Running a Shop Regionalization Education+Training Leadership Strategy+Planning South

Cecil Bullard

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It doesn’t matter where you’re from; he’s heard all the excuses. In Seattle, it’s too rainy; the rain kills business. In Palm Springs, it’s too sunny and hot. Utah? Way too much snow. And anywhere in the South, well, the economy is just in too poor of shape to get anyone in the door.

“I hear so many excuses throughout my year,” industry consultant Cecil Bullard says. “Leaders, true leaders, don’t let those things stop them from being successful; they don’t let anything get in their way.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t ever fail—failure is a critical aspect of success—but they don’t let a failure or an obstacle or any issue stand in the way of their goals and where they want to be.”

Bullard formulated his view on leadership through his decades of work as a technician, shop owner and, now, as a one of the country’s leading business coaches, working with some of the premier repair facilities in the nation. Bullard recently took time to share his thoughts on the subject with R+W.


Describe a true leader in an auto repair shop today.

The way that I look at a leader is as the person who creates the vision for a business. And then that person has the charisma, the patience and the sales ability to sell that vision to the rest of the staff so that they are all on the same page. That person has to also be very consistent in their behavior, and focused on their goals, and be willing to do whatever it takes.

There are obviously different types of leaders for different situations, but I think more than anything, they are the standard for the business, always someone that people can look to.

There are three roles in any business that we would call leadership roles. One is what you would normally think of as a leader, which is someone with the vision, the focus and the intensity. The other is the manager, who is in charge of the tactical strategy in the vision that is carried out. And then the third is a supervisor. The supervisor does the training. Your micromanagers are stuck in the supervisor role. That’s when you micromanage—when you’re training. Unfortunately, a lot of owners are stuck in that micromanaging, supervisor role.

In a healthy business, you probably spend 50 to 60 percent in the management role, and about 30 to 40 percent in the leadership role.

Yet, you are always serving as the example to your employees.


How do you view the current state of leadership in the industry?

I hesitate to mention role models at this time, because I think in our country today we see a real lack of leadership.

A leader is supposed to take the heat when things go wrong. When things are failing, leadership is supposed to say, “It’s my fault, I didn’t teach you right,” or “I didn’t put the right processes in place.”

Then, when the business is succeeding, the owner should say, “Your fault.” Give credit to the employees when things are going well.

You see shop owners have all the charisma, all the magnetism, all the qualities that a leader should have, but they’re missing that piece that when things are going wrong, they blame the staff. Then, when things are going right, they take the credit. That’s backwards, and it needs to be the other way around.
If you want people to follow you and do what you want them to do, you have to give them the credit when your shop succeeds.

A leader probably has a big ego, but they don’t display that ego. I think you have to have a big ego to have that vision and have that focus and not let anything else slay you. On the other hand, when that ego comes out, people will think you think you’re smarter or better than them.


What can shop owners do to overcome their mistakes?

You have to really know what you want.

Then the other thing is that leaders usually are smart people, driven people, people who want to achieve. It’s easy to get carried away with wanting to do too many different things. Leaders have to be focused enough to say, “This is where I’m going and I won’t let other people stop me.” Sometimes it can be choosing between five or six good things, but if you have your goal and know where you want to be, the choices become easier.

If a shop knows who they are, they’re always going to do the right thing. If you’ve created that vision of this is who I am and this is what I want my shop to be, then any questions that come up are easily answered. When it comes to a gray area, you can figure it out pretty quickly: Does it put me on the path to getting this vision accomplished?

A business is started for three reasons. One, I want to make money, and I think I can make more money than whomever I’m working for today. Two, I need freedom, and freedom needs time. So, if I have my own business, I’ll have time. And three is that I want to control my own destiny and my own life.

So, we start this business for those reasons, but we don’t have a clear goal. So our goal is survival, instead of, say, I want to make $300,000 in profit this year. Your mindset changes when you stop focusing on survival and focus on what you need to do to reach your specific goals. And it makes each decision easier, because you choose the route that keeps you on track for your goals.


What are some other strategies for shop owners to improve their leadership ability?

Number one, obviously, is to always have a clear understanding of what you want. Number two, spend the time to figure out, how to get it. Get that knowledge, do whatever it takes—classes, read books, DVDs, literally whatever it takes.

Someone who is really focused isn’t going to let anything stand in their way.

When I’m running a shop, when I did run a shop, my mindset is that that shop is the best shop in the world. None of my customers should ever take their vehicles to someone else because that other person is not going to do the job as good nor will they care about the customers as we will at my shop. That’s an attitude and a culture that’s created.

And if that’s the attitude and the culture that I have, then I’m not going to let another shop stand in my way. I would try to convince those people that they are crazy and they should be coming to me. It might take time and effort and energy, but for me to achieve my goal, I need those people, and I can’t let anyone stand in my way.

You have to be solution-based and not problem-based, and most people I know in the auto industry are problem-based.

In my opinion, almost all problems can be overcome.


Where are the best places to learn leadership skills?

Leadership training—there’s a lot of it out there. Some of it’s good; a lot of it is not. When I want to learn something, I tend to try to find the best five to 10 books about that topic, read them all, and formulate my approach off that. I’ve even contacted some of the authors to meet with them on some of those books that I thought were exceptional.

One of my favorite authors is Marcus Buckingham. I think he’s one of the best authors today that talks about leadership. He’s really someone who talks about creating that vision and being able to share it in a way that makes other people really want to be a part of it. He has four books, and all of them are great. He also has a video called “Trombone Player Wanted,” which is a great thing for anyone in the industry to watch.

There’s also a new book out by Dave Ramsey for small business leadership, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long, long time. I think Dave Ramsey really understands the leadership role really well.

Read as much as you can, find as many ways to learn about leadership as you can. You have to have a well-rounded view and find the ideas that work best for you.

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