Being a Leader vs. a Boss: Keeping Your Dealership Team Intact

There are many reasons people leave a job, so how do you keep good employees at your dealership?

Why are we always trying to fill positions in our business? Why do techs often leave right in the middle of the high season? How come we can’t find good parts people or sales people?

Of course, there are many reasons that people leave a job. It might be disagreements with management, a long commute, thinking the grass is greener, they want to live elsewhere or the always classic “we aren’t paying enough.” The reasons go on and on. That said, there are many things that we can do to keep employees on staff.   

First of all, we have to not only be “The Boss,” but we also have to be leaders. A boss will tell you what to do. A leader inspires you to do your best. A boss administers the rules. A leader earns respect by being an example of integrity. A boss uses fear to get people to do what he wants. A leader inspires his co-workers to do their best.

A boss puts down an employee for making an honest mistake. A leader motivates the employee to not only figure out what went wrong but to want to never make that mistake again.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the old saw about how an employee doesn’t quit the job — he or she quits the boss. No matter the reason or the situation, we all seem to be constantly looking for new employees. Ask yourself why. Is it that the jobs are horrible? Is it that the jobs are too tough? Is it because we aren’t paying enough? Or is it because we don’t have a clue how to be a leader?

It’s possible that it’s all of the above. This is an industry that a lot of people want to be part of. They have this romantic ideal of what working in the powersports industry is like. Riding motorcycles is fun, so surely working with them is going to be a hoot.

We all know someone who purchased a powersports dealership thinking it will be all roses and pink unicorns to own one, yet they know little or nothing about the industry other than using the products. Worse yet, they ignore any advice you might give them because they may have been successful in another life. They may also have no idea how to be a leader. They need people in place who have experience, yet they never seem to listen to that experienced voice.

Someone who yells at employees will never command loyalty. A boss who doesn’t give credit where it’s due will stifle any work ethic that his employees have. A boss who micromanages will not instill confidence. You just end up with employees who are always afraid to make any decision for fear of being belittled and yelled at.

You also have to let them have a chance at putting plans of their own in place. I had a parts and accessories (P&A) manager who wanted to try something new. To me, the idea was a recipe for disaster, so I kept saying no. He kept talking to me about it. This was over many months. He was wasting his and my time. I knew it wouldn’t work, but he didn’t seem to have the ability to see that the program would have an untidy conclusion. I finally gave up protesting and he went ahead.

He did his best and worked very hard to make it work. Unfortunately, it crashed like a Fiat 500 in a Demolition Derby. We examined the whole process, and he eventually came to the conclusion that it would never have worked. But he learned a lot, and it actually saved me money in the long term because he was a lot more thoughtful about any plans following that disaster. The staff also saw that I didn’t yell at him and didn’t blame him for the ultimate problems. He learned a lesson, and they learned that it’s all right to make mistakes.  

Also, do you ever sit down with good employees and ask why they are leaving? Often, they don’t want to tell the owner why they are going. Sometimes it’s as simple as a personality clash with a fellow employee. They often don’t want to tell you the real reason.

What I try to do is get a trusted employee to take the person leaving out for a lunch or a drink after work and just talk. The employee leaving will almost always tell a fellow employee things that he or she would never tell you.

Sometimes, it’s a small thing that has a certain amount of over-reaction on the employee’s side. Sometimes, it’s something management inadvertently did. Sometimes it’s nothing. But sometimes it’s something you never considered. Then, you have a chance to examine any parts of your policies and procedures that need adjusting.

Ultimately, it’s up to us as managers and leaders to create an environment where people don’t want to leave. Therein lies the magic of running a company. You just have to have a modicum of self-awareness.

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