I hear a lot of common complaints from shop owners.
Speaking of their own employees, they’ll say, “You’d think they’d know how to do that by now!” or “I thought they’d know better! It’s just common sense.” In a fit of frustration, they might even ask, “Why don’t they just do what they’re told?”
Sometimes I find myself asking that same question about shop owners. It all boils down to what kind of leader they are. And just as they say, “Good employees are hard to find,” I have to echo, “Good leaders are hard to find!”
Getting great results from our businesses relies on more than just hard work, determination, and self-discipline. It requires committed, engaged, and highly skilled employees.
So where do we find these “super” employees? Well, in most cases they’re already in our companies. They just haven’t hit their full potential yet. Talk to them and you can see that they want to work hard, develop their skills, and contribute to the company. But something is holding them back. If you’re the boss, it may pain you to hear that the quality of the employees is a direct reflection of the quality of the leadership.
Unfortunately, if employee performance is suffering, it’s usually the result of poor leadership.
Are you still acting like an employee in your own business? Rather than setting the pace for the shop, are you running around putting out fires, reacting to crises, and trying to reach consensus? You’re not being a leader. You’re just another follower. You just happen to be the follower with the most seniority.
The good news is that leadership skills can be learned. The first step in becoming a better leader is making that mental shift to behave like a leader.
In my last article (“Leading and Managing,” February 2016), I looked at some of the differences between being a leader and being a manager. Many people see these two roles as one and the same, but they are actually very different. As I said in that article, leaders take responsibility, create a vision for the business, continue to learn and apply new things, and make tough decisions.
I want to spend a little time on two more key elements of being a leader.
Modeling good behavior
Business owners model behavior for their employees. By their own actions, they reinforce the kind of behavior they’re going to see from their employees. It may be the kind of behavior they want, or it could be the kind they don’t want.
If you don’t do what you know you should do; then neither will they. If you break company policy or circumvent a procedure, so will they. If you’re diligent in doing your job, they will do theirs.
A leader takes responsibility for the work ethic in the shop. They don’t shift the blame to something or someone else. By becoming responsible, you gain the trust of those around you. And responsibility is contagious. The more you practice taking responsibility, the more those around you will take responsibility.
Here are some things to think about:
What are your working hours? Do you come and go as you please, or do you have scheduled working time? Do you keep your employees informed of your schedule? How long are your lunches and coffee breaks?
If you’re undisciplined in your work hours, why should an employee be on time? If you take long unplanned lunches with your golfing buddies, why should they stick to the proper break times? Or if you display workaholic tendencies, should you be surprised if they work themselves to an early burnout? Unfortunately, employee burn-out is a serious problem in our industry.
Do you make a lot of personal calls at work? How much time do you spend doing things that are not your core business? Or things that have nothing to do with your business? Do you use company resources for personal projects? Do you pay for them in a timely fashion?
There’s a real temptation to treat the work environment as an extension of your personal life but this is very dangerous for a business. The line between the personal and the professional must be clearly drawn… by you.
How do you dress for work? Many shop owners do not wear any kind of uniform or professional business attire to work. How can they expect their people to care about their appearance? Just because our job involves some grease and dirt does not mean we have to wallow in it or wear it after work.
Do you drink during business hours? Do you drink on the premises after hours? Do you go out for drinks with your employees on a regular basis?
Drinking during business hours or on the premises makes it very difficult for you to enforce a company drinking and drug policy. And when you spend a lot of time hanging out with the employees, it is much more difficult for them to see you as a leader.
Your answers to these questions – and many more like them – will be an indicator of how your employees behave.
A good leader motivates followers by creating hope.
Dr. Bruce Hiebert is Dean of Academics B.C. at Yorkville University in Burnaby, and a consultant on issues of leadership development, transition planning, and decision making. He says, “Hope is a sense of personal competence combined with a sense of direction. Or to put it slightly more graphically, those who know that the application of their abilities can lead to a better future have hope.”
So how do we create hope?
We start by making sure our employees have a sense of personal competence, and we show them that the application of their abilities will lead to a better future.
How do we make sure our employees gave a sense of personal competence? By communicating our expectations of them clearly. And ensuring they have the knowledge and competence to carry out those expectations.
How do we make sure our employees have the knowledge and competence to carry out our expectations? By evaluating them in the context of our expectations and providing knowledge and training.
How do we show them that the application of their abilities can lead to a better future? By telling them that they’re doing a good job, by thanking them for their work, and by showing them how their hard work has benefited the company.
Most importantly they need to hear how they have positively impacted all of the people involved in the business – including the owners, the customers, and their co-workers.
People care about what others think of them. As their leader, you’re in a unique position to give your employees a role model to follow, a purpose for their professional skills, and a means to achieve their personal goals.
Think of how your business will benefit from having employees like that. You just have to be the leader they need.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.