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Beat the Biz Blahs

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By the end of each day, Dan Sjolseth felt completely drained. He’d lug home what felt like a suitcase full of stress. His relationship with his wife and kids was suffering. It was soon apparent that he was fighting a losing battle against the business blues.

“[My life] was chaos,” says Sjolseth, owner of Superior Collision Center, in Eagan, Minn. “I didn’t own the company; the company owned me.”

A shop owner for more than 28 years, Sjolseth now attributes his troubles to losing control of his business. And he credits his success in overcoming these woes to an automotive seminar presented by Richard Flint through the Automotive Management Institute.

Flint, a personal development speaker and business coach, has more than 20 years of experience encouraging and advising worn and weary shop owners just like Sjolseth. “There are three enemies of the human race—confusion, fear and doubt,” Flint says, “I help people reach a point where they no longer doubt.” He teaches business owners techniques for overcoming the emotional downers that suck the joy out of being your own boss.

“Shop owners don’t burn out,” Flint says. “They flame out. The challenge is that if they don’t face the flame out, they burn out.”

Burn out occurs when you no longer have any passion for the industry. “A flame out occurs when the fire for what [you’re] doing is still there—there are still sparks—but it’s just not burning as brightly,” Flint explains. “[You] can still feel the passion, but exhaustion has sucked the spirit out, and you’re emotionally shot.” And that’s a bummer for you, and your business.

WHAT BUMS YOU OUT

Flint says there are four main causes for business bummers:

• Inconsistency. When shop owners start to lose consistency in what they do and how they do it, employees will begin to take note of the inconsistency, and that can lead to leadership problems. For instance, a shop owner makes promises that can’t be kept, or begins applying policies and procedures to one employee but not another.

• Inefficiency. When you no longer care enough to pay attention to the details, Flint says, you risk inefficiency in your organization. Say you purchase new accounting software to allow employees to work more quickly and with more precision, but then never train them on the software. That kind of inefficiency will quickly take its toll.

• Paycheck personnel. “People who go to work for a paycheck, rather than to do a quality job,” Flint says, are a real bummer. Consider the company mission statement. “The shop owner has one, but the non-partnership people don’t believe in it, so they don’t follow it,” he says. “The owner has a way of doing things, but the non-partner people do it the way they want.”

• Exhausted leadership. “This occurs when owners are tired of fighting the fires,” Flint says. “Owners come to me and say, ‘I just don’t have the energy to deal with this anymore.’” The risk here is that, by allowing such conflict and behavioral issues to take root in the workplace, the problems begin to undermine the entire business. “Anything you don’t confront, you validate,” Flint says.

As problems like these take their toll, your personal development stalls. “When you stop feeding your mind, you become more emotional,” Flint says. “Then you react to everything rather than respond to everything.” That’s a feeling Sjolseth understands all too well. “I was working in the business, not on the business,” he says. 

RECONNECTING WITH YOUR PASSION—AND YOUR PEOPLE

Throughout his automotive seminar, Flint explores avenues of advice and change that ultimately allow a shop owner to regain control of the business. His main mantra: reconnect with your passion.

“[Shop owners] need to recommit to the dream—why did you get into this business?” Flint says. “They need to reestablish their passion for what they’re doing, and if they can’t, then they need to leave.” He suggests shop owners ask themselves three things:

• What do I really want from this business today?

• Why do I want to achieve this?

• What price am I willing to pay to get this business back on track?

The answers to those questions, along with positive personal relationships on the job, can help business owners overcome the business blahs. Strengthening personal connections with employees happens more easily when you view them as internal customers. They are your most important asset, Flint says, and vital to the success of the shop.

“If you can share a common agenda with your internal customers, you’re going to be OK,” he says. That common agenda—and the essential clear communication that comes with it—is achieved by “putting the right people in the right place, not making promises you can’t deliver and keeping your customer informed of what’s happening,” Flint says.     

LEADERSHIP TOOLS

On the path to renewed dedication, some tools come in handy. Confrontation and delegation topped Sjolseth’s list.

Learning to confront others meant learning to understand his employees better—and then holding them accountable for their actions. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood,” he says, reprising a common proverb. “It’s hard at first, but once you acquire the skill, it’s easier.”

Once Sjolseth started to correct poor behavior among his employees, such as arriving late for work, he began to notice changes. “[I used to have to deal] with these things on a weekly basis, but now it happens every 3 months,” he says. “Now, I don’t bury my head under the sand.”

By learning to successfully take charge of his own business and effectively confront people on critical issues as well as relinquishing a measure of control, Sjolseth was able to reap the rewards of his new management style.

“I lead the company now,” he says. And with his employees better following that lead, Sjolseth is finding it easier than ever to treat them as all-important internal customers, which creates a powerful cycle of support.   

REAPING THE REWARDS

Having put Flint’s advice to work, Sjolseth is back on track with his business and reaping the rewards. “Instead of dragging baggage [around] with me, and working 14 to 16 hours a day, I’m now working 8 hours,” he says.

With the shorter days—thanks to learning to delegate—Sjolseth’s energy levels are higher. That’s created a better balance between work time and downtime. Because of that, Sjolseth’s family life has improved, and his business is thriving. “Since attending the course,” he says, “I’ve doubled the size of my business.”

Professional growth and personal growth go hand in hand, Flint says. “If you don’t keep yourself growing, your emotions become your definition of life,” he says. “If you continue to grow, your imagination becomes your definition of life. You have to be passionate.”

“We can either dwell on what’s not fun, or we can put the emphasis on what we enjoy. You have to believe you’re in your niche,” Flint continues. “When you are in the place on this earth where you are meant to be, you get three things: inner happiness, inner fulfillment and freedom.”

Sjolseth couldn’t agree more. He has regained his passion for the auto collision industry by being “born again in the business” he says, and managing his shop is fun again. “Before, I could count the good days on one hand,” Sjolseth says. “Now, I count the bad days on one hand.”

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