Yopo Interview: Robert Frankel – Building Business Leadership Skills

December 23, 2005 - Get free updates of new posts here

This is an interview my brother wrote and I thought it was an enjoyable read:

I had the privilege of interviewing a truly amazing leader, Mr. Robert Frankel. Mr. Frankel is a very successful businessman; he is president of a multi-dealership auto group (http://www.frankelauto.com/), several exotically-located Hard Rock Cafes, and numerous other ventures. I became familiar with Mr. Frankel when he came to a class on persuasive communication to give a very engaging presentation on motivation. It was during Mr. Frankel’s presentation that I concluded that he was a leader who would be generous and forthcoming enough to join me in challenging the institution of leadership.

“I’m not going to be like my bosses.”

Though Mr. Frankel (“Bob” to his friends, colleagues, and employees) now enjoys a position of great authority within his organizations, this was not always the case. I wondered if Mr. Frankel was a leader even before his official position of leadership. Starting at a very young age, he worked in the auto business as a car salesman. Through constant surveillance of ineffective and unkind bosses he forged within his mind the qualities he hoped to avoid were he ever to attain a position of leadership. Before he was ever “the boss,” Mr. Frankel made a conscious effort never to make others feel inferior. He worked to always remain calm in situations of stress, maintain good eye contact with those he was communicating with and utilize the power of relationship building. (How to Make Your Employees Love Your Company.) Mr. Frankel feels that he was a leader even before he attained a position of leadership because he displayed the behaviors of the leader he wanted to see himself as; behaviors that he still demonstrates today.

“You meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way down.”

Does authority corrupt? It has been my belief that naturally effective leaders lose some of their ability to be so once placed in positions of authority; that if not held in check, the power that comes with authority damages the qualities that made a natural leader effective. Mr. Frankel steadfastly maintains that he doesn’t act any differently in his present position of authority than when he wasn’t “The Boss.” If I were to identify one central theme in Mr. Frankel’s leadership style it would be being, as he calls “proactively humble.” Being in a position of authority has increased Mr. Frankel’s level of conscientious self-evaluation. He will not hesitate to apologize if necessary, and it is evident that he prides himself on being approachable and viewed in a very humanistic way. To Robert Frankel, being an effective leader means never resting on your laurels; just because someone has attained a position of authority or achieved a certain level of success does not mean their work is nearly done.

“… it depends on the size of their whip.”

One interesting thing that I have learned from my Foundations of Leadership course is that of the MSQ’s Six Styles of Leadership, the authoritative style has the highest impact on an organization’s climate. It would thus seem to behoove a leader to be authoritative in the appropriate situation. Seemingly there is a fine line between being an authoritative leader and being an authoritarian, or can the two even be separated? According to Mr. Frankel a leader can be authoritative without being authoritarian. The difference between being authoritative and being authoritarian is having the ability to forgive, the ability to make exceptions and the ability to listen. When dealing with his employees Mr. Frankel does not yell, does not scream, and never uses profanity. He strongly impresses upon his managers that he does not want anyone within his organizations using intimidation to motivate behavior. He has found that there is no more powerful a motivating force than expressing disappointment in an employee’s performance, followed by encouraging them to do better. Robert Frankel leads with the belief that he is only as good as the people he leads, and that his success as a leader is directly dependent upon the success of all of those who follow.

“A good leader carries a large eraser.”

It has been impressed upon me that one of a leader’s most significant tasks is to create a vision towards which an organization shall strive. It’s one of the basics of business leadership skills. Following the creation of such a vision it is also the leader’s roll to instill the belief in said vision in all of those within the organization. It would seem been that influence flows primarily unidirectionally from the leader to the followers. I wondered if Robert Frankel felt the same way. He quickly pointed out to me the reality that leaders can be blinded by their own vision. Leaders can, do, and should admit their mistakes. In fact, leaders can be influenced by their followers, if they are humble enough to be so. According to Mr. Frankel an effective leader is one who listens to suggestions from those at all levels of an organization. That is not to say that Mr. Frankel will automatically subordinate his own ideas to the ideas of others, but that the more ideas he receives the more complete a decision he can make. For each idea he receives, he does provide full consideration, and he informed me with a sense of pride that some of the best ideas for his organizations have come from individuals working within their lower levels. The creativity within Mr. Frankel’s organizations is in large part directly related to the number of ideas being shared, which is principally related to his being approachable.

“Not often”

As a follow-up question as to whether a leader can be influenced by his or her followers, I was curious to know if an even more extreme delegation of power occurs- that of a leader’s situational reassignment of their leadership role. To my surprise Mr. Frankel’s response was “…not often.” I had wrongly assumed that any leader open and willing enough to be influenced by his or her followers would also be willing to delegate their authority in situations where they felt their ability to lead was inadequate or compromised.

“Leaders need leaders”

An organization’s vitality depends heavily on its leader’s ability to be effective. But leaders are only human. Leaders experience depression, highs and lows like everyone else. Surely there must be somewhere that leaders look to in times when they themselves are in need of leadership. It turns out there is! I assumed it to be the very followers whom the leader is sometimes influenced by. As Mr. Frankel explained to me, it is actually to a peer group of other leaders who all share a mutual respect for one another, that he looks to for leadership.

“Success is relative”

A parting thought Mr. Frankel confided in me is that he never views himself as being successful. Success is relative and no matter how well someone is doing, there is always someone else who is doing better. Robert Frankel’s leadership style emphasizes humility and a lack of ego. But above this, he made a point to stress that his view- that he is just doing OK- is simply because, that is the way he is.

A Personal Note: I feel the need to briefly mention a phone conversation I witnessed between Mr. Frankel and an employee during our interview. The employee had called to inform Mr. Frankel of their need for some time off from work. I was and still am in awe of the respect, understanding, care, and concern that he showed for this employee. It was to a degree I have never experienced personally, witnessed firsthand, or even heard of. I immediately reasoned that the manner in which Robert Frankel leads his organizations instills a sense of loyalty that can not be garnered by any other means. The observation of this phone conversation answered a question for me which I had intended to ask: As a leader, it is better to be feared or be loved?

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