Leadership How to Lead

Keep Your Cool As a Leader

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SHOP STATS: Portland Automotive   Location: Portland, Conn.  Operator: Mike Turner  Average Monthly Car Count: 275  Staff Size: 8  Shop Size: 2,900 square feet Annual Revenue: $1.6 million  

One day, Mike Turner, owner of the 8-person, $1.6-million-per-year Portland Automotive in Portland, Conn., had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders. For years, he knew he had a bit of an anger problem, or more of a problem with shooting from the hip too quickly with his staff and members of his 20 Group, and he didn’t know how to control it.

“I was a little too blunt and a little too forward at times,” Turner says.

Turns out, Turner was diagnosed with ADHD, which is known to cause aggression, anger, and impulsivity. After figuring out what was holding him back, he was able to take control. 

Whatever the reason behind it, anger issues can plague shop owners and their abilities to lead. To help keep your cool as a leader, here are some tips he’s learned that have helped him keep his anger in check. 

As Told to Abby Patterson

It’s important to notice the signs. I found myself losing my temper, so I wanted to get to the cause of it. I think what really helped me notice it was my coach asking me to look into it. He knew something was up when I would blurt out things, not thinking before I spoke, during 20 Group meetings. I realized I had a bigger problem that I could fix, and it was a big wakeup call. 

One thing that I’ve learned is that ADHD is pretty common in the automotive industry. Back in the day, most of us fit into technical schools because it’s what we’d do best; not mainstream schools. If I was a technician working on four cars during the day and I’m able to do 10 things at a time, it made me a very valuable flat-rate technician. I just didn’t know it was my ADHD that was going to help me do that. That’s why you see so much of it in the trade industry. 

While I can now easily recognize it with my employees after reading the book, Driven to Distraction, I was able to understand why this would happen and how to control not only my anger, but other people’s anger. Now if I have a technician that I can identify has these symptoms or anger issues in general, I have them read the book.

Find the reason why you’re upset. That can mean a lot of different things. Does it mean you’re unhappy with your business? Are you constantly putting out fires? Do you have underlying issues that you need to take care of? There’s always an underlying issue, so you need to find out the true reason you feel that way. If you raised your voice before you could catch yourself, find out why you reacted that way, apologize, and figure out a system so the reaction and issue can be avoided.

Use standard operating procedures (SOPs) for everything. Whether it’s checking for parts inventory or someone broke something, we have an SOP for it. This is one of the biggest ways I’m able not to lose my temper on employees. Instead of losing my cool, I instead hold an employee improvement meeting to go through the SOP that relates to the issue. When something goes wrong and I’m talking with an employee about it, I’m able to instantly say, “What SOP did we not follow?” versus the first angry response that pops into my head. I’ve learned that stopping to go through and follow an SOP is the tactic that has helped me the most.

I use a form for technicians called a Repair Warranty Form, instead of calling it a customer comeback form—I find it offensive to say it that way after being a technician for all of these years. We have reasons on the warranty form why there was a repair warranty form issued, and we assume it isn’t the tech’s problem anymore. It could be the equipment, a server issue, the part was bad, etc., You need to find out what the problem is. Slowing myself down enough to fill those out helps me tremendously and not put the blame on technicians.

I learned to have a little voice in my head that tells me to listen when people are talking. There were times early on in the business where I would lose my temper easily. Not only identifying the signs in myself, but working with my son, who was also diagnosed, has forced me to work on that. I decided I needed to slow myself down. Otherwise, it’s just ready, aim, and shooting off whatever comes to mind before I have time to actually think about what I’m saying. 

Before getting to the employee and taking it out on them, I usually only get 10-15 feet out the door before I catch myself, step back, think about it, and tell myself there’s a better way to do it. It’s something I’m always going to be working on, but my goal is to realize earlier on what I’m doing. I think a lot of shop owners get those moments. It’s learning to not get to the other side of the shop and get to that person face-to-face before thinking about it that has been really helpful.

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