5 Questions with John A. Zikias, Executive Advisor, Holmes Oil Company Inc.

By John Zikias   read

Is it more important to focus on strategic leadership or executing a plan? John Zikias of Holmes Oil Company Inc. breaks down why both are necessary, and why the leadership journey never ends.

August 24, 2018

1. Can you provide an overview of leadership and how it can influence a business?

Leadership is a very different form management. In management you are working to complete key projects, meet deadlines, allocate resources and meet budgets. In leadership, you are building a team that will do more together than they would as individuals.

Leadership requires humility, integrity, transparency, listening, compassion, providing direction, setting stretch goals, vision, feedback and ownership. Humility is important as you must provide direction to your team and then let them be front and center. If you are out in front, give your team credit. Give them timely and specific feedback and remove any barriers to ensure their success. Let your team take the credit for the success and own the failures. Listen to their concerns. Provide direction for your team individually and as a group. Establish tools for measuring goals.

Also, listen to the concerns of others and be empathetic. This doesn’t mean being soft and less demanding, but to understand their situation and how you can support them to drive performance.

Above all, be as transparent as possible, tell the why, provide a vision for the business, and have integrity in everything you do. If your team doesn’t know why they must take the hill, no measurable goals to gauge progress, no milestones and a leader they cannot put their trust in, you will never be successful.

2. Can you explain the difference between strategic leadership and people leadership?

Strategic leadership relies more on hard skills versus what I would call soft skills. While there is some overlap of skills, there are some unique differences. In strategic leadership the focus is on setting goals, vision for the business, keeping the team updated, delegation, having a broad perspective of the business, being consistent and reliable, and a judicious use of authority, etc.

People leadership focuses on softer skills such as, allowing others to have input and feel safe in speaking up, making decisions after gathering information, communicating expectations, measuring and rewarding performance, challenging others to think and develop solutions, ask a lot of questions, be accountable to others, lead by example, properly allocate resources and deploy talent, provide continuous feedback, etc. Also, be a great teacher, share your knowledge and experience, provide opportunities for your team to learn new and different things and take the time to develop folks.

3. Is it more important to be a strategic leader or execute a plan?

Both are important. Strategic leadership provides a path for long term success and is truly a benefit to the organization. Executing a plan is important; this is tactical work that has a start and finish. The leadership journey never ends.

4. What soft skills are essential for leading a successful convenience operation?

Many of the skills that are traits of a good leader apply to the convenience store industry. Transparency, integrity, setting a vision for the organization, setting stretch goals, measuring goals, providing frequent and specific feedback, developing a plan, making decisions, being a good teacher, letting your team go, asking for input, properly allocating resources (people and capital), solving problems, taking ownership and being compassionate.

5. When you’re on the road visiting NACS members, what is the one (or several) item(s) you always go for in a convenience store?

After I walk the entire store and look at the layout, product adjacencies and assortment, I look for a fruit cup, Diet Mt. Dew or Coke Zero fountain drink, nuts (usually spicy) and whatever fresh food that’s available. I love to sample new products and get new ideas.

For an extended version with more information on how to run a successful convenience store, check out our downloadable guide, Leadership in the Convenience Industry.

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Zikias is an active member of NACS, serving on the NACSPAC Committee, Membership Committee, and the Convention Committee. In 2009, he was elected to the Kentucky Retail Federation Board of Directors and is chairman of the Finance Committee. He has been a frequent speaker at NACS events, including the NACS Show and NACS Leadership Forum.
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