One of the most common questions I hear from shop owners is: “I need to hire a leader. How do I do that?”

Here’s the hard truth though … you can’t. It’s just not possible. You can’t simply hire someone who will walk into your business, know exactly what to do and establish the dynamic leadership and workflow systems you need to make your shop successful. If this were the case, you wouldn’t be reading this article.

So that’s the bad news. The good news is that by learning how to look for leadership qualities during the hiring process and learning how to apply some leadership-development tools to your new employees, you can ultimately hire a leader who’ll be able to run a tight ship, take work off your plate and improve your shop’s bottom line.

Interview Meticulously

During the hiring process, you need to be as diligent and discerning as possible, especially when you’re looking for a shop leader. Potential for leadership is the biggest thing you’re looking for, in addition to quality character and industry knowledge.

A trap a lot of hiring managers fall into is making hires based on assumptions, guesses or simply a good resume. This is a mistake, and when you hire someone based on a gut feeling or list of fancy job titles, you fall into it hook, line and sinker. When that person ends up failing – an inevitability in my experience – everyone involved is upset. Furthermore, you end up second-guessing yourself and go into “analysis paralysis” during the next round of hiring.

During interviews, you must determine if an individual possesses the character traits you need them to have for your shop to be successful. Don’t be fooled by smooth talkers who are great at interviews but offer little in the way of substance.

A lot of times, individuals seeking positions of power within our industry are looking to build their own empire or feed their own ego – not help your shop succeed. I’ve seen this happen many times before. These self-interested individuals will turn your team against you, create culture problems and cost you customers/profits galore. And trying to get rid of them can be even more problematic.

Just like anything else, practice makes perfect, and the more interviews you conduct, the better you’ll get at intuitively picking up on who will be a motivated employee that can bring leadership attributes to the table and who won’t.

Train & Gain

The biggest mistake I see shop owners make is hiring a new employee and expecting them to understand how they’re supposed to do the job.

Again, this is simply an unrealistic expectation to have, even if they were a manager before with good references. You need to make training the highest priority for every new employee you bring on board.

A good number of shop owners I’ve spoken to over the years have been reticent to make training a priority because they “don’t have time.” This is a big mistake.

Investing in training at the start of an employee’s tenure with your shop yields an extremely high ROI. You’ll be saving yourself time down the road because an employee who isn’t 110% sure of your expectations and the best way to operate within your shop’s culture will inevitably falter and force you to make corrections on their words and behavior.

The time it takes to unwind a person once they’ve become comfortable in their bad habits is five times what it would have taken to train them the right way in the first place … and they all have bad habits.

It’s important that a new employee learns why you do things the way you do them in addition to what is expected of them.

People aren’t pets – you can’t just tell them to get off the furniture or to stop barking. You need to explain the reasons why your shop does things a certain way, especially if they’re veterans of other shops, because they all have picked up some different or bad habits at some point in their career.

Once they get comfortable in the new environment with their old ways, it is much harder to reverse. After all, if you have a knot, do you continue to apply pressure to both ends for it to come lose? Of course not. People are the same way – if you continue to put pressure on them after they’ve gotten into game shape, they won’t work properly and will ultimately break.

By using training as the foundation for building a sturdy employee, you’ll bridge the gap between their skill set and the personality traits you liked in the interview process. You’ll cement new habits and standards.

Be Thorough!

Before your perspective leader even talks to a customer, they should know the ins and outs of your shop extremely well.

You should give your new employee at least a few weeks before letting them loose. Does this mean they’re just sitting around and watching for two weeks? Heck no!

Every single aspect of your shop’s culture and modus operandi should be hammered home during this training phase. Answering phones, signing customers in, filling out forms – all these tasks need to be perfected by repeating them over and over again while explaining to them “the why” of each step in each process.

If your new employee doesn’t get these small things down, they’ll never be able to move on to the more “big picture” tasks you hired them to fulfill in the first place.

Encourage Growth – In Your Team & Yourself

Once you have a quality employee in place, the next step is fostering a quality leader.

The main thing to remember in this phase is to nurture the qualities about your employee that you first saw potential in during the interview process. Encourage these traits and give him or her opportunities to develop them – slowly, but gradually giving them more responsibility and more power.

It can be tough for some shop owners to relinquish power, but this is imperative to the leadership-development process – for your employee and for yourself!

As we seek to improve someone else’s behavior, we as shop owners must work on our own as well.

My own leadership style has drastically changed over the years. I started out as a drill sergeant, complete with a vocabulary that would make most sailors blush, using my size (I’m a big guy) to intimidate my underlings to do what I wanted. I had to work on myself in order to become a more dynamic – and effective – leader. I recognized the limitations of my abrasive leadership style and took steps to keep my emotions in check, resulting in a better leadership style that has led to better, longer-lasting employees and higher profits.

If you want your staff to grow, you must do the same, so be cognizant of your leadership style and what you can do to improve yourself in order to improve your business.

Raise the bar for yourself, and your whole shop will follow suit!

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