Success Starts and Ends With Leadership

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Not unlike many shop owners of my era, my career began working as a mechanic. After graduating high school in 1973, my goal was to become a world-class mechanic and open my own repair shop. My dream came true on Oct. 1, 1980, at the age of 25.

Unfortunately, the dream I held so dear to my heart quickly turned into a nightmare. I may have been a highly skilled mechanic, but I was a horrible businessman. I found out the hard way what most of us eventually find out: Just because you’re a skilled mechanic, does not mean you have the skills to run a business.

In those early years, my style of management was, “My way or the highway.” I would bark orders and push employees to the breaking point. I would complain constantly that no one does what I ask, no one can do the job that I could, and no one has the drive that I have. I also made it known that if it were not for me, the shop would go under. I never took a day off or went on vacation. I built the business so that every facet solely rested on my shoulders. I walked around the shop in a miserable mood, mad at the world. My destructive behavior was killing not just my business, but me too. By 1990, the shop was failing.

After a week from hell, the wheels finally fell off on a cold November day in 1991. Everything that could possibly go wrong that week did go wrong. Plus, my bank account was so low I didn’t have enough money for payroll. In desperation, I finally took a long hard look at myself in the mirror and saw the person I had become. And I was horrified.

It finally dawned on me why my employees had no drive, no team spirit and why morale was in the basement. It was me. With my behavior the way it was, why in the world would anyone want to follow me?

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That prompted a plan to learn about business and, more importantly, how to become an effective leader. I needed to become the kind of person I wanted other people to be. I had to work on myself first. I also realized that success did not depend on me alone. Rather, success in business is a result of the collected efforts of the team. It was a long, uphill battle working diligently on learning all the elements of business. It also meant putting away my tools. That, perhaps, was the toughest part.

Among all the many aspects of business, for me my greatest asset would become my ability to lead others. Instead of commanding my employees, I included them in every phase of the business. We started to hold meetings to discuss employee issues, purchasing decisions about equipment and other important matters. Together we created workflow processes and sales strategies. We worked hard to create an atmosphere in which people felt they were part of the company; a place where they felt they were recognized for their efforts. Eventually, people began to go the extra mile, not because they were told to, but because they wanted to. The more I concentrated on making others around me better, the more we grew as a company.

To this day, I still devote time each week to learning and honing my business skills. I have a self-commitment to lifelong continuous training and improvement. However, most of my time is devoted to developing my employees. Without them, growing the business would not be possible.

If you feel stuck as a shop owner, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself and ask, “Am I the person that others want to follow?” You might not like the answer, but I assure you it will put you on the right road to solving the issues and obstacles that are preventing you from achieving what you want out of business and out of life. Holding yourself accountable for the difficulties surrounding you is not easy. But being a leader is not easy either.

Success starts with you. It’s your ability to understand the people around you and how to make them better at their job and in life. The more you work on this, the more success you will have.

So, your journey to success may start with you, but in the end it’s the people you have helped along the way that will make all the difference in the world.

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at

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