Inspiring Books to Become a Better Leader
Learning to become a better leader can be achieved in a variety of ways—and one of the most effective could be just from reading a good book.
“I read everything, from articles about the local community digitally, all the way up to national news in the newspaper,” says Alexandra Alexopoulos, owner of Randolph Automotive Servicenter in Randolph, Mass. “That’s really how you better yourself. In order to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there, you need to have as much knowledge as you can.”
Beyond understanding the impact local and national news can have on your business, Alexopoulos says she’s particularly fond of leadership books, both directly related to the industry and not. From ideas about culture and people to processes and operations, books can be a source for business improvement. Three top shop operators share their favorite reads that helped shape the leaders they’ve become today.
The Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Leader: TJ Reilly, owner of Same Day Auto Service in Clackamas, Ore., a 10-employee, $1.5 million business that Reilly has run for the past 30 years. He also serves as a consultant for Elite.
The Takeaway: Reilly says he spent the first 20 years of shop ownership working in the business, overseeing staff and making sure the business was running smoothly and efficiently. Roughly 10 years ago, however, he decided he was at a point in his career where he was ready to transition to working on the business. That realization came, he says, after reading a poem in famed leadership expert Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People:
Here lies the body of William Jay,
Who died maintaining his right of way.
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.
“I used to think that I was always right and the poem says, even when you’re right, it can cost you your business, your employees and your customers,” he says. “It definitely led me to taking a softer approach and it helped me understand the importance of going the extra mile.”
Reilly says that Carnegie’s book helped him understand how people—both his employees and his customers—think and the techniques necessary to handle different types of people effectively. Financial success, Carnegie believed, is 15 percent due to professional knowledge and 85 percent due to “the ability to express ideas, to assume leadership, and to arouse enthusiasm among people.”
Carnegie taught these skills through underlying principles of dealing with people so that they feel important and appreciated, as well as emphasizing fundamental techniques for handling people without making them feel manipulated. Carnegie wrote that you can make someone want to do what you want them to by seeing the situation from the other person’s point of view and “arousing in the other person an eager want.”
Reilly says that reading the book led to a shift in his mentality when dealing with customers and employees. He put more processes and position contracts in place, which allowed employees to do their jobs effectively without micromanaging, and he softened his approach with customers. Ultimately, he says, there isn’t a right or wrong answer for most situations in business. Instead, you have to make a business decision and consider what the customer is worth, the best way to peacefully arrive at a resolution and then stick to that decision.
The Book: Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson
The Reviewer: Alexandra Alexopoulos, owner of Randolph Automotive Servicenter in Randolph, Mass., a 3,000-square-foot, six-bay business that works on 225 cars per month. The business also has a convenience store and gasoline segment.
The Takeaway: As the third-generation owners of Randolph Automotive, Alexopoulos and her husband inherited a small repair shop located in an operational Shell gas station. While having three different segments of the business had its advantages, Alexopoulos said that having it all under one roof created numerous challenges. Two years ago, Alexopoulos and her husband read Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, which she says changed her perspective on the business.
“If you don’t change with the times, you’re going to be done,” she says. “The cheese is always there but you have to go get the customers, you have to know what they want and you need to keep moving. If the cheese moves, you have to keep following it. People sit back and say, ‘I have a customer base and they’ll keep coming.’ No, they won’t if you don’t continue to offer what they want. You always have to be on the move.”
Alexopoulos says that sentiment forced her to change how she looked at customer service and how the business differentiated itself. Ultimately, she determined that being a one-stop shop and offering high-quality work at a good value was the shop’s main differentiator.
“That’s been a huge help for us,” she says. “To be able to tweak what we do to better the customer and the service experience.”
It’s also why she and her husband decided in late 2015 to move the repair shop to the lot next door and quadruple the size of the convenience store. The larger repair shop allows them to service more cars more quickly and business is up 28 percent in 2016. Perhaps surprisingly, the convenience store has played a large part in delivering a superior customer service experience: If customers want to pick up or drop off their vehicles after hours, the invoice and keys are moved to the convenience store, which is open 24/7.
The Book: The Naked Interview: Hiring Without Regret by David Jensen.
The Reviewer: Jimmy Alauria, owner of 3A Automotive Service in Phoenix, a $1-million-per-year shop his father, grandfather and uncle founded together.
The Takeaway: One of the biggest challenges for many shop owners is hiring and for many years, Alauria was no exception. A big reader, Alauria picked up The Naked Interview, which ultimately caused him to completely overhaul his interviewing process. In the book, Jensen breaks down the hiring process into 10 truths to help eliminate costly turnover and inefficient staffing in a business.
Jensen recommends interviewing a candidate three times before hiring, which Alauria adopted. He now interviews a candidate over the phone, then invites them into the shop if he feels inspired by the first interview, and finally, after checking references, he brings them in for a third interview with key staff. Bringing trusted staff members in on the interviews has been key to hiring employees that are more likely to fit in with the team and the culture at the shop, Alauria says.
“I want their feedback on these people, too,” he says. “Let them ask questions and really pull answers out of the interviewee.”
Calling references and really maximizing those conversations has also made a big impact, he says. Alauria now asks for 3–5 references and makes an effort to pull information from the references. It’s important to know your state’s laws regarding the types of questions you can ask a reference, but he’s found that being candid with the reference and simply asking if the reference would hire the candidate again has worked wonders. Then, he uses that information during the third interview by asking follow-up questions derived from the reference or asking for clarification on a comment the reference may have made.