Running a Shop

Jones: Getting Out of Your Own Way

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We all want to be successful, whether as shop owners, service writers, technicians, or foremen. The upward mobility of our career is predicated on how well we perform the job at hand and how our strengths complement those of the team. But what happens when what we think we can do gets in the way of what we can really do?

Twelve years ago, I coached 10- and 11-year-olds on a youth basketball team. We focused our practices on keeping the game fundamentally sound—good ball movement, good shooting, and playing your position. 

We had one player who was more advanced than the other kids. He was our best shooter, best dribbler, and second-best defender. Our best defender was an 11-year-old who was a good ball-handler and who could shoot within the arc, but not much further out. He could lock down opposing players, often making clean steals that led to points. 

We started our six-game season 3-0 playing solid team ball. Our best shooter was scoring in double digits consistently, which led to double teams that opened his teammates up to score. Our best defender was making key stops that broke up runs and creating points that widened our margin of victory. 

And then, something happened.

We lost our final three games—all blowouts. My best defender’s father felt his son should take more open shots, but not just any shots, threes. So, when his son brought the ball up court, instead of moving the ball around the arc to create open shots for his teammates, he would pull up and take a three-pointer. Not only did we know he couldn’t make these shots, opposing teams caught on and would push their guards out to the wings and put their big players in the paint to gobble up rebounds to toss down the court to their streaking guards for easy layups. 

We finished the season with a first-round playoff loss. No amount of coaching I provided could override the youth’s perception of his gameplay, and strategic benching for in-game coaching also failed to produce fruit. He exchanged the talent he had, which made the team successful, to become a player whose skills no longer fit the team’s strategy. He got in his own way, and invariably, everyone else’s too. 

It can be like this on a business level. We can get it into our heads that we’re the owner and we know what’s best for the shop. We believe we have to know every role as good or better than the people around us to validate our position. An old saying goes, “If you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room!”

Michael Jordan, who averaged 30.1 points per game over his 15-season career, didn’t take many 3-point shots (less than two per game). In recent interviews on the topic, the NBA legend said, “My three-point shooting is something I don’t want to excel at because it takes away from all phases of my game. My game is fake, drive to the hole, penetrate, dish-off, dunk.”

These are the words from a man widely regarded as the best player to set foot on a basketball court. He knows his game, is sure of himself, and understands he can rely on his teammates to do the work, as indicated by the term “dish-off”—passing the ball to a more capable shooter in scoring position.

Knowing who we are within the framework of our businesses is the difference between running a profitable shop versus one with marginal increases. As a leader, you don’t have to know it all, do it all, or have all the best skills in the shop. Jordan was a workhorse who could be counted on every game, but he knew who he was. Down the stretch, he knew where to find sharpshooters like John Paxson, Steve Kerr, or B. J. Armstrong for open threes. He never had to shoot those baskets. His assist was as deadly as his shot in those situations. And the same is true for you. The knowledge you impart to your staff is your best asset—it’s your assist. 

In this month’s issue, we sat down with the team at Stellar Autoworks and talked to owner Tim Swiontkowski about what a shop looks like when a leader realizes he’s in his own way. He shares the adjustments he made to change the culture of his shop, starting with his leadership, to benefit his employees and customers.  Read “Escape Velocity.” 

We also dive into how shop leaders can manage difficult employees. From communication to setting clear boundaries, “5 Tips for Managing Difficult Employees” helps you lead with your head and your heart to bring frustrated team members back into the fold better than before.

My challenge to you this month: take a step back and assess your leadership. Are you leading with the abilities you have that elevate your team’s performance, or those that stifle progress? It’s never too late to adjust your game.

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