Ensuring the future success and sustainability of a dealership is not based solely on operational knowledge and efficiencies. In addition to creating robust processes, identifying and developing future leaders is critical to building sustainable dealership value. But first, you must overcome the leadership barriers that sabotage your goals.
In the past, when someone took on the position of “dealer,” it was assumed employees would fall in line and follow the owner’s lead. Today, with up to five generations working together at the same dealership, this expectation doesn’t hold true. Instead, good people check out or leave after a transition in leadership if they don’t feel respected for their contributions and/or see opportunities for growth.
Generation X and even the up-and-coming Gen Y/millennial leaders have to navigate an additional barrier that can be awkward and uncomfortable. These up-and-comers must earn the respect of the team around them for them to be seen as true leaders. This is a drastic shift in leadership from previous generations where moving into the dealer role was an expectation, given tenure and relationships within the dealership.
Contributing to the problem is that the automotive industry has changed so much. No longer is real-life knowledge and experience enough to sustain and lead a dealership into the future. Innovations in technology, a lingering fear of economic uncertainty, ongoing regulatory changes, and generational perspectives of “old school” and “new school” ways of thinking can build organizational tensions that impact performance. Put simply, what may have been good enough previously is no longer good enough to lead your organization into the future—instead, formal education, operational training, and a thorough understanding of best practices will be key.
The “old school” versus “new school” issue often causes Gen X and millennial team members to conflict with their baby boomer leaders and co-workers about fundamental issues impacting the business, such as:
- What work means. Perspectives of how work fits into our lives—the type of work culture one finds inspiring and the gratification they want from their career—are in constant flux. It’s not uncommon for Gen X and millennial employees to want more time outside the dealership, and older employees/leaders may interpret this as poor work ethic.
- The nature of leadership. Generational perspectives on who should be considered for leadership may differ. Some feel leadership positions should be earned through tenure, while others think it is earned through performance.
- How the pecking order works. When performance is rewarded over tenure, older staff may struggle with accepting the authority of younger personnel in more senior positions. (This is especially problematic for employees in family business—heavily scrutinized, your advancement may be viewed as favoritism.) This volatile mix can send an entire dealership into chaos. Loyal employees feel betrayed, and rising stars can find that they lack the buy-in to make changes. After all, the best operations person in the world can’t accomplish a thing without employee support!
- How to lead effectively. Differences in leadership styles can damage relationships. There are some leaders who feel that motivating others is best done through a directive approach—“Do what I say because I hold the power.” Others appreciate and are driven more by personal influence—“I feel respected for my contributions. I understand the mission; so, I am on board.”
Although they can be subtle, these dynamics impact you and your developing leaders' ability to build respect and trust, as well as motivate and inspire your team to commit to the organizational mission and vision.
Leadership challenges derail performance
If you want to ensure your dealership is driven by strong leadership—today or in the future—knowing how to inspire a variety of people and having the necessary skills to stay operationally cutting-edge are two critical leadership barriers you and any developing leader must overcome.
However, you cannot address these problems simply by working in or “growing up” in the dealership. Whether you work with NCM in their General Management Executive Program, with Rawls, or pursue learning on your own, I urge you to think differently about how you want to lead. Choose to invest in yourself, as well as future leaders, to build solid leadership skills based on knowledge and real experience gained working in the dealership. If you do so, I’m confident that you will not only overcome these leadership barriers, you’ll create a thriving dealership for years to come.