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The Making of a Leader

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Leaders often attempt to do one of two things: make people happy or drive them to perform. Those who can do both, win.

Having good leadership in your shop is critical from the owner to those on the shop floor. But what is leadership? Often leadership feels like an idea or an ideal but what does it look like in everyday situations? Someone once said, “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right thing.”

Without a doubt, managers who can do things right are needed in every shop. And not every manager is cut out to be a leader. In my shops, though, I always make an effort to develop managers into leaders. However, as the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink.” I’ve found this to be so true and despite my best efforts, resources, exposure to trainings, conversations, mentoring, hoping, etc., some managers just are not capable of making the leap to leadership. But those who are end up being happier personally and professionally. Learning to lead is not only a way to get higher profits, it also connects people to a higher purpose, better relationships and greater respect in their wider circle of friends, family and community.

So, how do we become better leaders and how do we develop those around us into leaders? While this challenge can be difficult, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated or confusing.

In 1945 there was a study done at Ohio State University in which researchers studied the performance of International Harvester foremen. What they found was that the most effective leaders exhibited two key behaviors. First, the best performers demonstrated consideration for those they led. In other words, they treated their employees with respect and dignity. They treated them like human beings, not cogs in a wheel to be used for their own professional progress. Secondly, the highest performers implemented disciplined structures and processes that moved their team members and the organization as a whole to higher performance.

From this study we can conclude that the two key behaviors for becoming an effective leader are simply demonstrating care for the people on your team and driving performance with a disciplined approach to implementing structure, systems and processes. People skills. Performance skills. That’s it. Simple? Yes. Easy? No.

The road to becoming a leader and developing leaders around you is never going to be easy because most people are naturally gifted on one side of that equation or the other. You either have a natural tendency toward people skills or performance skills—developing your weak side is the key to becoming a great leader.

Personally, I have always struggled on the performance skills side of that equation. I re-entered this industry after over 15 years of social work and professional ministry. For obvious reasons, those professions lean heavily in their orientation to developing people skills like empathy, helpfulness and service.

I’ve found that one of the best ways to develop your weak side is find a high-leverage habit or behavior that can be practiced daily. You will want to find something that is high leverage, meaning if you can make progress on this one thing, several other things will come along with it. This is what Charles Duhigg calls a “keystone habit” in his book The Power of Habit. An example from my personal life is exercise. When I make time to exercise, I automatically start to eat better, sleep better, have more energy during the day and my confidence improves. The same is true in our shops. There are key behaviors—daily practices and habits we can practice—that, once installed into our routines, will create a positive momentum in several areas.

Here are a couple key behaviors under each of those two categories to consider.

If you need to develop the people skills side of the equation, spend a little time each day interacting with all of your team members on a personal level. Find out what is important to them outside of work. Ask how their family is doing. Do they have any hobbies or things besides cars that occupy them outside of work? Ask great questions and really listen to the answer. Oftentimes, that means shutting up and waiting for a response before moving on or filling the silence with more words. And work on making eye contact when you’re speaking to them. This demonstrates that you are sincerely listening. Of course too much eye contact is creepy, but too little unintentionally communicates you really don’t care about what they’re saying. If you are trying to develop people skills and you already know this is not your strong side, then hold the eye contact a little longer than you would normally be comfortable with.

If, like me, you need to keep developing the performance side of the equation, spend time working on a key process that your team keeps fumbling. For us recently, that was customer intake. When we were checking cars in, we would miss a step or two that seemed small but often would create problems down the line as the repair progressed. Our team would often miss simple things like tagging the key, putting it on the roster, making sure there were pictures attached to the repair order and writing key information on the car. I developed a checklist for whoever was doing the intake. There were about 10 key things I wanted our receptionists to do before handing the job off to a manager so I listed them in a checklist format and printed off several copies and explained that every job had to be processed in this exact way.

So, find a recurring problem  something that bugs you, that your team struggles with inexplicably and turn that into a personal challenge to fix with a new process that you develop and communicate to your team. Then hold them accountable to do it right every time, with excellence and precision.

Growing in our ability to lead and developing the leaders around us does not need to be complicated. But it has to be intentional. Pick your weak side, find a simple behavior and make it a daily practice until it becomes a habit. I am confident the results will be both surprising and rewarding.

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