How To Grow Leaders In Your Shop

By David Rogers

We’ve all heard the expression “he/she is a born leader.” And when you’re looking to take your shop to the next level, it can be tempting to look for that born leader who can step in and start taking over roles and responsibilities with minimal instruction, documentation, or processes.

But are leaders really born? Is it possible to hire a ready-made leader who can read your mind, understand their role perfectly, and absorb responsibilities from you with minimal communication?

I’m not one to speak in absolutes. After all, this may be your exact story. But for the vast majority of people, the answer is no: trying to find somebody who is a born leader so that they can step into your operation and take over on day one is not feasible. 

Nearly always, leaders are developed by fostering and developing their natural abilities and creating a successful situation where the processes and procedures exist to help them grow, excel, unlock their potential to lead others. 

Lucking into finding this person is extremely unlikely! If you don’t start from day one in the hiring process knowing what traits and skills to look for, set them up for success by training them properly, and then encourage their growth through measurement, reporting, and incentives, you’ll likely end up with a frustrating and expensive mess rather than a leader.

But this is good news! The fact that leaders are made rather than born means that with the right process, you can reliably grow the leaders your operation needs instead of needing to stumble across them. You just need to start the leader-creation process early, before interviews, before screening calls, and certainly before they ever step foot through your front door. 

In fact, it starts with the resume, and who you even let into the hiring process.

Our industry is dealing with a major labor shortage. Job postings that used to bring us dozens of applicants are bringing in a fraction of that now. These add up to the temptation to hire the first qualified candidate who comes across our desks.

This is a mistake. The one ingredient that goes into every leader is character. Unlike leadership skills that can be taught, character is something you’re born with, and either you have it or you don’t. No process or system can make you care about doing a good job. No metric or key performance indicator can force you to have integrity.

This is always true. Even in the hardest hiring markets, even when it seems impossible to hire the help you need. Hiring somebody who doesn’t have the character you need in order to run the operation you want will always end badly. You still need to have quality people on your team if you want to run a quality business. So how can you spot a candidate with good character?

Your first opportunity is when you’re looking at their job history. 

Basketball employees are easy to spot. They bounce from job to job every year or two, never staying in one place long enough to become a part of the culture, make a difference, or stretch themselves. They’re typically jumping from job to job to avoid accountability, or to increase their compensation without having to increase their efficiency or performance. Whatever the reason, it’s almost always a sign of poor character.

Once you’ve weeded out the basketballs, what next?

The way that you conduct interviews makes a huge difference. Work with a consistent list of questions, so that you’re not scrambling to remember what you’ve asked and what you haven’t. The goal should be to identify red flags that point to a lack of character. Skipping questions because you forgot can mean missing a critical red flag.

What kind of red flags should you be looking for?

If they left every job because of “poor management?” Red flag. Do they hesitate when you ask them for up-to-date ASE certifications? Red flag.  Did they lead with a question about recreational drug policies? Red flag. Is any part of their work history murky or mysterious because they don’t want to explain? Red flag.

The one ingredient that goes into every leader is character. Unlike leadership skills that can be taught, character is something you’re born with, and either you have it or you don’t. No process or system can make you care about doing a good job.

A lot of this can be accomplished by being an active listener. After you ask your question about their work history, giving them space to answer often lets them reveal more than you expected, both good and bad. You might find that your dynamic candidate doesn’t like your management style, just as you might find that your green candidate has all of the makings for a future manager. Letting them talk is the only way to find out.

As much as we’d like the process to be over when we’ve found the ideal candidate and made them an offer, it’s actually just begun. The only way to ensure that an employee becomes what you saw in the interview process is through constant, ongoing training. If they don’t have the processes, systems, and training, they’re unlikely to turn their skills and potential into growth and execution. That takes hands-on training as much as possible for their first couple of weeks.

That’s because they need to understand not just what you do in your operation, but why you do it. New employees aren’t like new pets. You can’t just smack them with a newspaper when they need to stay off the furniture or stop barking. They come with hopes and fears and expectations and (often) years of bad habits learned in other shops. Taking the time to show them the correct way to do things, rather than reacting when they do it incorrectly, means that they know exactly where they stand. This creates happier employees and a better culture. 

Once new employees are trained and you’ve built a culture where everyone knows the “what” and “why”, the last step is to empower and incentivize your employees to follow the correct procedure every time. This starts with measuring.

Measuring production helps you retain good employees, full stop. Top performers want to know if they’re winning, and that can only happen if they can see their numbers and the targets you’ve set for them. 

Just imagine playing a football game where nobody’s bothering to keep score or track stats. How long would you keep playing if you didn’t know whether you were winning or losing or whether you were even doing a good job?

This is true of shop employees, and everything they can control. Average ticket size, tech efficiency, thoroughness of inspections, profit margins…if your employee is responsible for it, they should understand how they’re doing every single day. Hard workers with good character need that accountability! It shows them exactly what your standards are and how to meet and exceed them!

Once you’re doing that, your leaders will naturally separate themselves from the pack. Your job will be to repeat these steps, by giving them defined processes and systems, a clear understanding of the what and why, and daily measurement and accountability.

Best of all, this method for finding and developing leaders is repeatable and sustainable. No matter what the future holds with labor shortages, you’ll always be able to repeat these steps to find men and women whom you can grow into leaders for your operation. 

When you give them the tools, accountability, systems, and culture they need to flourish, more often than not you’ll be in a position to hand off more responsibility to the capable, effective, and productive leaders your shop has developed. 

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