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Growing Leadership and Technical Skills

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Shop operators can’t do everything themselves. If you want to drive a high-performing organization—and get the most out of every one of your employees—shop owners need help from a leadership perspective, says John Martin, manager of performance learning for PPG Industries. That means owners need to instill solid leadership abilities in their management team. Doing so will help your managers effectively impart organizational values and visions to ground-level employees daily to keep your business moving in a positive direction.

FenderBender talked to Martin about how to turn your managers into effective leaders.

Shop owners need to spend time working on their business rather than in it. That’s because collision repair centers today are under increasing pressure to adhere to performance metrics. So it’s important to step back and assess your business from a high-level perspective to create a long-term growth strategy for the future. But that can be tough to do when you’re constantly focused on managing employees and moving cars out the door.

You can find time to spend on big picture initiatives by empowering your shop managers to take on more leadership responsibilities. They should be able to lead your business and employees, and make important daily decisions on your behalf. Your managers need to take an active role in improving performance throughout your organization.

Leadership responsibilities cannot be given to just anyone. Shops need to build a foundation of trust throughout the organization. That requires managers to have two key attributes in order to become successful leaders. The first attribute is competence. They need to prove they clearly understand the business, including its vision and values, and to model that they’re capable of driving effective results. Employees want to know that their leader is competent to make good decisions when faced with tough situations.

The second key attribute is integrity. Managers have to be honest in their dealings with customers, vendors, insurers and employees to be good leaders for your business. Employees pay attention to the way their leader interacts with others on a regular basis. They see managers as role models, and will model their behaviors after management’s actions.

It will take time and effort to make this happen because many shop managers do not have effective leadership skills. Many people who hold management positions in the collision industry started out on the shop floor and worked their way up. Because of that, they have a tendency to look at the shop only from a technical perspective—they mainly focus on sales tactics to get jobs in the door, and effective production processes to get work done quickly. That is important, but ultimately, shop managers need to learn to look at the business from a leadership perspective as well.

It’s important for shop managers to understand the business from a leadership perspective in three key areas:

• Business purpose Managers should be able to create an organizational vision, create mission statements and set goals. They need to understand the direction you want the business to move in, and to create a game plan to help you get there.

• People skills Managers need to understand specific strategies that can be used to motivate and coach employees for improvement. In addition, they should be able to empower employees at the lowest level to make good decisions on a regular basis. Rather than trying to drive all of your organization’s decision-making, it’s important for managers to coach employees to make their own decisions in a way that will improve the shop’s performance.

• Business processes Managers need to work with employees to practice effective processes everyday. To be an effective leader, shop managers must be able to learn new processes and best practices, and properly communicate the information to every employee throughout the organization.

Those three elements go hand-in-hand to create a successful operation. Naturally, those become three key areas where managers might need some additional training. Identify your managers’ strengths and weaknesses, and highlight the most important areas where they need improvement as a leader. There are two basic things you can do to train your managers that will help them obtain some leadership skills and experience.

First, take your managers along to educational trainings and seminars that you attend. Many shop operators participate in various leadership and business training courses. They’re fired up when they get back to the shop, and excited to implement change. But it can be difficult for your managers to get on the same page and understand what you’re trying to do. By having managers sit in on leadership trainings, it will be easier for them to align with the long-term vision you have for the business.

Second, begin delegating certain leadership responsibilities to managers to give them some leadership-type experience. Delegation helps managers feel more important, and recognize that their position is more than just a typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. Managers will see how they are able to make positive contributions and add value to the business. Eventually, they will sense that they have a personal stake in the health of the company.

Keep track of where your management team is at from a leadership standpoint. It’s important to have a formalized, thought-out process to assess your managers’ performance and professional development. Document their participation in leadership trainings, and keep notes. That will help you understand what needs to be done to get your managers up to speed.

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