Over the years I’ve talked to numerous shop owners who were struggling to find their next leader. They wanted to find someone who could step into their role to free up time or allow them to work on the things they wanted to work on.
Looking back at our shop’s transition from my dad to me, I can see several valuable lessons that might help you if you are in the position of finding your next leader.
Before we get into those lessons, I have to say that the success of our transition had way more to do with what my dad did than who I was. I think most of the time, we look for that person who has a sign flashing above his or her head that says “future leader.” I’m sure if you asked my dad, he didn’t know on Day 1, or Day 100, that I was going to be able to take over for him. So, if you’re looking for the person who might be the obvious fit, stop looking and start developing that person.
What my dad did in helping to develop my leadership allowed me to become who I am today. I would like to pass those lessons on to you as both a tribute to my dad and encouragement to help you find your next shop leader.
He wasn’t afraid to let me make mistakes.
I can remember writing estimates for $600 that clearly should have been written for $1,200. Instead of immediately pointing out what I did wrong, he taught me how to job cost and look at the numbers throughout the course of the repair. Viewing the numbers taught me real fast the consequences of writing a bad estimate.
He didn’t have an ego.
My dad never cared who got the credit; he was only concerned with making the customer happy. So often, customers came in and complimented me on a job well done or how nice of a building we had. Keep in mind that this happened when I didn’t know the difference between a painted stripe or a tape stripe! Yet my dad just smiled and let me get the credit, as long as the customer was happy.
He was never above a task.
One of the best leadership books I’ve ever read, The Oz Principle, discusses the one statement that kills most teams: “That isn’t my job.” My father never read that book, but he lived that principle every day. No matter the task, he was never above it. The first few years I was here, my dad and I would spend one Friday night per month powerwashing the booth floor grates and changing the filters. He cleaned the shop office himself from Day 1 through year 40 of the company’s existence. It rubbed off on everyone in the company, and no one could ever say “that’s not my job” because they knew my dad could, and would, do it.
He was always present and available.
My dad took his first full week of vacation in his 27th year of business. Now, he certainly wouldn’t advise waiting that long to take time off, but it made a lasting impact on how to lead a company. He was always on site and available if someone needed his advice or help. I have several friends who took off tons of time when they owned their own companies, and every one of them now works somewhere else, for someone else. The takeaway? The captain of the ship has to be behind the steering wheel.
He was willing to learn from others.
In 2001, a local MSO that my dad was friendly with sold out to a bigger company. Recognizing the opportunity at hand, my dad hired one of its leaders as a short-term consultant to come in and spend a few weeks observing our shop and interviewing each employee to get anonymous feedback. He put together a report of his findings that was so insightful that, 20 years later, we still go back and read it to see what wisdom we can gain.
He “got the message to Garcia.”
In 1899, writer Elbert Hubbard wrote an essay called Get the Message to Garcia, the theme of which is to do whatever it takes to get the job done. My parents have said that phrase to me countless times instead of saying “Get the job done.” There is no excuse or obstacle that can keep you from getting the job done—if you’re committed. One area of our company that we’ve truly applied this principle is in getting parts. We don’t accept any excuse or answer that a part is unavailable. We believe that, somewhere, that part is always available and we do whatever it takes to get it. That attitude has paid huge dividends over the years. It’s become such a big part of who we are that we’ve actually had some local dealers call us a few times to help them get a part!
If you are looking for someone who can be the next leader at your company, I recommend being the example you want them to become. Just like an apprentice tech learns by watching a veteran tech, your next leader is going to learn by watching you. I had the fortune of watching my dad. Your next leader is watching you—make sure you are who you want them to become.