Leadership General Fixed Operations

Are You a Leader or a Manager?

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Leadership by PaulBence on Unsplash

I have spent countless hours of training in both my military and civilian career trying to figure out how to become a good leader. However, most of the courses I took usually only concentrated on how to do the job, not how to lead people. I realized early in my career that being promoted to a position of authority puts you in charge of people, but does not ensure that you will be a good leader. I currently manage managers, but not all of my managers are good leaders and some of my best leaders are not good managers.

Too often, the titles “manager” and “leader” are thought to be synonymous, but there are distinct differences in how the two roles influence an organization. A manager is able to monitor everyday processes and procedures to ensure completion of tasks. Managers, meanwhile, are able to maintain the status quo and sustain an organization. A leader may be able to manage processes and procedures, but a leader is never satisfied with the status quo. A leader is able to influence a team to complete the day-to-day tasks of an organization, as well as create synergy within the team to achieve more than the status quo.   

Over the years, I have heard many descriptions of leadership or management, including babysitter and firefighter. I find both of these methods of leading to be ineffective. The “babysitter and firefighter” method has the manager taking care of troubled employees or putting out fires as they appear. This method of leadership causes a manager to take a reactionary approach to leading, instead of a proactive approach driving the business forward.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the “babysitter and firefighter” is the leader who seeks absolute control over employees. The concept of absolute control is an illusion and the pursuit of control can be detrimental to an organization. The my-way-or-the-highway method of managing creates too much turnover in an industry that is struggling to bring in new talent. No one wants to work for a dictator and few employees will work long for a dictator in a free labor environment.

I model my leadership style in line with the U.S. Army’s definition of leadership: “An Army leader is anyone who by virtue of assumed role or assigned responsibility inspires and influences people to accomplish organizational goals.” This definition really encompasses the approach to leadership we want to employ at Zeck Ford.  

The first thing any leader needs is a goal for the team to accomplish. The simple expectation of coming to work just to get through the day without problems is not a goal, but a survival tactic. To garner success leaders should follow the S.M.A.R.T. goal format and create goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time based. Once these goals are created, they should be conveyed to the team in clear and concise language and tracked with a universally understood measuring stick.

At Zeck Ford, the goals and vision come from the leader of the organization. Derek Zeck, the owner, has one main goal or vision for the entire dealership: We do everything possible to provide exceptional customer service in every department to the point that any time our customers are in need of something automotive related, they call us first—even if they know we do not provide the service here. For the fixed ops departments, I have taken Derek’s main goal and created tracking methods for all fixed ops managers. We focus on these key indicators during the fixed ops managers’ meeting three times per week. We also hold monthly meeting for the entire dealership where we inform all employees how we are doing, reinforce our vision, and recognize individuals that have gone above our expectations.

The most important two words in the Army’s definition of leadership is “inspires and influences,” not order or demand. So how do you inspire people to perform? I believe that it starts with loyalty and commitment to your employees. Everyone I have ever worked for has expected loyalty and commitment to their business, but few gave loyalty and commitment to their employees. General George S. Patton once stated, “One of the most frequently noted characteristics of great men who have remained great is loyalty to their subordinates.” If you build an environment where your employees feel safe and know you have their back when issues arise, employees become empowered to make decisions. Empowering employees to make decisions frees up the managers to guide the department toward the overall vision.

I have been extremely lucky throughout my career at Zeck Ford. Every month, I am amazed at the volume of work that goes through our small dealership. I would like to say this is a direct reflection of my abilities to lead, but the truth of the matter is, it’s a reflection of the amazing staff I lead. We have employees that know, understand, and believe in the vision of the company and do whatever is necessary to provide superior customer service to keep our customers happy and returning.

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