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Five Tips to Improving as a Leader in 2011

If you are like a shop owner friend of mine from New Hampshire, you probably don’t think of yourself as a leader; most good
leaders don’t. They just do what they do … lead, and they do
it so well, that others take notice.

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by Vic Tarasik
Owner
Vic’s Precision Automotive

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If you are like a shop owner friend of mine from New Hampshire, you probably don’t think of yourself as a leader; most good leaders don’t. They just do what they do…lead, and they do it so well, that others take notice.

While you probably already do a good job of being a leader, I will outline five ways of ­improving your leadership abilities to positively impact your business in 2011. But, first, let me talk a bit about my friend John Manelas, owner of Auto Care Plus, Merrimack, NH, to set the stage.

A few weeks ago, John and I were having dinner in Salt Lake City after a 20 Group meeting we attended. John was conveying to me that he didn’t quite understand why he was chosen out of 19 other shop owners to receive the “Member ­Excellence” award.

At first, I didn’t know where he was headed because, as a shop owner, he had done what most of us could only dream of; John had almost tripled his sales volume in a seven-year span. He went from running a shop producing just over $550,000 per year to $1.3 million. Mind you, he had not added one square foot of space or added any technicians, and he did this in a four-bay shop (see photos on page 8). John had methodically worked his processes, those he had developed and ones he had learned in our 20 Group, but he also demonstrated outstanding leadership abilities within his shop and in the community.
john manelas' auto care plus, 4-bay shop in merrimack, nh.
As we talked, I saw that even though John demonstrated great leadership, he did not realize the strength of his leadership abilities. While John’s shop revenue almost tripled, and the members of our 20 Group look to him for guidance, he didn’t think of himself as a good leader, but he is. Like most people who want to make an improvement in an area of personal growth, John took regular inventory of his skill sets. When he found an area he knew needed to be strengthened or wanted to build upon a ­current ability, he knew what resources were available. He then ­actively used those resources to make the needed improvements.

According to author and speaker John Maxwell, the essence of leadership can be summed up in one word, “influence.” If you think about it, the people you listen to influence you, or they lead you. Although, being a leader does not mean you always take someone in a positive direction. I am sure you have either had an employee or worked with an outspoken negative individual who led the other employees in the wrong direction, which created a tough working environment for everyone involved.

A good leader looks for positive change and forward motion, and, like John Manelas, they take others where they think they can’t go.
john and wife karen
Let’s talk about five ways you can improve as a leader. Whether you are the shop owner or another influencer, you and your business will benefit when you work on these five simple things in 2011.

1. Take inventory. Evaluate yourself; what strengths do you possess and how are you using them effectively? Leadership is not just a title; a leader has a set of skills in his toolbox that he can pull out at a given time to tend to the need at hand. A few key skills possessed by good leaders are communication (speaking and, more importantly, listening), connecting with people, setting goals and casting a vision, and understanding how people work and their needs that must be met to effectively influence your staff.

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2. Seek feedback. Take some time and solicit feedback from your employees on how effective they think you are as a leader. You are probably hesitant to do this, but if you really want to improve, then ask those who are under your charge for feedback. A couple of good things will come out of this exercise. You will engage the employee in your own development and they will have a vested interest in your improvement. And, asking them for their input will give your employee a sense of inclusion, which will draw them closer to you as a leader and to the success of your shop.

3. Make time. Like anything, improvement takes an investment of time.

If we, as business owners and leaders, are expected to grow ourselves and our business, we need to dedicate time to learning. As is the case with our technicians and service advisors, training is a must. Once you have identified a few items to tackle from your personal inventory and employee feedback, you’ll need to make some time to improve those areas. One technique that works effectively for me is to grab an audio book or leadership CD and listen to it on my way to and from work.

4. Connect. Every day, we build and maintain relationships with our customers, as good relationships are the essence of any successful business. Take that same principle and apply it to your employees and you have a winning combination. Spend some one-on-one time during the day and get to know the employee as a person. You will find they will go the extra mile when you have a relationship that is built on more than just a paycheck.

5. Stretch yourself. I have found nothing more powerful to personal growth than giving my time and talents outside of the business. Whether it is with your local church, school or civic organization, like the Lions or Rotary Club, working outside your shop takes you “outside” your element and comfort zone. When you do this, you will build upon the leadership skills you currently possess. And, when you volunteer, you will follow the leader of whatever organization you have chosen to serve in, and a good follower makes a good leader.

I would like to leave you with this final point. Leadership development is a process and every one of us has the potential to become an excellent leader. Understand that as you master one skill set, you will see another area to improve upon. Becoming a good leader takes desire and commitment, much like becoming a successful shop owner, service advisor or technician.
 
RESOURCES
Books:
Developing the Leader Within You, John Maxwell;
Thinking for a Change, John Maxwell; and
How to Win Friends and ­Influence People, Dale Carnegie.

Leadership and business ­development:
Bottom-Line Impact Groups, www.bottomlineimpactgroups.com.

Public speaking:
www.toastmasters.org.

Service organizations:
Lions Club International, www.lionsclubs.org; and
Rotary Clubs, www.rotary.org.

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Vic Tarasik is the owner of Vic’s Precision Automotive, The Woodlands, TX, a 30-year industry veteran and long-time 20 Group member. His 10-bay, 7,000 sq.-ft. shop specializes in customer service, in addition to expert vehicle repairs. Vic can be reached at [email protected].

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