Attendees who sat in on speaker Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s presentation during the 89th annual Southern Wholesalers Association convention on Hilton Head Island, S.C., were given a definition of what a three-legged chair looks like as it relates to successful businesses.

“The three-legged chair means you have world-class products, processes and people skills,” said Zimmerman, who two years earlier imparted his useful knowledge on members of the Embassy buying group during its owners meeting in Chicago.

During his three-plus-hour workshop, Zimmerman zeroed in on the people portion of the chair by going through what he calls “4C” leadership with the Cs standing for communication, cooperation, commitment and change.

When talking about communication, Zimmerman listed three levels of respect: rudeness, apathy and the preferred warmness.  Zimmerman said apathy could come from ignorance, “An individual forgets or just doesn’t know how important the other person is,” or from laziness, “An individual doesn’t want to be bothered and doesn’t care about meeting the customers’ needs.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the warmth category. Zimmerman referenced a 3M study that revealed it takes seven compliments to overcome one negative comment and on average people hear nine times as many negative comments as positive.

Zimmerman added the skill of listening is critical to have in the leadership tool bag. “The average person is only tuned in 25% of the time,” he said. “Listening is one of the three most desired characteristics. You cannot build a business on 25% listening efficiency.”

He also spoke about asking “brave questions” during interactions with people. “Go deeper than normal chit-chat and discover more information than informal conversation,” he said. “Take 60 seconds to ask a brave question and listen to the response.”

Zimmerman opined one can make more friends in two weeks by showing interest in others than they could in two years trying to get others interested in them.

Other highlights of his talk included a statistic that shows one out of 10 people actually ask for what he or she wants and needs. “Asking involves the possibility of rejection, but it’s less likely if the request is made in the right way,” Zimmerman noted.

In asking, Zimmerman suggested individuals be direct, specific, respectful, positive, polite and firm. With the firm part, never apologize, he said. “Avoid comments such as, ‘I’m really sorry, but…’ Apologies make your wants sound unreasonable.”

With change, Zimmerman said in order to bring out the best in others leaders must value the person and acknowledge contributions. “The No. 1 job complaint is someone can do 100 things right and never hear about it, but if they do one thing wrong, someone is right on their back,” he said.

SWA attendees also heard from former Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Director of Communications Strategy Ken Schmidt who talked about the motorcycle manufacturer’s rebirth from bankruptcy and how that plan of attack can translate into today’s business world.

Schmidt said a company’s reputation carries plenty of weight. “Your reputation is your most valuable asset,” he said. “What are people saying about you? What do you want them to say? And what are you doing to get them to say that? If you are building a business, you need to build your reputation and if you want to build your reputation you have to get people to talk about you.”

Schmidt noted Harley-Davidson’s post-bankruptcy purpose did a 360-degree about-face. “We sold motorcycles to the point of bankruptcy,” he said. “Our new objective was to make vocal advocates out of every human being we came in contact with. If your go-to-market strategy relies on competing on price, you are not competing.”

SWA honored outgoing directors Lee Williams (Williams Supply), Jack Bell (Masters Supply) and Christine Young (All-Rite Plumbing Parts), while David Popek (VAMAC) takes over the SWA presidency from Winsupply-Noland’s John Simmons.

Hallie Sommardahl and Joseph Kemp were named the first recipients of the SWA Dottie Ramsey Scholarship, named in honor of retired former SWA President Dottie Ramsey (Modern Supply), who was in attendance.

SWA’s 90th annual meeting returns to the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast, Fla., June 24-26, 2018.