can all thrive, not just survive. Your ACCA membership is an investment in your business and the mission and vision of ACCA.

Unfortunately for me one of the most misunderstood words in Washington, D.C., is “leadership.” Often what someone labels “good” or “bad” leadership is based on whether you approve or disapprove of the decision being made. I’ve had the privilege of meeting presidents, generals, cabinet secretaries, and countless other elected and appointed officials, but my understanding of real leadership was formed early in my life by mentors and family who shaped my views.

My grandparents were incredible role models. Neither of them had more than a high school education, but they showed me the meaning of partnership and the value of hard work as they helped my widowed mother provide a loving home for me.  The leadership they provided has helped me navigate many thorny situations, and serves as a compass to guide my actions, and stand for something greater than myself.

Perhaps my attraction to politics has to do with my belief that a good leader is someone that has their gazed locked on the horizon and thinking strategically about how to get their team/organization there.  Good leaders encourage people to lend themselves to a common cause and demonstrate their commitment to shared goals through their words and actions.

ACCA has our gaze set on the horizon to address the issues impacting your cash register today, as well as safeguarding your business for the next generation. However, to accomplish those goals we must encourage more people to lend themselves to our common cause and join the ACCA family. The support from all HVACR contracting businesses is critical as we tackle the monumental issues like cultivating a 21st-century workforce, and addressing the workforce shortage.

I think often of the world I’m leaving for my twin boys.  As we cast our eyes toward a brighter future, I think it is incumbent upon us to set the standard. To step forward in a time of need- that is true meaning of leadership.

Workforce Issue:  America’s HVACR Contractors have a considerable shortage of skilled workers, and the problem is accelerating due to constraints within the training pipeline.  Skilled labor is vital to promulgate proper installation and maintenance of equipment.

Solution: We are working with the Administration and Congress to transform the training pipeline and make apprenticeship “earn as you learn” a viable option for all HVACR contractors.

Barton James

Posted In: Government

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