Auto Service World
News   April 12, 2016   by Murray Voth

Management Insights: Leading and managing

They are two distinct skill sets… but they’re both critical if you’re going to take your company to the next level.

Pic1As humans, we tend to be pretty good at looking forward… but we’re not as good at looking back at where we’ve been.

After 10 years as a trainer, facilitator, and implementation coach, I’m seeing the efforts of many shop owners really paying off. They’ve made the transition from being a technician who happens to own an automotive repair shop, to being a business owner who happens to be a technician.

The difference is significant!

The technician thinks fixing cars is how to make money. But the business owner realizes that managing is the key activity that allows you to make a profit. Fixing and maintaining cars is just the medium by which the money is generated.

Although it’s a positive development when my clients have made this transition, it also creates new challenges for them… and necessitates the next level of management training.

They start to say things like this:

“Now that I’m no longer a full-time technician or service advisor, what am I supposed to do with my time? What does my job look like? Where do I fit?”

These owners need some help defining their new role in the business. The old platitude, “Work on the business instead of in the business” just isn’t enough for them any more.

“I guess I have to be ‘the bad guy’ if I want my staff to do the job properly!”

These are owners who need help understanding how to lead. They used to think that in order to get a job done right, you had to do it yourself. Old-fashioned management techniques don’t seem to work in the new economy. It used to be when the boss told you to jump, you said “how high?” These days, employees want to know “why” first. Many of us old guys have not learned effective ways to hold people accountable without relying on a big stick.

“My company has grown to the point where it’s not feasible to meet with employees individually, and our staff meetings have become too unwieldy to be productive. What is the best way to communicate effectively with my staff?”

These owners are experiencing a level of growth that comes from hard work and good management… and that’s great. But it can also spread them out too thin. They need to learn new ways to transfer their knowledge and skills to key employees. Delegating responsibilities is their new challenge.

As business owners, we know that it’s important to be both good managers and effective leaders. Many people see these roles as being one and the same, but they’re actually very different. I believe a person can be a leader without being a manager. They can also be a manager without being a leader. Since many people try to function in both roles, let’s start by defining them and looking at the differences.

Management is an operational function; it’s about keeping complex processes functioning so they can produce the intended results. Leadership, on the other hand, is about finding and setting direction. It’s about providing hope and competence to the people in the organization.

In simple terms, leadership creates the vision, while management carries out the mission.

You often hear people talk about “natural born leaders” and “gifted managers.” And, indeed, they may have been born with traits that make them excel as managers or leaders… but they still had to learn the skills. Sydney Crosby was born with a certain physique and athleticism, but he still had to learn how to play hockey. And he would never have become a great player without investing in a lot of practice.

The key to success – both in the workplace and on the ice – is building up the most essential skills.

The first step in learning how to lead is taking responsibility. You can no longer blame anyone else for problems facing the company. You accept full responsibility… and by doing so, you gain the trust of those around you.

Responsibility is contagious. The more you practice it, the more those around you will learn to take responsibility. Those who live their lives as victims will not enjoy this environment of accountability and there’s a good chance they will leave. And if they do not leave on their own, a good leader will ask them to leave.

The second thing a good leader does is create a vision of the future for the organization. This involves thinking about your company, assessing it’s current state, and what it could look like in the future. A leader needs to see five or 10 years down the road, understand what obstacles are in the way, and how the team can overcome those obstacles. Creating a vision is not being a prophet. It is about using your imagination to paint a picture of what things could look like.

Thirdly, good leaders spend time learning new things, using their minds, and trusting their intuition. Unfortunately, many shop owners have a sense of insecurity about their intellect. It often stems from their school days, when reading and studying intimidated them and they were not natural academic learners. If this describes you, I want to encourage you not to be down on yourself. You know much more than you think you do. A career of solving problems has given you a very sharp mind. All you have to do now is find the information that will make you a better leader and manager. You need to get accustomed to using books, articles, and advice the way you used to use tools.

Fourthly, a good leader knows how to make decisions. Most of us let life happen to us. We tend to be reactive rather then proactive. Whether we’re afraid to make decisions or we think there are just too many options, we all have to learn how to make a decision. That’s what leading is all about.

Managers, by contrast, need to develop other essential traits. Whether you’re a business owner or an employee manager, you’re responsible for following accepted environmental and labor practices, and being a good corporate citizen.

There are seven things that will help make you a success.

1) You must understand how to measure the business, create financial reports, and understand industry benchmarks.

2) You must provide the systems and procedures required to achieve these benchmarks. You also need to attract, hire, train, and retain employees, providing them with job descriptions, training, direction, and feedback.

3) You must ensure that all the company-operating expenses are paid, accounts payable are paid, and accounts receivable are collected.

4) You must source the required tools, equipment, training, computers, and software to operate the business.

5) You must meet with suppliers to negotiate the kind of pricing and service that will allow both sides to win.

6) You must manage and control the expenses of the business to ensure that the business can operate effectively within minimal waste.

7) You must create a marketing plan to grow the business and perform all the public relations and customer relations roles that need to be carried out.

This is really just an outline for developing your leadership and management skills. It marks the start of a lifetime of learning that will help you steer your company to success.

My next few articles will elaborate on some of these topics, and provide you with the knowledge to take things to the next level.

Murray Voth is a consultant and trainer with Total Automotive Consulting & Training Inc. in Edmonton, Alta., which runs the ProShop program across Canada. He can be reached at

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