In the latest of our series, thanks to legendary service advisor trainer, Lloyd Schiller of and Brooke Samples of Profit Blueprints, Brooke looks at the importance of developing leaders from within.

As many Dealers will attest, there is a massive leadership shortage and, as you know, leadership is your competitive advantage. As the Baby Boomers who hold (or held) managerial roles retire, dealerships scramble to fill those positions, hoping to get it right the first time.

I regularly speak with managers who get in before sunrise just to get the paperwork done so they can spend time with their staff and customers during the dealership’s operating hours.

Life is okay…until we start to look for our ‘successors’. Look at your dealership; how many managers at your store will retire in 10 years or less? Do you have a plan to replace their knowledge, integrity and commitment? When they do finally retire they will take with them 30-plus years of experience. This is experience you can’t teach – neither in a two-week hands-on passing of the torch nor a six-week classroom course.

It’s not just managers. Look at your senior technicians, body men, painters, countermen, accounting staff, etc. Can you just place an ad on and hope to pluck someone away from another dealership? Nope! We need a plan.

Already, because the technician shortage is so severe, many dealerships have started to grow their own technicians with an in-house training program. We should be doing the same for our other key positions.

What to look for in your successor

Look at your current employees. Are there certain ones to whom other employees look up or go to for help? You probably have some employees who don’t have the title of manager, but are seen as a leader by their peers.

In my opinion, someone who played sports in high school has an advantage. Just as I would rather have a salesman who played sports (he or she understands when you lose you don’t give up – you just keep trying), I would want a leader who doesn’t crumble when things go sideways.

I also believe someone who learned to play a musical instrument has learned perseverance. Both athletes and musicians have learned self-confidence – an important trait for a leader.

I thought I would be the last person to say “hire support staff.” My background as a controller says “keep your expenses low – you don’t need a secretary” (okay, “personal assistant”). So just like you, I was trying to hold expenses down while we regrew our businesses. But the unexpected negative consequences are huge. Just like a technician training program is an expense initially, hiring and training support staff is an investment in the future. Assistants hired to do busy work or lower priority tasks for managers can free up time for managers to groom talented successors or coach someone who can help grow the business today.

If you have someone in your department whom you think might make a good leader someday, start working with him or her now. Your involvement is the key to developing the next generation of leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders who possess the ability to solve problems and create results will be the winners in an ever-changing society.

Below are ways to start grooming a future leader once you have found a person you want to invest in:

  1. Get him or her involved in the dealership, not just focusing on his or her job. One way to do this is to have teams. (I used to call them committees, but millennials prefer ‘teams’.) Think safety committees. Your teams would typically be comprised of employees from different departments. The frequency of the team meetings would depend on the purpose. These teams allow members to be involved in the dealership but also practice leadership skills like problem-solving and working with others with diverse interests. Some potential teams:
    – Website Review Team (spend time checking out the competition’s websites and see how yours can be improved)
    – Go Green Team (spend time looking at ways to reuse/reduce/recycle)
    – Customer Experience Team (spend time enhancing the customers’ experiences). Along with team involvement, your future leaders could sit in on potential employee interviews. He or she can learn from observation and possibly provide you with additional insight for a prospective employee. Think of other ways to involve your up and coming leaders in processes that impact the dealership.
  2. Have a mentoring program where the protégés have a designated mentor who answers questions and provides guidance. Start with a short-term program – six months at the most – to accomplish set goals.
  3. Improve their communication skills. Encourage your future leaders to join a Toastmasters club or other form of public speaking, and pay the inexpensive membership dues for them. Excellent communication skills can help make an excellent leader. This is an easily affordable program for developing communication and leadership skills (
  4. Find ways to train all your employees to strengthen their ‘creativity’ muscle. Solving problems is accomplished with an open mind, the right amount of information and the ability to develop new solutions. Just like a couch potato couldn’t jump up and run a marathon, if you haven’t been thinking creatively you have to train your mind with ongoing exercises. Creativity programs pay off big – not just for leaders, but for your dealership in general.

After Frito-Lay invested in creativity training sessions for their employees, they attributed more than $100 million in cost savings to the programs. Sysco Corporation (food services) reports that employees who participated in creativity training increased their sales by an average 25 to 30 per cent.

According to Jeff Mauzy of Synetics, a consulting firm specialising in business creativity, “Creativity pays financially and with a rich array of other rewards: employee and customer satisfaction, incremental growth, the flexibility to match relentless change, the ability to attract good talent, and strengthened competitive readiness.”

To find out what your creativity score is, check out:

Exercises to boost problem-solving skills

  • Make mental connections to strengthen your capacity for creativity: Fill in the blank with a different word every day. “My customers are like _________,” then explain why. For example: “My customers are like icebergs.” The next day “My customers are like oranges.” You get the idea – you are building your Creative Quotient. The more creative you are the better problem-solver you will be.
  • Before you start looking for a solution to a problem, relax your mind and answer the question “How could I make this worse?” For example: “How can I make my vehicle delivery experience worse?”
  • Imagine your problem was solved; now work backward to where you are now. This could help you skip some bad steps when you implement your solution.

Ralph Nader said, “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” Take the quote to heart and start today. It’s not easy and it’s not a short-term project – but the results will keep your department and dealership thriving while other are struggling. (And then you can retire!)


Brooke Samples
Profit Blueprints,

Lloyd Schiller
Fixed Operations Consultant

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