Running a Shop Leadership How To Lead

Management Mentorship

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John Cole risked everything when he left a management position at a dealership to start his own body shop.

Luckily, he had Josh Jewett at his side.

Jewett, a technician under Cole’s management at the dealership, had formed a close relationship with Cole and believed in what would eventually become the five-location Cole’s Collision Center based in eastern New York. And in recognizing that dedication, Cole invested in Jewett, promoting him from technician to estimator to manager to his current position of general manager, overseeing the management team across the company’s five locations.

“He’s instrumental in coaching our managers and getting them used to our system,” Cole says. “He’s consistent at checking in how our managers are doing and ensuring they are following through on their duties.”

Cole’s is a company that promotes from within—and as someone who started from the bottom, Jewett is in a unique position to help employees with little to no management experience transition into a leadership role.


Making that transition into management can be difficult. I know what troubles they’re going to have because I’ve been in that position before. You have 12–15 jobs, and on top of that you could have a consistent issue in the paint department where things are coming out dirty or with overspray. Things are going to slow you down and impact what you can get completed. You don’t realize how many components there are until you get in that higher position. I try to get them seeing each department for their strengths and weaknesses and trying to develop the best ways for each person to do their tasks 100 percent.

We don’t have an actual training program for managers. It’s more hands-on. When we’re ready or in need of new managers, I will be there and help them until I feel comfortable they can do it on their own. For the first few weeks, I’m at the shop every day, and slowly I will loosen the reins and let them do more and just oversee. After a few months, I want them to be the reason everything is moving properly. 

They have to be extremely confident in their ability to manage each department. Even though they are the store managers, they have to be confident and comfortable in understanding parts, the paint system, small repairs, large repairs—even down to detailing cars. I stay with them, answer any questions, and try to improve their ability to communicate within each of those departments.

I think part of our success has been that each one of our managers could actually fill the seat of any employee there. Our managers have hands-on experience in something other than management. It gives them the ability to drop in if needed, or to be able to explain it to someone themselves and act as the trainer.

If you’re new to managing conflict, it can be very tough. I train managers to relate to the entire situation, and then look at developing something beneficial to all parties. Typically, this guy says one thing, this guy says another, but ultimately you have to come to an agreement and move forward, and try to not just look at one side. The best result benefits the whole team and makes the entire repair process better.

I’ve found one of the easiest ways to get into the management mindset is asking “why?” five times to get an answer. It truly does work. If someone tells you an issue and you keeping asking why, eventually you get to the underlying problem, and it’s usually something you weren’t aware of. 

I’ll know they’re ready when the employees are comfortable following their direction. I’ll ask other people working in the shop, What do you think about him? When you have this issue, how does he react? Does he look at things from your perspective, or is he ruling with an iron fist? I’ll feel them out for how things are going or if there’s something we can look at improving.

That’s the most important part: If the employees are on board, then I’m comfortable backing off and letting the managers do their thing. Then I can start to watch them from a distance and make sure their daily reports are in line. 

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